Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mad for Mad Men

I am a bit of a geek when it comes to the history of advertising and PR. Thank You for Smoking is one of my favorite books, and I love reading case studies about the best (and worst) campaigns from yesteryear. In fact, I still have my college textbooks from my Com classes and I read them for pleasure.

I told you, total nerd here.

So it was no surprise to me (or my family) when I fell in love with the premiere of Mad Men in 2007. Watching it, I felt like someone had taken all the really cool case studies from my text books and put them on screen with a cast of fantastic actors, a gorgeous, retro wardrobe and a few scandalous affairs to sweeten the pot.

After two seasons, I think what I love most about the show isn't the eye candy or fictionalized case studies--it's the way the show has progressed by showing how much the world has and really hasn't changed. Gender, race and sexuality are addressed not by what is said, but by what is left completely unsaid.

Don is wonderful at that. A disapproving glance or a smirk and--Oh! He is so repulsive, but I can't help but love him. He is at once progressive and judgmental, cruel and kind. In one scene he will push Peggy forward and help her climb the corporate ladder, and in another put down his wife Betty for daring to wear something she thought was sexy.

But my favorite character, if you haven't guessed, is Joan Holloway. Joan embodies every social construct, every double standard faced by women in the workforce. She is the office manager, content in her supporting role and looking forward to her forthcoming marriage, but at the same time, part of her seems to be aware that she could be more. She looks down on Peggy at times, but when given the chance to do the work of her male colleagues, she excels! Unfortunately, no one, not even Joan herself, ever thinks about making the change permanent. In fact, by the very next episode, someone new, a young and inexperienced man, is hired to take over the position, and Joan is once again relegated to her old position.

Joan is also a sex icon. She exudes confidence, particularly in the first season. In one early episode, three account executives are discussing how every woman fits into one of two roles: Jackie Kennedy or Marilyn Monroe. Of Joan, the men agree, "Well, Marilyn is really a Joan."

But Joan is also over thirty and not yet married. She is mortified when an angry coworker posts her drivers license, exposing her birth date, and she is ecstatic when she can finally show off an engagement ring. At times, it seems like Joan is playing the role she knows she is supposed to be playing, and cracks are starting to appear in her facade. One of the most powerful and heartbreaking scenes occurs when Joan is raped by her fiance in her boss's office. Joan picks herself up and keeps going in spite of what happened because, like Don, she excels at keeping up appearances, no matter the cost. Joan has every intention of following the path she is supposed to take, but it's more complex than that.

I think it will be exciting to see where Joan goes next in the upcoming season. Her journey, along with those of Peggy and Betty, mirrors those of many women. Although Mad Men takes place nearly half a century ago, it parallels our world today. It is easy to relate to these characters, and I think that is the most striking thought of all.

The third season premiered on Sunday, August 16 on AMC. The next episode airs on Sunday, August 23 at 10PM.

1 comments: to “ Mad for Mad Men

  • Anonymous
    11:39 PM  

    You would like Joan =)

    Not a fan of the show, but I can see the appeal

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