Mad Men is a counter-argument to nostalgia

 Posted by on March 27, 2008 at 9:05 am  Retro, Season 1
Mar 272008

This is part of a review I wrote on my other blog, before we started this one, when I first saw Mad Men. I do discuss politics regularly on my personal blog, and one of my favorite topics is the intersection of pop culture and political/social issues.

Anyway, I thought the conversation still had value, so here it is:

The “values conservatives” of the world, David Broder, Jonah Goldberg, and other people with pseudo-brains filling their skulls, believe the 1950s were an idyllic time. Women knew their place, none of that pesky feminism to mess around with their pretty heads. Abortion was illegal. Sex was never discussed in the public sphere, and when it was alluded to, it was only the heterosexual sort. Men wore skinny ties. (I kind of agree about the skinny ties.) The notion, of course, is that mid-century was a happy, innocent time. Families were all Ozzie and Harriet or Leave It To Beaver.

The fact is, the man behind the curtain was already visible at the time. Kinsey published in 1948 and 1953. Brown vs. the Board of Education was 1954 and the Montgomery bus boycott was the following year.

What Mad Men shows is direct and uncompromising. It is a man’s world, but the show has strong female characters, struggling in a world where they must choose between career and marriage, where most opportunities are closed to them, and sexual harassment is not only legal, it’s encouraged. As oppressive as the sexism is, it’s matched by the casual, normative racism and anti-Semitism. Homophobia isn’t even mentioned, but there is one character who is clearly closeted and struggling to be ‘one of the boys.’

Maybe I’m naive to think it would make a difference for people to actually see what they’re idolizing. I’m well-informed, I know a lot about the world my mother grew up in, and yet I found it shocking. There’s something about the visual impact that can’t be denied.


  5 Responses to “Mad Men is a counter-argument to nostalgia”

  1. I keep telling people, particularly younger people, that this show is important.

  2. I agree. Good post!

  3. I thought my mother would love MM, because she was a secretary for an ad-man in 1960, but in fact she actually has a very difficult time watching the show – apparently it hits far too close to home. During the first episode, while I was yapping on about how intriguing everything was, all she did was fidget uneasily…. and when I asked her what she thought at the end, her only comments were: "I *was* Peggy", "That's exactly how it was", and "Your father and I used to smoke like that after sex."
    Yes, Mom, but at least you had sexy sweaters to make up for it all…!

  4. I *was* Peggy

    That's intense!

  5. Yes, well, minus the whole hunting fetish and secret pregnancy… but I could see my mom as the scrawny, eager-to-please new girl, loathing the brassy Joans of the world until society allowed her to get ahead with brains instead of beauty. Like Peggy, she always had to drag her drunken boss back from his liquid lunches and cover for his transgressions. Yet to this day, she still idolizes that man. 🙂

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