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Is ‘Mad Men’ Cool or Creepy?


Oh ‘Mad Men,’ how you confuse and torment me? Last night’s show was great.  I’m still giggling about Lane and Pete’s fight  (another reason I love Rodger), Pete’s suburban pain was almost heartbreaking, and Ken’s writing career was really touching.  That being said, the women of the show were relegated to supporting players at best.  I few background scenes, an alluring high school girl, some prostitutes and that was it for the girls.  I’m not trying to be the annoying feminist or believe that it’s not a clever, smart show. In fact, it’s a great show for many reasons. I applaud the show for mixing the glamour (Don in a fedora, Betty’s perfect ice queen, Joan’s oozing sex appeal, advertising in the 1960’s Manhattan) with the social, sexual, and political upheaval of the 1960’s.  I enjoy the elusiveness air/don’t give a damn attitude of the creators, but that being said, the “Mystery Date” episode airing on April 8th left me with a really unsettling feeling.

Mind you, the episode used a real life, horrific crime (the Richard Speck Chicago murders of 8 nurses) as a backdrop to the episode.  The show also deals with racial tensions in the office amidst the burgeoning civil rights movement.  So maybe Sunday dinner with a side of murder and racism was the reason I got a little bent out of shape.   Quick recap of the “Mystery Date” episode:

  •  Young Sally Draper (daughter of Don)  is bored and becomes fascinated with the Chicago murder case along with her creepy grandmother – a grandmother who sleeps with a butcher’s knife, gives young Sally sleeping pills and has a very fond memory (revealed with… relish?) about her father kicking her.
  •  Earnest copywriter (and the show’s prism into the women’s movement) Peggy let the new black receptionist stay the night at her place because a cab wouldn’t take her to Harlem in such volatile times, then totally has a moment of not trusting a black woman in her apartment from stealing from her.
  • Joan’s husband is back from Vietnam only to reveal he has signed up for another tour of duty. Joan kicks him out, which every ‘Mad Men’ fan is okay with since he’s a weak, rapey guy to begin with. Excuse me, full rape guy, not rapey.  There is a difference.
  • Don is sick and in his fevered dreams kills a woman right after they fuck because she’s a woman he was totally okay cheating with when married to Betty, but not new wife Megan.  And in killing dreams, Don decides stuffing the dead girl under the bed is the way to go.
  • And then there is some other inner office stuff – although Roger Sterling is becoming a beacon of light in a show that is getting quite twisted.

Okay, reviewing the episode, there is a lot of good stuff – but the roles of women are starting to weird me out.  Who am I rooting for? I’m  not saying I need a perfect rom com style protagonist, but help a sister out.  I want to root for Peggy but she’s a little too insipid, awkward and needy.  Parts of me like Joan with her killer survival instincts trapped in that sexpot body, but at the end of the day, she just keeps getting screwed.  Everyone hates Betty, but I have sympathy for the beautiful ice queen who did what she thought she was supposed to and yet nothing worked out. I don’t have enough sympathy that I’d wish her as a mother on my worst enemy, but still, sympathy is not enough to root for the poor, pretty, rich girl.  And then Megan (Don’s recent wife) seems so simple, gulliable and naive, and she lost me with the French song and dance. In fact, maybe the coolest chick on the show is Sally Draper.  I just know it’s going to kill me when she becomes a promiscuous, pill-popping teenager or totally doped-up stoner in the hippie moment.  You know series creator, Matthew Weiner, isn’t going to miss an opportunity to totally tarnish Sally.  In fact, Weiner loves sullying the ladies of ‘Mad Men.’

I think Matthew Weiner might have the Alfred Hitchcock’s fetishized view of women. Hitchcock loved his exquisite, cool, ice blondes (Tippi Hedren, Kim Novac, Grace Kelly) but only if they were in danger and their lives threatened at every turn.  Hitchcock and the audiences loved to put them in danger and watch them struggle.  Watching a Hitchcock film (and he was brilliant in many ways) is similar to watching mice in clear cages as the scientists introduce something that most likely will harm, freak out, traumatize or kill the mice.  We watch the experiment to see the result, but while watching, we too participate in their glamourized torture.  I think Matthew Weiner is similar.  Some might argue that all the characters of Mad Men are flawed and tortured, and it is these components and their stylized world that makes the show so compelling.  I get that, but part of me is just creeped out by all the women.  The guys get a few comic reliefs (the new Jewish copywriter, the dorky Harry, the jokester/idiot copywriter foil to Peggy), all the women get is torture.  Be it their husbands, their jobs, society, can’t a girl get a break?

I know I should like Joan for finally ditching her weak, annoying, rapey husband.  I should root for Peggy for blackmailing more money out of Rodger and letting the new secretary stay at her house, or Megan’s undying optimism that her marriage to Don will work.

Maybe I’m just confused.  While there is a lot that I like about this show, the writing, the roles and the evolution of that time in history, the woman in me is getting the heebie-jeebies. Why is the only girl I really root for is Sally?  Maybe I identify with Sally because she admits when she’s scared or freaked out, and is honest.  Who  knows? Maybe I’m alone in my thoughts.  So I ask you.

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Is 'Mad Men' Unsympathetic/Creepy Towards Women

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