Back to the 60s

Submitted by AWL on 7 March, 2008 - 7:40 Author: Rosalind Robson

This drama about a 1960s New York advertising agency is a full-on period piece. Its attention to historical detail, clothes, manners, dialogue, is very acute. If you were over the age of 16 in the 1960s this will really send you back there. I was just a child, and this is no Janet and John and pink milk drama, yet I still found it very, very evocative. Smoke-filled rooms. Plastic furniture. Stuffy interiors. Brylcream. Stilettos. But does all that perfectly depicted surface make for a good story? I’m not sure.

If you judge by the first episode — which may be a mistake — Mad Men seems more interested in studying character than telling a story. But that is character with a capital CH. These people are “types”. 1960s people. Advertising people. Executive boys. Repressed individuals. The men are either shits or double shits. The women streamline their ambitions towards two options — sleeping with the boss or getting married to someone “eligible”.

Which all might be a very historically accurate depiction of bourgeois/petit-bourgeois men and women of the time in this kind of professional world. And that’s the difficulty I have in letting myself actually enjoy this programme (rather than find it interesting and absorbing). It seemed at times as if the writer had swallowed a library of social history, and a stack of second wave feminist classics — The Women’s Room, Betty Friedan...

Probably the in-built dramatic possibilities of an advertising agency — of selling “happiness” and convincing people to buy stuff in a world then begining to be full of much more stuff — will come to the fore in the next episode. Stay tuned!

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