Upstairs, Downstairs

 Posted by on June 11, 2008 at 4:48 pm  Season 1
Jun 112008

One thing that knocks me out on this show is the class distinctions.

Top of the list and most obvious (set up in the very first scene of the series) is white/black. The only blacks ever seen in the series, to date, have been in service roles; the busboy, elevator operator, household help, etc.

And the Jews… that’s almost a whole different hierarchy.

The women. It’s right there within that first conversation in Smoke, between Don and the busboy… Ladies love their magazines. And they both laugh; white and black, at the silly ladies and their silly magazines.

But what fascinates me is the secretaries.

In New Amsterdam, Don and Peggy walk by, and Pete introduces Trudy to Don only. After a minute, which is clearly long enough for the opportunity to have been introduced has clearly come and gone, Peggy gives a little ˜nice to not quite meet you wave’ to Trudy as she walks away. Neither Don nor Pete (nor probably Trudy) (and really, nor probably Peggy) considered it. She probably would not have been impacted by it at all, had it not been for her affair with Pete.

In 5G, Betty meets Peggy. She greets her with, You must be Peggy and is actually quite cordial to her, (they’ve spoken on the phone) and Betty even introduces the children by name. (Children and their placement on the social totem pole is a whole other thing.) (Okay so then poor Peggy does her tap dance, praying Don will return to the office soon. Oh, the good times.) Once Don is back and the family leaves, Peggy says Nice to meet you, and Betty smiles but says nothing.

The whole thing freaks me out, to be honest.


  9 Responses to “Upstairs, Downstairs”

  1. I've supported myself as an administrative assistant for the past ten years or so and I have to say that things haven't changed. Most people still treat admins with contempt (except for the old-school bosses, who treat their own assistants very well indeed). And as nice as Betty was to Peggy, most wives do behave the same way with their husband's assistants, at least in my experience. They are nearly always nice in the same way that Betty was. Most of the times, though, it's because you end up talking and interacting a lot, ie, the wife will call at least once a day and sometimes needs to coordinate things with you.

  2. I also do think that it's a dead-on insight about the show. Is it me or is this one of the few shows that deals with class in America? And just bc it takes place in the 60s doesn't mean that the observations about hierarchy don't apply to today.

    Man, you're so busy and writing the blog on your own, I'm awed at your commitment, Robertica.

  3. And also by the quality of the posts. But that goes without saying, no? Say yes.

  4. So nice!

    And I've never watched the Wire, (which is considered by many to be the greatest television show of all time). It was described to me as ultimately, a deep look at 'class' in our country. It's on my list .

  5. I have to watch The Wire as well. And Friday Night Lights which is supposed to be extremely well-written. I think it also addresses class issues. The football angle has turned me off but it's gotten such high praise.

  6. Some of the prejudices in the show are pretty blatant, but I love the subtle class and racial distinctions – like the bathroom attendant in "Ladies' Room", whose "I'm sorry" only meant "Be quiet and leave so I can finish my job and go back to my world". MW could have easily turned that into a sappy "Mammy"-moment, but instead it brilliantly highlighted racial divisions.

    As for ignoring the subordinates, it still happens every day in so many professions: One of my friends from graduate school was just accepted to a medical program. The day after she was accepted, one of our professors (an MD who had never previously spoken with us) interrupted our conversation to congratulate her for ten minutes – without acknowledging my presence once. 😛

  7. There’s nothing I can to add to The Wire comments already posted, but I can certainly second the recommendation for Friday Night Lights. It does have some honest dealings with racism, (and sexism, and disabilities, as a matter of fact), though perhaps not nearly as much as there could be. Partly I rack that up to it being on network and not on cable. But it’s still a very good show, and definitely worth watching. Especially check it out if it’s on DVD – don’t have to wait week-to-week, and that’s always great.

    My highest recommendation for raw, unadulterated dealings regarding racism and sexism mixed with brilliant scripts and character development go to Deadwood. I was one who could never give a shit about Western themes, but this is totally brilliant.

  8. I can't agree enough with what Joy and Eme Kah have said regarding class and status distinctions still going strong today. And that's the last I'll say on it tonight to keep this from descending into a profanity-laced rant.

    OK, I'll say just one more thing. Man, I wish I'd have been there with you, Joy, when Mr. MD Professor was pulling that rude ass shit. Not being a grad student and therefore free from having to kiss his ass, I would have loved to have given him a small lesson in manners.

  9. oh yeah, this still goes on in the legal field as well. I had a boss who would ask me to get him a cup of coffee in front of clients, knowing that I would never do it for him if he was alone in the room, oh yeah. He rarely intorduced me to people, and I was his paralegal for 18 years. Men are pigs, today, yesterday, and tomorrow. But I tell ya, I would certainly get Don Draper all the ice water he wanted, with pleasure!

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