We’ve worked our way through the first season of Mad Men and I didn’t enjoy it. I can see that it’s well written and acted. The costumes and sets are remarkable. It has a very shiny kind of verisimilitude. I can see why it wins awards. But it leaves me cold.
Actually, worse than that—it make me uncomfortable and unhappy. I watch with pursed lips and my arms crossed tight.
I don’t feel like they’re exploring the sexism and racism of the period I feel that they’re skirting a line towards reproducing it. Why are there no black characters? The black cleaner or lift operator could easily have been major characters. Instead they’re rarely seen and less often heard. There are many more female characters but they don’t lift above the level of a cipher. I don’t know who they are or what they’re thinking and none of them gets anywhere near as much screen time as Donald Draper.
Everything revolves around Draper, whom I’m clearly meant to empathise with. I don’t. I don’t like him at all. Or his bosses. And don’t get me started on his work colleagues. I have no sense of who his wife or girlfriend or children are so it’s hard to like or dislike them.
The only reason I’m watching is that I’ve heard such great things about it. We just finished the first season. Maybe it gets better in the second. I doubt it and I’m wondering why I’ve spent time watching a show that so carefully recreates a truly appalling milieu and time without the kind of overt critique that would make it tolerable. Also the theme music makes me want to kill myself.
It is possible to create television that engages with the racism and sexism of a place and time without making viewers feel complicit. The Wire does it brilliantly. I haven’t figured out what went wrong with Mad Men but watching it makes me want to take a shower. Not in a good way.
Am I alone in this response to the show? Cause so far I have heard only praise.
One thing I like about it? The women’s clothes. But I don’t have to watch the show to see them.