Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mad Men Gender Real Talk

Mad Men's first half to the 7th season went well. There were nice small moments, some good solid episodes and a few wrinkles of creative introductions or exits. The SWPLs will lament the departure of funny but stereotypical Jewish Ginsburg and the struggling with his gayness Bob Benson, but get over it. The writers snuck in that scene where Bob picked up some gay friend from GM (played by cro-magnon Glen Goolia) at the police station for making a move on a cop, framing this as the horrible struggle gays endured back in '69. Ah yes, so horrible that they arrested a gay guy for cruising a bathroom. He even got beat up! Yeah, because that always happened. There were consistent bits in this episode where the message seemed more catered to current SWPL ladies watching the show rather than reveal the picture of ladies in 1969. "The Strategy" was subtly telling women of today the truth with a closing dose of "don't worry about it girls".

This is something I have typed before where Mad Men shoehorns the problem or behaviors of today into the past. There was the episode where Harry and Pete had the "racist-not racist" argument. There is the high percentage of divorces for the mid-'60s upper middle class, which is not quite historically accurate. This episode felt similar. Peggy, the intrepid glass ceiling breaker has one of those "oh my God, I turned 30 and I have no man" moments. Female viewer Spider Sense was set off. That's me some of them thought. Small other tidbits were there to remind women that the career track is a garbage barge portrayed as a yacht. Peggy reveals she just turned 30, lives alone with a fat kid (if Julio was really from the '60s he'd have been rail thin) visiting her whose mom doesn't care about him, she has no man, and worst of all her work is not valued and no one cares. Megan walked in all easy breezey and everyone lit up. No one cared about Peggy's work or deadlines. That is the secret girls. All that work will not matter. Men still care about cute, friendly, feminine and companion issues. Don't bother telling us about your exploits as a junior banker. We do not care. Peggy breaks down because she realizes she has nothing like other people with families and despite her success, it doesn't matter compared to a Megan. Don gives the "I'm not worried about you" speech. An unmarried 30 something in '69 NYC would have been uncommon, but we can allow this exception. The comfort to female viewers is Don, reassuring handsome older man, is not worried about her and honestly, Julio's mom is a mom but doesn't give a shit about him. Family is overrated, do not doubt that choice of career over life, but hey, we know you're worried single 30-somethings in Manhattan.

The Joan bits were ridiculously shoehorning modern problems into 1969. Consider how ancient Joan would've been being a first time mom in the maternity ward in 1966 at 36. That is a deleted scene I would've loved to see. In 1969, Bob Benson offers her an arrangement to be his beard for him to work at Buick, so her son (biologically Roger Stirling's) can be taken care of and have a male role model around. She turns it down because she wants... love. Bob explicitly states (paraphrased), "You're pushing 40 and a single mom, this is your best offer". Now how many viewers are probably watching that and feeling the Spider Sense tingle that this is them. Divorce rates in the mid '60s were still low. Remarriage rates were much better in the '70s compared to today, especially for someone looking like Joan with a degree and some cash. The back story for Joan looks more modern as well. She has had two "procedures" (abortions), messed around with older, wealthier men (Stirling), banged other guys in the office, and her appeal has slipped. Multiple times in the last dozen episodes she has thought a man was hitting on her or interested in sex for business only to be turned down. Go back and review the actors; not handsome men. She is losing her fastball. Oh the spider sense must have been on 11 for ladies watching at home in her situation in 2014. Don't worry gals, there she is with handsome Bob Benson making a proposal and still wanting to try to be straight, Yup cosmopolitan ladies, even your gay friend will want to try it out with you. Still you are completely in the right to reject him and seek love!

Both women receive reassurances or have their problems framed as if they made right choices that broke wrong, but it is easy to switch it on them. Joan, you could have landed a fantastic catch when you were 40-28-40 from 1952-1962, but you used the looks and enjoyed no commitment. Kensey reminded everyone you were 30 in 1960. That hurt. Roger left his wife for 20 year old Jane, not 30-something you. That was sting number two. The last guy enchanted by your goods was a fat jerk from Jaguar's dealer association. Keep chasing love. Didn't work out for you. Peggy, damn woman, you spent time banging married Pete. You wasted time with a journalist loser whom you moved in with rather than received a ring from, so yes, you wasted your 20s as well. You cannot blame your career as you did have chances. Nothing worked, and partly it was your faulty decision making and selection process. The show has portrayed the glass ceiling issue and sexism from a female friendly point of view, but like all stories there are multiple ways to look at it. This is Hollywood so obviously, it is female friendly. If it were not, there would be a peer for each of them that they have rejected who would be the crawl back guy come season 7, and he'd already be hitched to someone younger. For a Hollywood production, this episode, while giving that rub on the shoulder reassurance, still laid bare the reality of these two leading ladies' situations in a fictitious 1969 that many female viewers at home are going through in 2014. There is career joy and material success, but there is also aching loneliness and yearning for emotional fulfilment.


Anonymous said...

I rather enjoyed watching Peggy realize where her choices have landed her. When she was moved up from secretary to copy writer she was the envy of all the girls in the office. Lately, she has been pitied by all the girls in the office.

I'll let the writers slide on the gay victim meme played out at the police station wit Bob and his buddy. When Don busted Sal getting his gay on, he didn't have much to say about it. It's great that Sal didn't get fired for being gay, but for not being gay. Don didn't express his disapproval of homosexuality until Sal forced his hand.

Son of Brock Landers said...

The Peggy misinterpreting roses episode was hysterical. The show missed using Pete, Harry or Ken as a guy with a solid life a Peggy or Joan would reject only to regret. Pete's divorce felt too forced.

One of my favorite early MM moments was when Sal's wife came out in the sexy lingerie and he didnt bat an eye, then he gayed it up and performed the commercial he was directing for the firm. The look of confusion and horror on his wife's face was brutal.

kill em' all said...

well in response to the first paragraph in the mid 90's when i got old enough that my parents would let me wonder farther I met some friends from school in a different neighborhood and suggested exploring the local. I wasn't really sure they were telling the truth when they told me not to. ten years latter I read about a priest being busted there. our elites and media have been covering for the intolerable for a long time.