Monday, December 28, 2009
Why Mad Men Makes Me a Mad Man
The Eisenhower era is a battleground for liberals and conservatives. The conservatives see this as the time before the world spun out of control. The liberals see this as the time before equal rights were championed and the world was set free. These are both extreme views, more fiction than fact. But the issue of who is closer to the truth is not the matter that concerns me as much as the ferocity with which Hollywood liberals are willing to force their views on others. Mad Men, which is set in the early sixties, has served as a platform for propagandists on the left. Show creator Matt Weiner has said, outright, that Mad Men is a feminist show. He has made it clear that the point of the series is to show how women were mistreated in the past. Weiner became a strong supporter of feminism while a student at Wesleyan. He experienced an awakening from reading the book "The Feminine Mystique" and he wanted this series to give the same awakening to television viewers. It has succeeded in being button-pushing entertainment for the left. A female columnist in The Alligator, a local college newspaper, wrote that the show lets her see how women were oppressed in the sixties and it inspired her to embrace feminism. Reese Dixon, author of the "Feminist Mormon Housewives" blog, described how Mad Men converted her husband into a feminist. She wrote, "[W]e started watching Mad Men together and it’s like he started seeing a whole new side to the world. . . [T]he part of him that was so terrified of feminism just crack[ed] open." A women on the official Mad Men discussion board posted a message about how glad she was that we were no longer living in a male-dominated society. She wrote, "Old white men need to accept that their time is over." I am an old white man. Am I supposed to slit my wrists now? It is only a television show, friends, this isn't hidden camera footage from a secret Allen Funt project.
In the sixties, ad agencies were hungry to produce effective ad campaigns, the messages of which influenced their target consumers to purchase their client's products. The agency executives wanted a campaign to create a sensation and they didn't care if it was written by a man, a woman, or a talking goldfish. Female copywriters were especially valued for their ability to talk to the women who bought so many of the products that they were selling. Shirley Polykoff, an advertising executive, was already a legend in the industry long before Mad Men's fictious copywriter Peggy Olson came along.
I am not entirely sure what it is that offends Dixon or these other woman so much. Sheila Weller, columnist for the Huffington Post, described "looking with veiled horror at those perky secretaries and those pregnant young wives in Christmas-bow maternity get-ups." Since when is perkiness and frilly maternity clothes bad things? Feminist blogger Amanda Marcotte wrote, "You. . . see Joan rubbing her skin where her bra strap cuts into it. True, second wave feminists didn't burn their bras - or their girdles or their garters - but the show argues with this visual imagery, that they probably should have." So, the bra is an evil device that men invented to bind and torture women? I suppose that a left-leaning woman just needs to see those old elastic bra straps and it will be enough to send them into a tizzy. I cannot see how women wearing those bras were in worse pain than contemporary women letting their "muffin tops" bulge out of their skinny jeans. Tracie Egan, a writer for the Jezebel blog, thought it was a sign of male oppression that copywriter Fred Rumsen (Joel Murray) felt free to play Mozart on his zipper in front of a secretary. Rumsen's penis was not threatening to come flopping out of his pants. The guy was being silly to break up the monotony of the work day. I thank God for the Rumsens of the world.
Vloggers Beth and Val weighed in on Mad Men recently. They admitted that they approved of certain aspects of the series' version of the early sixties. They liked the "clearly designed gender roles," admitted to sometimes feeling envy for wives who weren't burdened with making decisions, and they especially had a fondness for the clothing ("They all dressed so nicely"). But their one big complaint was that men had too much power. This power was strictly defined as a husband being able to sleep with a mistress without having to worry about his wife questioning him about his suspicious absences. Adultery has never been gender-specific at any time or any place and it hasn't even been gender-specific in the context of the series.
"What a great time to be white men," said Val. "They were kings, every single one of them." The ladies admitted that it isn't obvious in the series that the men abuse their power against women. Their abuse of power, they maintain, is more insidious than that. Insidious or imaginary?
Modern politics have no doubt put blinders on these women and it has made it impossible for them to see that the men on the show are not at all privileged. The men on the show are, for the most part, nail-biting shlubs, living in constant terror of losing their jobs. Blogger Gary Edgerton wrote, "[T]he most striking aspect of Mad Men’s title sequence is the depiction of the male protagonist falling from the top of a skyscraper. The action begins as he enters his office in black silhouette, puts down his briefcase, and watches as his furniture begins to implode, almost melting." That man was supposed to have represented copywriter Harold Crane. It was Weiner's original plan to have Crane, distraught over losing his job, take a swan dive out of a tall window. Men are under a great deal of stress in this world. Fred Rumsen, a copywriter who is suffering from alcoholism, pees his pants before an important meeting and is promptly fired. Don's brother, Adam, commits suicide. A young executive learns that his career has been ruined after he gets his foot chopped off by a dingbat secretary on a rider mower. This is a man's world? The fact is the most tragic character on Mad Men is the show's alpha male, Dan Draper. Draper's horrible childhood has made him a tormented soul.
The women on the show are, in fact, exalted - the glamorous ice queen Betty Draper, the ambitious ace copywriter Peggy Olson, and the sexy office manager goddess Joan Holloway. The show is mostly written by women, who seemed determined to present the women on the show as being superior to the men. It is appropriate that one of the show's main writers is Marti Noxon, who used to write and produce Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After all, Mad Men, like Buffy, is a feminist fantasy.
Mad Men favors style over substance. Weiner uses sex and fashion to lure viewers to the show. He has turned the look of this vintage period, from its sunglasses to its typewriters, into pop art. He titillates his audience with a relentless stream of adulterous affairs. If that isn't bad enough, Weiner, champion of women's liberation, pimps out his actresses to promote the show.
Sexual politics are destructive and irrational. I much rather watch Friday Night Lights, a television series with actual substance. The characters are real. The stories are relevant. Most of all, the show has heart. Friday Night Lights, unlike Mad Men, shows a married couple who love each other, are faithful to one another, and work together to make a better life for one another. Mad Men is, by comparison, vile.