TelevIsm: Four things for the fourth season of Mad Men
Image description: The season four promotional photo for Mad Men, featuring the lead actors against a beige backdrop.
Mad Men is back on Sunday for its fourth season! I am a big fan (I've written about the show often at Deeply Problematic) but unfortunately I cannot write critically about a season that has not yet aired. Nonetheless, I do have a few specific subjects I want to see addressed in season four. The first two are issues that the show is already addressing quite well, and which I would like to see explored further. And the second two are matters the show has not yet addressed (to my satisfaction, at least).
1. The Feminine Mystique: This show's writers clearly carry around dogeared copies of Betty Friedan's second-wave classic about upper class women and their dissatisfaction with domesticity. Women (specifically white women) in Mad Men and their relationships to the domestic and professional sphere are chronicled in great detail from three major perspectives: the unhappy housewife, the working woman looking to move to the marriage track, and the ambitious career girl hitting that glass celing. I am most looking forward to seeing the steps that Betty, Joan, and Peggy take in their careers and their homes in season four.
2. The patriarchy hurts men too: Mad Men is about both women and men just before a major upheaval in gender roles, and it does an excellent job of showing exactly why the second wave was necessary for men, too. The most poignant example of this is Sal, who hides his attraction to men to fit into the grey flannel masculinity of the advertising industry at Sterling Cooper.
3. Attention to race. While race is not completely erased on Mad Men, it hasn't been addressed in depth. It's time to start doing that. Mad Men has few recurring, named characters of color, and and a show that purports to provide a critical look at the 1960s needs to more seriously address race, particularly as it moves into 1964 and the Civil Rights Act. As LaToya Peterson wrote last year:
[I]n the case of the black characters, the relationship never goes beyond shallow conversation. Mad Men takes on a number of cultural controversies, yet race is treated with politeness, distance, restraint, and a heavy dose of sentimentality. For a show that takes place in the early '60s, as race riots are breaking out, this is a glaring omission... The white patriarchy is breaking apart, the rush of the '60s are upon us. But the black characters are still trapped in a romantic haze of noble, silent suffering... Black characters remain silent enigmas, and Asian Americans are barely noticed at all.
This is quite a white liberal show, and it will probably have problems depicting race. But if Mad Men is going to critique the sixties with any integrity, it needs to portray characters of color and racism regularly and in depth.
4. The Beatles. It's at least 1964 in Mad Men time, and you can't show '64 without the Fab Four. I can't wait to see how Matt Weiner treats the stateside reception of one of my favorite bands.
What's on your wish list for the new season?
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