Mad Men Beyond 60s

A google search of ‘period drama’ brings up results like sites like perioddramas.com

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or, perioddrama.com

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A quick browse through these sites finds a clear association between the notion of ‘period drama’ and the imagery of castles, costumes of the Victorian era. In the ‘Top-rated Period Dramas’ list provided by perioddramas.com Jane Eyre even appears three times (2006 TV mini-series at No.3, 2011 movie at No.13, and at No.25, another TV mini-series from 1973). I haven’t watched any of these and to make such a judgement would be idiotic – Isn’t this obsession with ‘romance of another age’, in which people dress significantly differently, with now diminished manners, equivalent to the idea of a lowbrow fandom mentioned earlier in our exploration of genres? Is period drama a certain kind of ‘fantasy’?

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Oh god, is that an assumed female audience?

Is Mad Men, with all the glamorous fashion and etiquettes, a show of a ‘periodic’ fashion? Looking beyond the dresses and the cocktails, without doubt, the show exhibits almost every aspect of social development in the age of 60s, one that incorporates profound social change that many characters in the show engages with through personal struggles. Especially from a contemporary perspective, many of such elements contain the ‘wow-factor’ of a museum piece. As Jason Mittell points out in ‘On Disliking Mad Men’, the ‘casual sexism and racism’ in the characters’ conducts make us view them as ‘dinosaurs unaware of the coming ice age’.

The final episode of Season 1 is filled with such moments, from brief shots such as Carla the housemaid’s facial expression when she was told ‘just go home’ to the vivid examples of ‘cheating husband, confused wife’ comparison between the Draper and the Campbell couple. The display of the social politics not only provides us with the ‘dinosaur-viewing’ portal, but also provides the viewing pleasure of contextual reading. As pointed out by Kackman in the previous post, narrative complexity is achieved not just through the reading of the text, but also our perception that the stories contain deeper meanings of cultural identification.

However, Mad Men cannot be assumed to be a quality show simply through this retrospective view of the period, even though the narrative interest usually surrounds overt issues such as sexism and family politics (we see that not only through the unbalanced status between husband and wives, and women at workplace, but also in Pete Campbell’s frustration of ‘can’t provide for a child’ in front of his father0in-law). When viewing the sequence of Francine’s breakdown over her suspicion of a cheating husband I wondered if today’s women are in anyway more empowered in such situations than back then. When Francine went over the phone bill, and Betty opened Don’s letter, was women in a worse situation when it came to facing infidelity, marriage problems, etc. My answer is no. Emotions like suspicion and feeling of betrayal does not evolve along with social changes. To me Mad Men’s ultimate charm remains in its ‘character-centered form’, as Jason Mittell puts it, what makes Mad Men quality TV is the time one spends interpreting the characters, through the form of slow serial narrative.

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