August
12th 2010
Random thoughts on Mad Men, season 4 (so far)

Posted under: American history, art, Gender, unhappy endings, wankers, women's history

Well, now that I have an i-pod and i-tunes, there’s a way to get Mad Men without subscribing to some expensive, crappy cable TV package I neither want nor need.  i-tunes sells a season pass for $20 ($30 for HD), which seems like a total bargain.  The only downside is that I have to watch the show on my computer, so Fratguy and I snuggle up in bed and balance it on our laps together.  (Too bad it’s such a completely un-sexy show!) 

Here are my thoughts so far (3 episodes in).  As the fankids say on the internets–spoiler alert:

  • So far, this season is all-Don, all the time.  Ugh.  Who cares?  He’s divorced.  He’s depressed.  He’s destructive.  Who cares?
  • Here’s some random advice for those of you who might be in the same situation:  keep your pants on.  Don’t bang your secretary.  Don’t try to bang your only friend’s adorable college student niece, who will find you ridiculously old and pathetic. 
  • All of the women’s clothing is terrible.  Everyone is dressing like Peggy now, wearing some version of wallpaper print fabric suits and dresses.
  • Mad Men continues in the tradition of sitcoms and soap operas everywhere in that a baby was born, but then disappears almost completely until he can walk down the stairs and introduce himself as a school-aged child.  WTF?
  • Sally Draper just might have a part in an interesting story line.  Too bad she doesn’t get one herself!  She’s merely the object of a strange boy’s interest–kind of like the rest of the women in the show.  (Today you are a woman, Sally.  Mazel Tov!)  Oh well–like I’ve said here before:  I’m not convinced that this show has a feminist perspective.  Centering a show around men–even if we’re supposed to see that they’re pathetic, destructive, and wholly undeserving of their unearned privilege–is still a show all about teh menz.  The women (and girl) characters are so much more interesting than the men, but the camera still follows Don, Roger, and Lane into their offices, shutting all of the women (Peggy excepted) out of the picture.  So far, this season appears to be worse than the previous seasons, with Betty sidelined by her divorce from Don, and Joan sidelined by her marriage to Dr. Douchebag.  (I can’t be bothered to look up this character’s real name.)
  • The one woman in the boys’ club at work–Peggy–hasn’t been given anything interesting to do beyond look uncomfortable at the things the men say, and a rather unattractive boyfriend who is unworthy of her.  What a waste. 

If you’re in the mood, Undine offered a number of really interesting insights about MM a few weeks back–go check her out, too.  And in case you missed it, Tenured Radical had a kind of sideways post about MMthat was more about postfeminist fantasies about how sexxay it was to live in a  world in which women couldn’t rent apartments or take out mortgages in their names alone, or have their own bank accounts if they were married, where people drank alcohol all day long, where pregnant women were expected to resign the moment they showed (or were fired), and where the classified ads specifically advertised “men’s” and “women’s” jobs.  Awesome!

A truly feminist show would show all of that aggressively, all of the time.  A faux-feminist show will allude to that occasionally, and then follow the boys into the board room.  See, to have a feminist show, it needs to be about women a great deal of the time.  Believing that we can have feminism without women’s lives and women’s stories is like believing that we can do gender by only looking at masculinity in history.  Perhaps it’s necessary, but it’s hardly sufficient.

Are you watching?  What do you think?

30 Comments »

30 Responses to “Random thoughts on Mad Men, season 4 (so far)”

  1. Dickens Reader on 12 Aug 2010 at 10:38 am #

    I’m watching. Although MM is an intriguing show, I don’t understand the need for many to call it a feminist show. MM simply is not feminist. It is as if a feminist cannot admit to watching MM unless she can say it is a feminist show.

  2. Historiann on 12 Aug 2010 at 10:49 am #

    I mostly watch it for the pretty, pretty dresses, and Fratguy watches it so that we can both laugh at Don.

    He and I agree that the show needs more Roger Sterling having a good time. Otherwise, 1964-65 is looking like a total bummer.

  3. Dickens Reader on 12 Aug 2010 at 11:03 am #

    Just for the record, I don’t know why I should desire Don over Roger. Roger is a jerk, but he is a handsome and fun jerk. Although I hate how he dumped his wife for a woman jerk. What a jerk. lol.

  4. Historiann on 12 Aug 2010 at 11:05 am #

    Hee-hee. I completely agree. He’s the only one who looks like he’s having any fun. Tenured Radical also has said that she identifies perversely with Roger. So we’re with you: more Rog, less Don.

    The scene in which the college student shuts Don down was pretty satisfying, though. For a moment there, Don Draper looked like the drippy, loser guy John Hamm plays on 30 Rock.

  5. Dickens Reader on 12 Aug 2010 at 11:17 am #

    When Don made a move for Stephanie (the college girl), it seemed more like something he checks off his list when he is in the company of attractive women, than a desire to actually have sex with her. At first, I confused Anna wanting Stephanie to stay for marijuana with wanting the niece to stay for the purpose of sex with Don. You never know, sometimes.

  6. Historiann on 12 Aug 2010 at 11:32 am #

    I think Anna just wanted the weed.

  7. Tanya on 12 Aug 2010 at 11:46 am #

    I so wish this were about the women, because they really are more interesting. I’m very tired of Don Draper, as much as I like Jon Hamm. PLEASE, fire all the men and center it on the women!

    But of course, I’ll keep watching.

    I’ve also been watching Starz’ _Pillars of the Earth_ miniseries, which has much stronger female figures…although that tends to be all about the men, too.

  8. mandor on 12 Aug 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    Donzzzzzzzzzzz. This show is only interesting to me when it’s not about Don.

  9. Dr. Crazy on 12 Aug 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    I think I’m just completely bored with Don’s identity crisis/crisis in masculinity earnestness. To be fair, though, I’m bored with Betty and her remarriage, too. And wow is Peggy boring now that she’s trying to be with that shlump of a boyfriend of hers, and also how she let Freddie boss her around with the Pond’s account, and then she apologized to him when she told him he was old-fashioned. I mean, dude, he IS old-fashioned. I’m not bored with Joan or Roger, but I probably should be.

    I guess here’s the thing: something needs to happen this season. Like, I don’t know, some sort of event or something that actually demonstrates that these characters are developing. Nothing, so far, has actually happened. Well, I guess Anna’s cancer, and Lane’s marriage falling apart and him having sex with the $25 hooker, but why am I supposed to care about either of those things?

  10. St. Exuperantius on 12 Aug 2010 at 1:50 pm #

    No, I can’t see Mad Men as a feminist show. What’s frustrating is that it could easily be a feminist show with a few adjustments. Maybe that’s why it is so much fun to discuss.

    I get through the boring Don stuff my imagining my own show set in the 1970s. It’s called Rad Fem: the Sally Draper Story. Haven’t figured out yet how to work Roger Sterling in, though.

  11. Clio Bluestocking on 12 Aug 2010 at 1:51 pm #

    I love the show; but, yeah, the totally need to step it up this season. I watch for the story (and Joan’s curves), and I don’t mind a slow pace for the big plot pay-off, so I’m hoping that comes soon because what made it work for me is not working right now.

  12. Historiann on 12 Aug 2010 at 2:33 pm #

    Yes–Crazy and Clio B. are right. *Something* needs to happen, and the show needs to kick it up a notch (or three.) Maybe Rachel Menken is divorced now, and needs a new ad agency for her store? Maybe Sally gets to be the center of her own story, instead of waiting for creepy Glen to do something to/for her? Ugh to the story lines about women waiting to be acted upon, like Betty’s whole affair with Henry Francis.

    I like St. Exuperantius’s idea about RadFem. Here’s my contribution: Roger Sterling (sadly) drops dead the night of the Lincoln Park riots at the Chicago Dem Convention (August 28, 1968), and his daughter Margaret takes her inheritance and uses it to endow a feminist foundation. (That’s the only way I see you being able to integrate RS into a RadFem story line.)

  13. squadratomagico on 12 Aug 2010 at 3:40 pm #

    I’m with Clio. I enjoy the show, even though it’s a little slow. But on the other hand, I’m so used to watching it on dvd (that’s how I saw the last seasons) that I thought maybe the “slow pace” was just because I’m used to seeing all the story lines develop over the course of, say, 2 weeks instead of 10 (or however long the season is). But, yes: it’s been a bit of a snoozefest but I enjoy it just the same.

    I don’t get the interest in Roger, though. He doesn’t strike me as more interesting than Don at all. They also seem to have decided to ignore Smarmy Campbell, which is a shame because at least he was distinct from the other characters — not quite so one-note.

    My vote for most under-used character is Joan. As they used to say: What a woman!!

  14. Homostorian Americanist on 12 Aug 2010 at 6:06 pm #

    I was elated when the college student shot down Don. I was REALLY hoping that Alison, the secretary, would do the same. Alas, no. I still watch for Joan. I agree with everyone else that we need more of the women — and by women I do NOT mean Betty, who bores me to tears — but Peggy and Joan, always Joan. There have been moments in past seasons where they have done a great job exploring Joan’s life: her incredible competence in a world that won’t let her get past where she is, her sexuality, her desire for respect and legitimacy through her marriage to the horrible rapist doctor. And it seems occasionally like they might be inching back toward that, with the revelations about her two abortions in the most recent episodes, for instance. But if this devolves into some big weepfest about Dr. Nasty going off to war, I’m going to be pissed.

    Oh, and agreed: Peggy’s man isn’t cute enough for her. Though I love that he’s a jackass enough to believe he was her first and that she “feels different” now. My bet: she’ll lose interest soon enough.

  15. undine on 12 Aug 2010 at 6:22 pm #

    Thanks for the link, Historiann!

    I don’t think of Mad Men as a feminist show, but there is a change from previous seasons: whatever men’s world Don’s been a part of (being catnip to the ladies, and all), it’s not there any more.

    Don hasn’t realized it yet. His romantic techniques aren’t working, and they’re especially not working with the Pepsi Generation women he keeps trying them on, including Dr. Annoying Smart Research Woman who calls him a “type.” I also think the writers are trying to make us think about some of the gendered assumptions underlying the ad business, which forces Don to lie to the WSJ about “holstering up” or whatever macho thing he calls it and forces Roger to “service” Lee Garner, Jr. in ways that evoke all the meanings of that word.

  16. Comrade PhysioProf on 12 Aug 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    Fratguy and I snuggle up in bed

    TMI!!!!!!!111!!!11!1!!

  17. Indyanna on 12 Aug 2010 at 9:37 pm #

    A day that will live in history (8/28/68)!! It’s great to hear you can get this thing on an i-pod or i-tunes, but until you can get it on a fish-finder or a classroom-clicker or a “clapper” room-illuminator, I’ll just have to follow along here for these critical updates. Funny point about babies being born onto these shows and fired before the first commercial, but I think the only kid I ever saw “walk downstairs and introduce himself” was probably Ritchie Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show. Maybe Eddie Haskell, who knows. How ’bout the agency gets “acquired” and moved to Newport Beach as a game-changing plot device, in the American TV tradition?

  18. sophylou on 12 Aug 2010 at 10:26 pm #

    Mad Men is jumping the shark for me this season. I’ve always had mixed feelings about it, but the relentless focus on the bleak hollow shell that is Don is getting to me. I’ve watched all the prior season, but in formats other than weekly TV (DVDs, downloads) so hadn’t noticed the slow pacing as much before now. I will say, though, that it took me awhile to warm up to the show because the sexual harassment etc. made it so difficult to watch.

    I read this blog post the other day: http://bit.ly/ctCx0k, (at Just TV), and it goes a long way toward explaining my discomfort with the show. I’m guessing that I’m not going to make it through the season.

  19. Historiann on 13 Aug 2010 at 7:22 am #

    Interesting that so many of you (Squadrato, sophylou) are like me in that you don’t watch it on TV, but rather on DVD or itunes, etc. I guess “appointment TV” is really scheduled only at the viewers’ convenience!

    Indyanna, the baby-goes-upstairs-and walks-down-ready-for-school is an old soap opera trick. Good point about Ritchie Petrie–he was before my time, but I know whereof you speak.

    Homostorian Americanist and Squadrato are right on about the wastage of Joan. When will her moment come? I’m afraid that the producers don’t have a clue about how to use her.

    Love the “Pepsi Generation” gap description by Undine. I think that’s exactly right! Don’s heyday as a p^$$y-hound may be over.

  20. Jacob on 13 Aug 2010 at 8:34 am #

    “He and I agree that the show needs more Roger Sterling having a good time.”
    Historiann – Yes, more Roger Sterling is exactly what MM needs. If I was Matthew Weiner, I would have a note on my desk at all times reminding myself of that.

  21. life_of_a_fool on 13 Aug 2010 at 10:34 am #

    I don’t want Rachel Menken to come back divorced; I want her to happily escape Don’s orbit. I’d love for her to come back and have a strong storyline, as long as she’s uninterested in Don. I’ve enjoyed his several failed attempts with women this season — it’s about time someone *wasn’t* interested and the “connection” he has managed to foster with the women has gotten thinner and thinner over the seasons. Rachel seemed like a believable, if very very flawed, relationship. Most of the rest, not so much and so not so interesting.

    I don’t mind Peggy’s ambivalence about her boyfriend, because I find that relatable. I would love to see more of her though (not with the BF – there’s enough on that) and Joan and Sally. And Pete. I enjoy smarmy Pete. I like the theme of what you want versus what’s expected.

    It took me a minute to figure out who the mysterious missing baby was. Heh.

  22. Historiann on 13 Aug 2010 at 11:09 am #

    I don’t want Mencken to get involved with Don. I’m interested in her story as a businesswoman in 1965, divorced or not. (I thought maybe her being divorced would make her impossible for DD NOT to hit on her, though. Then again, he doesn’t really mind about marriage, either way, does he!)

  23. sophylou on 13 Aug 2010 at 11:43 am #

    Actually, I’m watching it on plain old cable TV now… and I will admit that I managed to bypass iTunes for the downloaded versions (shh!).

    It’s definitely an adjustment to go back to the older version of TV watching now, because watching a whole cluster of episodes together meant that I could see story arcs — now I’m just feeling stuck.

  24. Indyanna on 13 Aug 2010 at 8:43 pm #

    This just in (below) from MSNBC, under “Weird News.” Apparently it’s part of a benefit scheme in expiation for all of the smoking that is said to occur on this series. Doesn’t say whether the lucky owner of the walk-on part will be allowed to offer a comment on the state of the series as a whole, as if on a blog thread.

    Tried to make this a link, but it just didn’t work out.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    ‘Mad Men’ auctioning off guest part
    Aug. 13, 2010, 2:40 PM EST
    WENN

    Executives behind TV hit “Mad Men” are auctioning off a walk-on role on the critically acclaimed drama to benefit a cancer charity….
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

  25. Kathleen on 14 Aug 2010 at 10:48 pm #

    Mad Men is very entertaining and well-crafted and I’ll bet that many Women’s Studies professors are using it as a teaching tool. However, I don’t consider it feminist because it never advocates feminism as a solution to the characters’ problems.

    Since Mad Men is a TV show, not a dissertation, I know it would be a disaster if the scriptwriters got didactic and started preaching feminist theory. However, we NEVER hear that Peggy just bought a copy of The Feminine Mystique and thinks it’s a fabulous read, we never hear any woman mention Simone deBeauvoir, we never see a woman to go a women’s rights meeting (yes, there were women’s rights groups in the 50′s and 60′s) and so on.

    If Mad Men wants to be feminist, it needs to start portraying out-of-the-closet feminist women. And it needs to portray them as strong, intelligent, likeable women we can identify with.

    I agree with Historiann’s assessment of Mad Men, but I think feminism in TV shows needs to be deeper than just focusing on the women characters. It needs to portray feminist activist women in a good way and hint that feminism is the solution to many of our problems.

  26. Historiann on 15 Aug 2010 at 6:59 am #

    Agreed, Kathleen. But I think portraying more women and the complexity of their lives (rather than portraying them as adjuncts to the principal male characters) would be a reasonable start.

  27. Dickens Reader on 16 Aug 2010 at 12:03 am #

    I have to share with someone. Peggy looking over the top of the office wall at Don. Priceless.

    and

    Did you get the pears?

    LMAO!

  28. Historiann on 16 Aug 2010 at 4:39 am #

    DR–I just got the download–will catch up when I can. Thx!

  29. Historiann on 17 Aug 2010 at 5:34 am #

    Saw the podcast last night–I agree with Clio Bluestocking that episode 4 had more wit and promise than the first 3 this season. That may be due to the fact that it was directed by John Slattery, the actor who plays (my fave) Roger Sterling. Sterling didn’t play much of a role in this show, but it took us to some more interesting places–and had funnier shots (Peggy’s head over the office partition peeking at Don) than the show has had so far this season.

    I still say: less Don and Pete, more Peggy. And it’s still not a feminist show. Allison’s resignation was a brave act that needed a feminist vocabulary by which she might better explain her frustrations. But, the show’s writers and producers don’t seem inclined to give it to her, or to any of the women characters, not yet anyway.

  30. What The Radical is Reading This Weekend: Ice-Breaker Edition - Tenured Radical - The Chronicle of Higher Education on 25 Jun 2011 at 9:42 am #

    [...] 4 on DVD, Mendelsohn comes up with one key insight that is worth the price of admission.  Like Historiann, Mendelsohn is not a fan, but admits that he is drawn to the series anyway for “deeper, [...]