Monday, 2 June 2008

Mad Men

I eagerly awaited Mad Men, produced by Matthew Weiner who was previously a script writer for The Sopranos; a series I thought was superb. Mad Men and its lead actor (John Hamm) received awards at the 2007 Golden Globes.

I found the first episode a bit disappointing. I did not feel that there was a lot to it, but as with a lot of quality art, it grows on you as you come to appreciate its complexities. (Pretentious? Moi?)

Hamm plays Don Draper, a highly-successful advertising executive employed at the fictional Sterling Cooper in New York's Madison Avenue in the early 1960s. Don seems to have it all. He has clean-cut Rock Hudson good looks, money, status and an all-American, cookie-cooking ex-model of a wife. Lucky old Don you might say. But Don has one scary skeleton in the cupboard. He is not really Don Draper but Dick Whitman who served in the army in Korea. When his officer (Don Draper) was killed, Dick stole his dog tags and therefore his identity, and instantly climbed the social ladder.

The new Don is eventually exposed by a rival employee, but Don’s boss doesn’t seem to care. Money makes the world go round and as long as you bring it in, who cares if you have been a bit creative with your CV? Throughout the series Don seems increasingly troubled as if the shallowness of the consumer-driven society becomes ever more apparent. His wife's mood seems to mirror his deepening melancholy as she becomes increasingly unfulfilled. The men in the series are generally depicted as boozy chauvinists who are unfaithful to their wives. The women are either secretaries (although one woman at the office pushes through the glass ceiling) or homely wives. Both sexes smoke incessantly. There are several instances of anti-semitism.

The series conveys the old message that money doesn’t buy happiness, but it seems to go deeper than that. I struggle to find exactly what the message is, but there are elements of a critique of the American preoccupation with materialism. Whatever it is, it is a lot better than a soap set in an advertising agency.


Daisy said...

Stick with it, really deconstructs the women's traditional role in that time period... some younger feminists find it too upsetting to watch for that reason. (I WANT THEM TO WATCH IT, maybe they'll get acquire some respect for everything we did!)

I love the decor and the furniture, which is utterly *perfect*...hope you enjoy it!

Phil said...

Cheers for posting Brother S, it's always good to see your monicker attached to an AVPS post.

Daisy, I haven't gotten round to watching Mad Men yet, and don't know if I'll ever find the time to.

Re: feminism, I have encountered a mood among young feminists that the second wave was all about victimhood and excluding women of colour and working class women. To what extent this is true, I don't know beyond a few dry academic tomes. But what I do know is without it women are likely to have remained stuck in the 50s-style servility that was so devastatingly dissected by Betty Friedan. In fact, I would suggest that so-called third wave feminism, and particularly its postmodern variants, sorely lack the liberationist and activist thrust of the second wave. And it's all the poorer for it.