At the end of its first season, the new AMC series “Mad Men,” the story of Madison Avenue advertising executives set in the year 1960, is in good shape. The show’s creators chose that year because it had almost all the cool, “Rat pack” style of the ‘50s and almost all the libertinism of the late ‘60s. (1961 was, after all, the year of the Pill.) At least stylistically, the show is making an impact on male fashion. GQ ran an article on how to imitate the sleek formality of the Mad Men, and they say that thanks to shows like “Mad Men,” the term “metrosexual” is giving way to “menergy” to "describe the ultra-masculinity in designer menswear.”
“Mad Men” is not always a first-rate show (sometimes it’s thinly written), but it is interesting. Indeed, its most intriguing character may not be the protagonist Don Draper but the year 1960 itself. But what I also find interesting (and sometimes annoying) about the series is its portrayal of women. At times the characters are like cardboard cutouts. Don Draper’s wife is pretty, bored, sweet, and rather ditsy; his paramour at the beginning of the series is a carefree and insatiable bohemian artist; and the female business client that he is romantically drawn to is a (secular) Jewish woman who has taken over her father’s department store.
So is this another feminist caricaturing of the bad old days, a reductionistic portrayal of the era as the age of the Stepford wife? Possibly, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily off the mark. One of the things that “Mad Men” unintentionally does is show that while post-WWII America was certainly chauvinist, it was not, strictly speaking, patriarchal. That is to say, there is no sense among the men in the show that they are solemnly obliged to respect womanhood and even to foster it. Instead, they crack one vulgar joke after another about their secretaries and grow defensive about their wife’s honor only because it threatens theirs. What we have here is not Abraham or St. Paul, but the swinish and selfish mentality authentic biblical patriarchy is meant to combat and supplant.
If anyone else has seen this show, I am interested in your thoughts.