Monday, November 2, 2009

What's the Appeal of AMC's Mad Men?

I've viewed AMC's Mad Men for at least a few episodes (partly because of the success the show had at the latest Emmy's), and I think I've ascertained the series' appeal: Like most 1950s fare, people of color aren't visible or viable as equals, and homosexuality exists elsewhere.

The series certainly has a lot of sex appeal, for one aspect of the so-called Eisenhower years is the mistaken belief that sexual lust and longing didn't exist (even Eisenhower had a mistress, a female soldier who was his aide during his military years). The women on Mad Men wear those bullet-shaped bras that remind me of those worn by my second grade teacher, Mrs. F, who always struck me as a sexy witch of sorts (yes, little boys do have sexual fantasies). I was--and probably still am--in love with Mrs. F partly because even then I sensed she represented the "ideal" woman of that era: physically beautiful, well educated, and white.

But, I suspect the series' main attraction is the viewer's ability to immerse one's self into a world that must seem simplistically nostalgic: The main actors and actresses are all white. If one were to complain about such an apartheid-like series, those in control could use history to validate the cast: "Why, people of color rarely worked in the advertising arena back then."

And there's the main appeal of Mad Men: It allows viewers to remember--and vicariously participate in--a simplified existence that wasn't complicated by difference other than the eternal tensions between genders--heterosexual tensions, that is, which also reassures those who voted for Proposition 8 in California.

The series should be titled Mad White Men, and I wouldn't at all be surprised if Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Lou Dobbs are ardent fans of the show, for I can't imagine those men and other like-minded individuals to even be aware of the negative effects such "nostalgia" television might have on all viewers: Does it help us minimize the importance of race and diversity in our lives? Does it reinforce heterosexuality as the "norm"?

Will I continue to view the show? I doubt it, for I ultimately find it boring because of the stereotypes and the blandness of the world depicted. But I'm sure others will look forward to each episode precisely because of what it doesn't depict: The world we live in.

20 comments:

Leslie said...

Maybe you didn't see any of the episodes that concerned Sal, the art director, a closeted gay man. And while the African-American characters are peripheral, I think the show tries to use them to make important points. Not the same as developing, say, the character of the housekeeper Carla, but I think the show will move in that direction as it moves forward in time.

Robert Vasquez said...

No, I didn't see that episode about a gay man. I only saw a few episodes, and as a heterosexual I'm certainly attracted to the women in the show, but even their situations illustrate how limited women's roles were in that era.

The sad thing about any 1950s "nostalgia" fare is that it doesn't have to focus on people of color for a variety of reasons even though that decade was one of the worst for people of color: separate but "equal" schools, eating places, hotels, etc.

If a 1950s show focused on the reality that people of color had to endure during those years, that would be a series more grounded in the reality of the world.

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