Thursday, September 3, 2009
I definitely watch Mad Men as if it were Mad Women. A few days before Lauren Goodlad’s article appeared in the Chronicle, I had been looking at AMC’s offical Mad Men website, and the downloads area caught my attention (in a way that it hadn’t a few weeks earlier when I went to the same site to “madmen myself” for Facebook). The six wallpapers available for Season 3 seemed particularly satisfying to a fan of Mad Women. Don Draper has the only truly “solo” shot (but, hey, he’s almost under water). Betty Draper is doubled by her reflection in a shop window and tripled by the mannequin head in the same. Joan Holloway and Peggy Olson are both shown on the street, framed, but not interacting, with men who are not show characters. Secondary male characters (Roger Sterling, Pete Campbell, Salvatore Romano, Ken Cosgrove, Paul Kinsey and Harry Crane) appear only in the two group shots. Don, Joan, Peggy and Betty (if you count the reflection) appear twice. And while the red “Mad” of the show’s title is one possible explanation for the color scheme at work across the images, Joan’s hair (oh! Joan’s hair!) seems a much more succulent, suggestive reason for the burnt siennas and peachy-pinks accenting and dominating the palette.
The main reason I enjoy Mad Men is that the three main women characters (along with Rachel Menken, the department store heiress from Season 1) are complex and interesting. The screenwriting here seems to be taking a “tip of the iceberg” tactic… there is much more going on with these characters than immediately meets the eye, and they have the (already demonstrated) potential to develop in ways that the men just don’t. Screen time probably has not always been an accurate measure of their importance to the show—although I surely wouldn’t complain if they got more of it! As Lauren suggested to me in an email exchange we had regarding her Chronicle piece, the character of Don feels a bit “at the end of the line.” Peggy, in contrast, has arguably evolved the most over the first two seasons. She shows some danger of becoming too much one of the boys—that is, too trapped in the limitations of her company position and status quo politics, such that advancement in a single direction up the company ladder is the only possible change left. But she feels palpably different as well. One can see her actually doing something radically different from what the men seem destined for (launching her own firm? going into magazine editing?). Meanwhile, it doesn’t necessarily always feel “too late” for Betty (although with the Season 2 finale announcement, things aren’t looking especially good for her in the short term). Joan especially seems on the verge of busting out—metaphorically! She is just so smart and savvy that if her wedding plans go south (I have only seen through Season 3, Episode 1), one can easily imagine her completely reinventing herself. In contrast, the men, Don and Pete in particular (this is less true for Harry and Ken), seem absolutely trapped in ways of thinking that are simply not going to be socially viable for much longer. They may still flourish professionally, because they are so well on their way, but they feel like they will just fizzle affectively. In this light, Sal’s gayness could be read as an allegory for the impasse of masculinity (again, I don’t where this goes after the Season 3 opener). Obviously WWII and the Korean War and their impact on the individual man and or his idea of himself is showcased, particularly for Don, as a trauma to which this impasse might be historically ascribed.