My favorite thing about stories no matter the medium are the multifaceted characters. There’s no greater joy than watching the layers unfold.
Always fascinated with 50s and 60s culture, it has taken me a while to get into Mad Men, but I’m into it. Very into it. I love the gothic themes of utopian post WWII culture–the obsession with normalcy and order.
I watch this show as a brand consultant, as a woman, and as someone who has worked in an office off 5th avenue for five years.
I will start this blog by looking at the huge gender issues on the show. It’s painful to watch the women who have about 1.5 choices in life, in comparison to the men who are at the top of the world. It’s hard to watch Peggy–Don Draper’s secretary–sway by in her skirt as the men sit around smoking and drinking in their suits–commenting on her weight.
We’ve all been that girl moving through an office aware of being looked at, and acting like we don’t notice. It’s just part of being female.
Peggy appears to ignore it as she makes a litany of mistakes–sleeping with her married coworker, not asking for pay for extra the little writing work she secures and even coming on to her boss. She is so overly eager to please her boss Don Draper that he avoids her (as mentioned in the first few episodes). During her “onboarding” she was given some very bad advice by seasoned office sex pot aka office manager Joan. So she was set up to fail from day one–as many women seem to be in this show.
I am both female and Jewish. Mad Men gives an honest portrayal of what life was like back then. If you were female you had an incredible disadvantage at work, and if you were Jewish you were scum–if you were both…well you had to look the other way, a lot.
One character Rachel Menkin owned a department store on 5th Avenue and was the only Jewish female client. To appease this unapologetic business woman Draper’s agency Sterling Cooper (a fictional ad agency) tries to find a Jewish employee to stick on her account. Of course Draper falls in love with the beautiful, independent and wealthy Rachel. She gives him some advice about what it is to be Jewish:
“Look, Jews have lived in exile for a long time: first in Babylon, then all over the world– Shanghai, Brooklyn– and we’ve managed to make a go of it. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we thrive at doing business with people who hate us.”
I’m glad I don’t live in a time where I’d have a problem joining a country club because I was Bat Mitzvah’d.
And in thinking about modern female Jewish assimilation, let’s look at shiksa character Betty, Don Draper’s Grace Kelly-look alike wife. Betty tells a story of her first kiss. She attended a Jewish event and met a boy. They kissed. All the kids gossiped about it on the school bus. The next summer all the Jewish girls had dyed their hair blonde. And so it goes….
Earlier in the post I talk about the office gossip around Peggy and her body. I can believe the things the men say to women at work because this stuff still happens all the time. At least now there are rules and regulations around it. I do wish we gave the Peggys of today’s world some kind of training for how they will deal with corporate culture–and what the hell to do when really weird stuff happens at work (with men, which it will).
To be continued as I finish season 1. What do you think about the show? Would you have wanted to work at Sterling Cooper?