1st 2009
Mad Men: still aggressively anti-sexy

Posted under: American history, art, GLBTQ, unhappy endings

madmen_standardUPDATED BELOW

Dr. Mister and I found episode 1 from the third Mad Men season for free on-line this weekend, and watched it together huddled up close to my computer screen.  (Did you know that we’re so cheap, we squeak?  It’s true.)  I stand by my claim of last month that Mad Men goes out of its way to ensure that no one enjoys any sexual pleasure whatsoeverSpoiler alert:  In this episode, Don and Sal are on a business trip to Baltimore, and both of them hook up–Don with a flight attendant, and Sal with a bellboy.  (This appears to be Sal’s first sexual encounter with another man, and it’s very hot.)  Guess what?  Four seconds into it, the hotel fire alarm goes off, and everyone has to climb down the fire escape!  This is the device by which Don gets a glimpse of the shirtless bellboy in Sal’s room, so Don knows Sal’s big secret.

The writers of Mad Men must all be in their 30s or early 40s–people who were teenagers and young adults ca. 1984-1996, from the time the HIV virus was discovered to the discovery of protease inhibitors.  (These came out in Dr. Mister’s last year of residency, where he treated a large number of HIV-infected patients, and they totally changed the game practically overnight.  They’re the biggest medical miracle of my lifetime, that’s for sure.)  In any case, the legacy of growing up in the shadow of AIDS is pretty clear in the writing of Mad Men.  The most severe anti-sex moralist would approve of all of the bad things that happen to characters on Mad Men when they pursue sexual pleasure.  Those of you who have seen season 3:  without any spoilers, can you tell me if this ever changes? 

Roger Sterling has become my favorite character, loathsome as he is, because he’s the only one who looks like he’s having any fun.

UPDATE:  The Lazy Scholar reminds us that it’s World AIDS Day.  (Check out his collection of digital goodies, friends, which will be of particular interest to American Studies scholars.)


15 Responses to “Mad Men: still aggressively anti-sexy”

  1. Christen on 01 Dec 2009 at 10:28 am #

    There is one development near the end of season 3 that might qualify as a change. The characters involved seem to be having a good time, but it left a lot of people thinking “WTH” instead of “oo, sexeh.”

  2. Historiann on 01 Dec 2009 at 10:36 am #

    Mmmmmm. . . sounds like I can wait to find out about that one! (Eeewwww???) Thanks for the warning!

  3. Tom on 01 Dec 2009 at 11:23 am #

    I think I recognize Historiann in the Sterling Cooper lobby above–the one with the Martini. Are the rest frequent commentators? I think I recognize one or two. But not myself, alas, unless I am the hapless pint-sized nobody on the step in the turquoise suit.

  4. Historiann on 01 Dec 2009 at 11:43 am #

    Trust me, Tom–you don’t want to be that guy. He’s the despicable little puke, Pete Campbell. You’re about as far from Pete Campbell as a man can get, and that’s a compliment, believe me.

    Yes, that’s me: drinking in daylight hours now! See what happened when you (and ej, and Homostorian Americanist) moved away from Potterville? (See what you’re missing?)

  5. GayProf on 01 Dec 2009 at 12:16 pm #

    I wish that the picture could include all of your readers in Mad Men form!

  6. Historiann on 01 Dec 2009 at 12:36 pm #

    My readers have the sexxay, though. I don’t want to imprison them in the tragically unsexy world of MM!

  7. Clio Bluestocking on 01 Dec 2009 at 1:09 pm #

    To be fair, few of these characters get any real enjoyment out of anything. Even Roger finds his joys short-lived. Perhaps Bert Cooper, with his quirky ways, enjoys life, but he seems to be celibate (unless he’s having an affair with Ayn Rand).

  8. Historiann on 01 Dec 2009 at 2:01 pm #

    Good one on Cooper & Rand! Funny.

    It’s true that few of them enjoy anything. Roger’s pleasures may be short-lived, but he has a lot of them, and he’s got a sense of humor.

  9. Dr.GunPowderPlot on 01 Dec 2009 at 3:02 pm #

    I hadn’t thought of the anti-sex message in MM as coming from the AIDS generation, but it’s a good point. I’m thinking that no, no one ever has any real fun in bed on this show this season, but then the show seems to spend most of its time saying that no one has any fun at all. “The 60′s, kids, were not all pot-smoking and Woodstock.” Indeed, the show consistently tells us that it was no fun to be a woman, no fun to be African-American, and gosh darn it, even the men weren’t having as much fun as we’d hoped. Was it here we were talking about those weird kids? The Draper kids clearly have years of therapy ahead of them.

    Roger is certainly the character you love to hate, even (especially?) at his worst, and he’s definitely the sexiest, which I think comes from the fact that he IS having fun.

    And this, btw, is way more fun than grading.

  10. Historiann on 01 Dec 2009 at 3:05 pm #

    Dr. GPP: always happy to provide a distraction. But, of course, you get what you pay for here, friends!

    No, I don’t think anyone here has brought up the weirdness of Sally and Bobby D. (or whatever his name is), so we can credit you with that observation. My husband’s comment about Sally Draper was, “Oh yeah, you can just see Sally at a commune in the Haight in about 8 or 10 years!”

    This probably says a little too much about me, but I keep wondering when Betty is going to unload on Sally for not being quite as beautiful or as thin as Mommy. Why do I think that?

  11. tanya on 01 Dec 2009 at 6:26 pm #

    I agree with Christen on this one.

    And that’s all I can say without spoiling anything more. But seriously, the end of Season 3 is fairly incredible.

  12. tanya on 01 Dec 2009 at 6:26 pm #

    Also, if I remember correctly, AMC is likely to re-air the third season this spring.

  13. Indyanna on 01 Dec 2009 at 10:50 pm #

    Dang, I still don’t know how you make those graphics. Is this some kind of a Second Life utility (my chair is big on 2L)? But even I could see that was Historiann strolling across in front of those two cranky Suits in the elevator lobby. Indyanna has left the building, probably in the hands of the agency’s doorguard/ ropemeister. That’s all right. He’ll just have to take his $200M account across the street to that edgy shop started last week by the guys they fired!

  14. Historiann on 01 Dec 2009 at 11:21 pm #

    Indyanna–here’s the link to the Mad Men-ization program.

    Inspired by Tom’s curiosity about the characters above (and they’re not commentors, they’re characters in the show), I’m contemplating putting together a whole gallery of Mad Men-ized regular commentors and seeing if anyone recognizes hirself…

  15. Homostorian Americanist on 02 Dec 2009 at 8:55 am #

    I want to be the person third from the left. I HEART Joan!

    I agree with Christen that someone gets to have some fun in the sack in season three, but it’s exactly who you’d expect, and I don’t even think that can be considered a spoiler. The season itself was just not as much fun as One or Two, in my humble opinion. Way too much home life (booooring) and not enough of some of the smaller characters in the office. There’s not nearly as much of my very favorite as there should be, but Tanya is totally right: the last episode is great, not least because of the stellar performance of Mrs. Joan Harris!

    As for Sally, I kind of love her. Her lisp is ridiculously good and they’ve really given her such a part. The kids could have been such throwaways (and her brother kind of still is) but she really becomes a major player in her own right. Granted, it’s at home, which I find booooring, but still, she helps make it less so.

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