Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Looking Through the Smoke at Mad Men

I admit it, I am a little bit behind the times. I finally got the Season I DVD of Mad Men so that I could see what all the fuss was about when this critically-acclaimed show debuted in the summer of '07. (In my defense, this was during my last year of school when all the TV I had time for was American Idol and Big Love.)

The first episode started off promisingly enough - very cool opening graphics, great theme song. I must admit, I agree with the critics who love the gorgeous visuals of this show. It is beautifully filmed and art directed, the sets and especially the costumes are perfect and fabulous. But that's where it ends for me. I just can't get past two key things:

THE SMOKING - it's disgusting and it's in every scene. In the office, in the bedroom, in the kitchen (a pregnant woman!!), in restaurants. I can't get past the visceral gut reaction that knows what that air smells like and what it is like to try to breathe in a room full of smoke. I feel like coughing through every scene. I found myself taking shallow breaths and wishing I was near an open window! I grew up in a house with a mother who was a chimney. She has severe COPD now and I'm the one taking her to doctor appointments, hospitals, and watching her go from being able-bodied to being in a wheel chair and using oxygen 24/7. So you can see why I find cigarettes disgusting. Yeah, I know that's what it was like then. But I bet the cigarette companies are just loving this series. They haven't had this kind of advertising in years -- no, decades. We find it strange now to see everyone smoking, but we're still watching beautiful, glamorous people smoking.

THE SEXISM - it's so over the top and offensive that it's painful to watch. Do people today secretly enjoy this because they wish they could treat women that way and they can live vicariously through these characters? Do women like watching this because it reinforces how far we've come? Yeah, I know that's what it was like then. But do we need to go back there week after week?

It didn't take me long to give up on the series entirely - just to the first half of the second episode, when a mother (the glorious January Jones - whom I've admired since her small role in Love Actually) admonished her daughter for playing with the dry cleaning bag because she might have left mom's clean clothes on the floor, instead of for putting the dang bag over her head. I figured I'd had enough of this time period and that the rest of the series was just going to be more of the same. My time is valuable, so the following video - Mad Men in 60 Seconds, will have to do for me:

I realize that by making this opinion public, I run the risk of being considered unsophisticated for not falling for this dark, cynical, and sexy look at the past. But I wonder about this series. Yes, it shows life in the pre-revolutionary 60s, before Gloria Steinem, Martin Luther King, and rock and roll changed everything. But there's something celebratory in revisiting this decade week after week. It's like an opportunity to be non-politically correct and yet not be accused of being non-politically correct because obviously this is a satire, right? Do viewers continue to look aghast at the racism and sexism in this show if they are avid fans? I won't find out because I won't take the time to watch, but if you're a true fan of Mad Men, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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