Home > #3, Media grammar > Mad Men

Mad Men

I am a huge fan of TV shows, and it is hard to pick a favorite one to look at. However an excellent show I have been watching recently is Mad Men, which portrays an interesting vision of our culture. I sometimes find myself wondering why I even enjoy this show; most of the characters are scumbags and the sexism in the show is overwhelming. The show is set in the 1950s and portrays some pretty harsh realities about that time period. It is interesting to think that the show would never have aired in the actual time it was set. In the 1950s people were watching shows like I Love Lucy and Leave it to Beaver, which portrayed a pretty peachy picture of family life. Watching Mad Men suggests that underneath these perfect seeming exteriors, life in the 50s was far from easy. I don’t think there is one married man on the show who does not cheat on his wife; most of them do it regularly. Women are treated as objects that can be talked about or touched in any way men see fit. Some of the women on the show are strong characters, but lots of them are weak and submissive to this behavior. It is interesting to think that if this behavior were in a show that was set in present times we would find it very distasteful, and if the show was aired on TV in the 1950s it would have been totally scandalous. And yet is okay to have a show on TV now with such blatant sexism because it portrays a time in the past. Even so, I have several friends that have stopped watching the show because they found it hard to watch the way women are treated in it.

So why do I like this show? For one thing, it does an excellent job as a period piece that makes you completely believe it is the 50s. The costumes, set, script and music all create a world from the past that is different from that of any other shows on television, and is visually very interesting. Even though most of the characters are unlikeable at first, as I watch more of the show I have come to sympathize with them, and the main character, Don Draper, who was once totally despicable has actually become close to my heart. As we learn more about his past, we see him more as the product of his upbringing and his surroundings. We can understand this for all the characters, and gain insight into the difficulties of living in the 50s.  The show is completely in your face about bringing the issues to light, and though the obvious reaction is to think about how much things have changed since that time, another possible reaction is to think about in what ways things are still the same. Mad Men is not always an easy show to watch, but it is excellently produced, and shows an important part of our past culture.

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  1. January 13, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    Nice job, Siena. I agree that Mad Men offers us a look back as well as an opportunity to see if we’ve come as far as we think we have regarding gender change, and part of its appeal is in what it causes us to ask of ourselves. The program also offers less prominent but equally pointed critiques of racism from that time: e.g., interactions between the professional men, the subservient women and the black janitors, the Norman Mailer wannabe who dates a black woman to make himself seem more exotic, etc.

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