Mad Men S1

I just finished the first season of Mad Men. I certainly won’t win any points for timeliness, and originality is probably a hard sell too, but I’ll give writing about it a try anyways.

Mad Men is designed to be titillating to a certain audience. By that I don’t mean the sex scenes (which are actually tamer than what I’d expected), but the show’s glamorized portrayal and encouraged fetishization of a particular moment’s flavor of patriarchy. Given the favorable response from that targeted audience, it seems reasonable to deem this a problematic cultural artifact.

But what about when the audience consists of those who would label it as problematic? While viewing it, I could not help but to think that media of this sort can be not only not harmful when viewed with an awareness of patriarchy, but perhaps even beneficial. Dr. Strangelove and Starship Troopers come to my mind as examples of media that can be found supporting both perspectives that must remain in opposition – as terrifyingly, some people think these are pro-war movies!

I am not going to rush to call Mad Men pro-feminist, but the show makes efforts to imply that its depiction of women is wrong. Occasionally it even explicitly addresses why the women in the show are made unhappy by the way they are treated. In the first season, at least, I saw a reasonable mix of patriarchy-challenging and patriarchy-reinforcing content that allows the audience to choose what portion to embrace. It makes me wonder whether this kind of shared-but-opposed content makes for a useful common ground for engagement with non-feminists. That is to say, maybe when a show like Mad Men comes out, we should aggressively point out the ways it can challenge patriarchy instead of just condemning it for the ways it can justify and reinforce it. (Emphasis on “just”.)

Leave a Comment

NOTE - You can use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>