July 24, 2007

Sins of the Era

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AMC’s Mad Men premiered last Thursday to rave reviews from critics and viewers alike. But this generous welcome was not without its detractors. Anyone who turned to the blogosphere could find stories gleefully pointing out the sexism/homophobia/anti-this and that running rampant through Sterling Cooper. Mad Men’s emphasis on “sins of the era,” as The New York Times put it, paints a picture that celebrates the New Left revolution that would come at the end of the decade. The show’s haughty script, obviously drafted by the New Left’s constituents, is more smug than the characters they attempt to satirize.

Enter the Madison Avenue Advertising Office:

The non-white Christian males are exploited and victimized systematically. Blacks can only be seen serving drinks to dominant whites; women serve only as secretaries and are mocked when they step outside the realm of sex objects; Jews are discouraged from interacting with gentiles; gays are locked in the closet. All the while, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants strut about never failing to denigrate the subjugate classes; not that they would care—they own the place.

Even when the audience is introduced to a seemingly decent man—a war hero, who at one point defends his secretary’s honor—he is, of course, an adulterous big-tobacco hack; no different than the rest.

For all the show’s attempts to capture the era—the clouds of cigarette smoke and midday whisky consumption—the depth of the characters will never exceed the conservative stereotypes that riddle the script.

The show is not without its wit and charm (at one point, the ad execs talk about a navy war-hero deserving of political support—his name is Dick Nixon); however, the self-congratulatory nature of the script does leave this viewer wanting.