Sunday, March 25, 2012

Does Mad Men get it right?

No one can deny that Mad Men is one of the best television shows of the past decade. Still, although I’ve seen many episodes, I could never really get into it. Every time I watched Mad Men, I found myself boiling with an inexplicable sense of indignation. Perhaps this feeling was partly induced by the rampant racism, sexism, and ethnocentrism that are so central to the show’s story. And perhaps I simply couldn’t relate to any of the characters. But what really makes me uncomfortable is that the show’s portrayal of the 1960s is – to a large extent – realistic.  

In an online discussion for the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog, Former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger reported finding parallels between Mad Men and his early days in law. He was particularly struck at how well the show demonstrates the prevalence of daytime drinking as well as how it deals with changing gender roles on the 1960s. In addition, Dellinger mentioned in an interview with American Lawyer that “Mad Men also shows a 1960s world of closeted homosexuality and casual anti-Semitism, and gets those just right, too.”

Dellinger is obviously a huge fan. However, he does concede that “[t]he most serious criticism of the show is that while it takes a stance of disapproving of the benighted ways of that era, it also undeniably takes great pleasure in portraying them.” This criticism explains my biggest problem with Mad Men. In many ways, it’s written is such a way as to idealize the 1960s, and it does not do enough to demonize the social inequalities that were so prevalent during that era. Every time I watch the show, I feel compelled to smoke, drink, and treat women as inferior beings. While I’m kidding about the latter of these, the show does have the potential to make viewers complacent with the economic, social, and cultural environments of the 1960s.

On the other hand, considering how realistic Mad Men actually is, it does highlight how far we’ve come in the area of civil rights. This is not to say, of course, that we still don’t have a long way to go. But it does show progress and may even educate those who were unaware of how large the gap actually was. While watching Mad Men may occasionally disrupt my moral compass, I do realize that we no longer live in the 1960s. The last fifty years has brought some extraordinary changes in civil rights jurisprudence. And while I am ecstatic to see these changes, I must admit that I am bit disappointed about letting go of the age-old tradition of day drinking.  

No comments:

Post a Comment