So, I realize that everything I have been writing lately is about either feminism, or television, or both. I’m not really sure how that happened. And I would apologize, but…I’m not really sorry about it. Anyway, I keep trying to balance the content out a bit more (with features like Thursday Night LIFE, for example), and then feminism or television creep on in there. Creep creep creep.
My basic rule of thumb with television is that if it’s on Hulu, I will watch it. If it’s a show which has been running for a few seasons, I’m reluctant to start unless everything is on Hulu, although sometimes I will make exceptions. If it’s not on Hulu, I may watch it if the network has uploaded it to their site (like Lost), although I’m really pleased that ABC is now a Hulu partner so I won’t have to use their stupid player anymore. But if I can’t get it (legally) online, I won’t watch it. My exception to this rule is when it goes on sale at Amazon for a price which I think is reasonable (less than $1.99/episode for a DVD set, for example). This is how I ended up with True Blood and how I finally acquired Six Feet Under, and it’s how I picked up Mad Men, which was ridiculous amounts of on sale a few weeks ago for both seasons (so on sale that I am embarrassed to tell you what I paid for seasons one and two because I just checked the price and it is very not on sale anymore and it would make you angry to know how much I paid).
Now, Mad Men is a show which has gotten a lot of awards and critical attention, and it’s a show which I was definitely interested in watching, even if it didn’t have the incomparable Christina Hendricks in it. It’s an era I like, and a topic I was interested in. So, I was very stoked when I realized that I could get it.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the show, it’s set in the early 1960s at an advertising agency, Sterling Cooper. The show follows the lives of the executives (particularly Donald Draper) both in and out of the office. And, right out of the gate, I could see why it was getting critical attention. I haven’t had a chance to watch very many episodes yet, but they have all been totally awesome. I’m not much of an expert on the period, but I think that the show has a great period feel stylistically and visually, making me feel like I am being plunged into this alternate world.
This was an era when advertising was king, and advertising was just starting to reach dizzying heights. It was also an era in which huge cultural shifts were occurring, and that’s what makes the show fascinating and engaging to me. I don’t know a lot about the backstory and intents behind the show (I’m kind of trying to go into it blind, because I’m curious to see how that affects my reading of the show), but I think that Mad Men is also a great example of a feminist show, even though none of the characters themselves are really feminist or could be pointed to as great feminist examples.
What makes it a great feminist show is the depiction of the lives of men and women in the 1960s. The show has really been underscoring, for me, the huge gains that women have made. From the start, the show is set squarely in the offices, and we as viewers are introduced to the busy lives of the men. The women, in their remote country homes, are introduced almost like an afterthought, really underlining their place in society. And watching the women struggle with issues like depression, raising children more or less alone, running large homes, or trying to function in the secretarial pool is just amazing.
The men in the show treat the women with careless, reckless abandon. Acts of sexual harassment occur pretty much constantly, and the women are very much targets of casual abuse. And the show clearly frames this pretty neutrally, because it is just telling a story, not necessarily explicitly sending a message, but it’s definitely not promoting this kind of behaviour. This, for me, is what makes the show feminist. It’s not trying to lecture to anyone, it’s just telling a story, but in such bleak, stark terms that the reader is kind of horrified. It’s almost like watching a National Geographic film.
I became so entrenched of the world of the show that I actually found myself gasping when one of the women wore pants on a social outing, and commending one of the male characters for treating a woman with small degree of respect. I don’t know how realistic this depiction is, because I wasn’t around in the 1960s to experience it, but it feels very real to me, and I can see how quickly women could get sucked into this kind of oppressive world, even when they might try to retain independence and their sense of self. They had everything going against them, and those in the show who dare to go against the grain have to fight extremely hard just to be treated fairly, let alone equally.
I’m really excited about finishing my stock of Mad Men and I’m already looking forward to season three, which I gather has just started airing on television. (Which means I won’t be seeing it for at least a year, since they aren’t a Hulu partner.) Those of you who haven’t heard of the show yet or who are on the fence about it should definitely check it out; there’s a reason it’s getting critical acclaim.