Are you watching the last season of Mad Men? It’s our last chance to see Jon Hamm in so many crisp suits – at least for a while.
It’s also a weird sort of time travel, at least for me. I figure that I’m about the same age as Sally, the oldest daughter in Don Draper’s (i.e. Hamm’s) family, so I’m watching events I lived through, but from the perspective of my parents, if they were stunningly beautiful, not Jewish, lived in New York, and worked in advertising in the 1960s.
In the ten fictional years since the show started, we’ve watched the turbulent 1960s from the point of view of successful, media-savvy adults, mostly men. We saw Kennedy get elected and assassinated. We saw the Civil Rights movement and Woodstock. We saw Americans land on the moon.
This season, it’s 1970. And it’s remarkable how that time, 45 years ago, is so much like now.
If you click on the link, you’ll read an insightful analysis of Sunday’s episode when both Peggy (the first woman to write copy at our fictional ad agency) and especially Joan (a secretary who became an account executive and partner at the firm) faced subtle (in Peggy’s case) and not-subtle-at-all (in Joan’s case) sexism.
My problem with the episode is that it didn’t play like something from the past. That crap still goes on far too much. Even (maybe especially) in the so-called “liberal” entertainment industry. (See here for an extremely vile assortment of examples).
This is bad news for working women, and it’s bad news for society in general. We miss out on different points of view and we miss out on the great work people with different backgrounds can do. There is no reason to think you have better talent available from a smaller group of applicants.
Comics have the same problem, albeit with less money at stake. When I was at DC in the 1990s, at least one prominent editor said as a statement of fact that women can’t write superhero comics. This is the cousin to the Hollywood attitude that female superheroes can’t star in movies. At least in comics (again, probably because less money is involved), we have writers like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Gail Simone, Amanda Connor, and G. Willow Wilson as best-selling examples to the contrary. (Also probably dozens of others. Forgive my laziness at looking up stuff.)
We suffer as an audience when we are only offered the stories of white people. Most recently, a group of Native American actors walked off the set of an Adam Sandler movie because the dialogue was so profoundly offensive to them. As this article about the incident suggests, Native Americans get far fewer roles than they should, so it took great courage to give up a paycheck. I hope that the attention they get encourages someone to make a comedy movie from their point of view. It has to be funnier than Jack and Jill .
Nearly 30 years ago, when I saw Spike Lee’s School Daze, I walked out of the movie theater thinking, “That’s how black people talk when there are no white people around.” I’ll never know whether or not that’s true, but I felt I had been offered the chance to eavesdrop on a different world. I still enjoy that opportunity, but Spike Lee did it in a way that had singing and dancing.
Of course, no one actually talks the way people do in the movies. We hem and haw more, we don’t finish our sentences, and we digress from the subject at hand. Movie people talk with precision because they only have two hours to tell the whole story.
Mad Men isn’t a bad show because its point of view is limited. Every piece of art has a limited point of view. The way to enjoy different points of view is to live your life and pay attention. One purpose of entertainment should be to open our eyes to other experiences.