“Mad Men” is “A drama about one of New York’s most prestigious ad agencies at the beginning of the 1960s, focusing on one of the firm’s most mysterious but extremely talented ad executives, Donald Draper,” according to IMDB.
It all sounds so fascinating right? But in my opinion, “Mad Men” is the slowest unfolding television series I have ever seen in my life. Each episode appears to repeat the same storyline over and over again with a few exceptions: character involvement and a slow unraveling of the “mysterious Don Draper.” I mean what exactly is the show building up to? Are we all waiting to see what happens with Don? Or are we simply watching an era of American history through a dramatic lens? What’s all the hype about? After watching the “greatly anticipated” Season 5 premiere, I’m still asking the same questions. So I decided to make something productive out of the two-hours I wasted, I mean, used to watch Mad Men.
The following is a brief comparative analysis of the gender roles and politics portrayed in “Mad Men” to life today.
Mad Men’s story line serves as an extremely accurate representation of the life — of middle to upper class Caucasians – in America during the sixties, and has a depth that draws on elements from all over the 1960s era.
To begin, “Mad Men” celebrates a time when capitalism was king; ran hand in hand with democracy, and had a strong vote in American politics. From a liberal standpoint, I must say, I see no real difference between then and now with this exception: the American people learned as a result of the civil rights and youth movements, as well as the war protests, that they can affect change, and “big government” is not always the be all end all of American policy and decision making. Occupy Wall Street is a great example of the same thought process happening today; where people are coming together in demonstration against capitalism and its influence on the economic divide of this country.
Continuously, I foresee Season 5 of “Mad Men” incorporating many events that occurred during the late sixties in which the American people used their collaborative power to protest inequalities and injustices. The scene where Black Americans stood protesting outside the ad agency is a prelude to that factor. Having the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, blacks were now able to do things they never could before, including demanding equal opportunity employment. Although to this day, there are still many prejudices in the hiring system – across all realms of diversity – companies have vastly improved their equal opportunity practices. This is a factor the executives at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce seemingly had no intention of implementing, at least not from what we see from the fifth season premiere.
Furthermore, “Mad Men,” continues to demonstrate the great divide amongst sexes in the work place and at home – probably more than any other dynamic in the show – during the sixties. Men were the dominating sex. Women in the workplace, particularly secretaries, were disposable, made to feel the only valuable asset they had was their sexual prowess. Women were constantly used by men for various reasons, from taking care of children to sexual fulfillment to spying. This is evident in the scene with Roger, a married man, opening flirting with Peter’s secretary, who is very clearly reciprocating the flirtation. Peter, frustrated with Roger trying to take credit for his accounts, points out to his secretary that Roger was only flirting with her so he could see Peter’s schedule. The secretary seemed disappointed as if she had lost a great opportunity – becoming the big boss’ next lover.
Additionally, women were referred to as “girls,” and were spoken to as if they were children. An example of this is when Lane Pryce condescendingly tells his wife, after she asks him about paying their son’s college tuition, “This is why I don’t like you opening the mail.” The gender gap was so wide in the sixties; it was almost unheard of to think of a man doing childcare. We can see this in the scene where Peggy asks Peter to simply, take Joan’s baby back to her. Peter responds by saying, “Do I look like I have a skirt on?” Today, there are more and more stay at home dads and women in high powered positions in the workplace, heck there are women who are completely career-oriented and have no desire to have a family. Gender roles are not as clearly defined and in some cases, the roles have reversed.
The premiere of the fifth season takes us away from the “Camelot” era into 1966, on the cusp of the youth movement, and the tail of the civil rights movement, and provides many points of comparison of life then to what it is today. For those of you who are die hard Mad Men fans, knowledge of the dynamics the late 1960s brought to American history leaves a tremendous anticipation for what lies ahead for the rest of the “Mad Men” season.
If you’re a “Mad Men” fan, I’d love hear why and what I may be missing. Please share your thoughts :).