The crew at Sterling Cooper Draper Price were definitely trying to hold on to something this week–a sliver of self-respect, an image of the role of other people in their lives, a job. Tami and I, along with Womanist Musings‘ and Fangs for the Fantasy‘s Renee Martin and Racialicious staffer Joseph Lamour, talk about who had to hold ’em and fold ’em in this week’s ep–along with a bunch of spoilers, like our seeing several Black people in this episode. No, seriously…
Tami: I was watching Mad Men in bed Sunday night with my husband beside me near dozing, but obviously listening to the program, too. Just after 10 p.m. he sat up: “Wait. Are those black people? There are black people on this show now?”
Yep, Sunday night Matt Weiner and Co. make Mad Men history with a scene populated completely by black folks–walking, talking and being black. Since we’ve seen Dawn and her friend sitting together and talking about their lives, does this mean Mad Men passes the race-based version of the Bechdel Test?
Renee: One scene cannot undo years of racist, sexist exclusion. They are not going get a cookie from me for doing the the bare minimum to create a change. It has after all taken Man Men six seasons to have a scene with two Black people in it.
Tami and I, joined by Renee from Womanist Musings and Fangs for the Fantasy, watched this week’s ep in horror: yes, at Peter Campbell’s state of perpetual swaglessness and Weiner’s needless explanation of Don’s sexual hardwiring, but most importantly, the frosted lipstick on the lips of Phyllis, Peggy’s Black executive assistant. And you can read on in horror, knowing that we got lots of spoilers in this roundtable…
Tami: Lots of collaborations in “The Collaborators”: the sexual sort, the political sort (North Korea and the Viet Kong), the business sort…
We talked about the theme of evolution, death, and aging last week. I think those things continued in this week’s episode of Mad Men. The gigolo persona that seemed so sexy and exciting in early seasons is getting old and starting to stink.
Renee: Only if you mean running in as many ways as possible, from the lives which the characters have created. For me it was another sign that what people are told to want, or rather what will make them happy, is not, in actual fact, what they need or desire.
Tami: It occurs to me that we’re just months past the Summer of Love when this episode occurs. And the ethos of “free love” seems to have filtered down from counter-culture into the suburbs and tony Manhattan living rooms. Even good Midwestern girls and middle-aged, Catholic doctor’s wives are trying to get a piece. But “love” really isn’t free when you’re a grown up.
Mad Men‘s season premieregot Tami and me–and guest ‘tabler Renee Martin–thinking about how much Mad Men is about aging: yes, about how we physically and emotionally age–and how different decades of life meant different things in, well, different decades–but also how institutions, like Sterling Cooper Draper Price, get on as the founders get on in age, and US society itself gets on with mediating changes, like the counterculture of hippies and wars with people of color. Conversation and spoilers after the jump.
Welcome to Retrolicious, a series of discussions and analyses about period dramas. First–get your pinkies up–editors Andrea Plaid and Tami Winfrey Harris explore the lives of English nobility, as presented on Downton Abbey, contrasted with 50s/60s cool of Mad Men. Oh…and spoilers are all over this post.
So, shall we?
Downton Abbey blew up Twitter timelines this year. We may never hear Laura Linney exclaim (per Scandal’s advertising) that it’s “the #1 show on Twitter” (!!!!), but it gets its fair share of love. Why?
Tami: “Why?” really is the question.
I love a good period drama. Mad Men and Downton Abbey stay on my must-watch list. (Though, after this last season, Downton’s days may be numbered.) But this idea of exploring period dramas came from the team at the R interrogating just that question.
Embedded in a lot of the love of Downton and shows like it, is a romanticizing of “good old days.” And though Downton can be frank about issues like gender inequity, it also (I think more so than, say, Mad Men) minimizes other oppressions, like that of gay people, in order to make characters appealing to modern sensibilities. The result is a lot of modern people sitting about yearning for what really were “bad old days” for all but a privileged few, because of the pretty dresses and dashing gents in white tie.
Andrea: But I think this “why” is more specific than just interrogating period dramas, though we’ll get to that question later on. This particular “why” is “why Downton Abbey over other Masterpiece Classic shows, or even other PBS shows?” I mean, are we going to tweet about the Jeremy Piven-led costume drama Mr. Selfridge? Maybe…and I’m sure PBS is hoping we will.
Tami: Jeremy Piven? Eeechh…no.
Andrea: I know, I know. He plays some pretty gross characters. See, I think Piven was a sexy MF circa Ellen…with his chest full of hair. I hold out hope against hope that he’ll grow it back. But I digress…
So, there’s something about Abbey specifically that gathers people around screens and carrying on on my timeline.
And after slogging through three seasons of this show, I’m still at a loss. I’m still suffering boredom from watching this show. Maybe I’ve lost my taste for period dramas?…No, because I’m totally down for The King’s Speech, Elizabeth, Mansfield Park, and old Masterpiece Theatre (before they re-branded themselves to Masterpiece Classic) joints like The Buccaneers. And, if they’re still on Netflix, I want to check out a couple more Masterpiece Theatre classics: Brideshead Revisited and Upstairs, Downstairs. But Downton Abbey gives me a case of the “mehs,” though it’s a beautifully shot show.