4.23.2010

In Episode 6 of Season 1 of Mad Men, Sterling Cooper is working on the Belle Jolie lipstick account. In one particular scene, the secretaries have been led into a room to try out different shades of lipstick while the men watch from behind a one-way mirror. The transition into the scene is noteworthy, as the account executives say they cannot understand the women (“they don’t speak moron”) and refer to them as chickens. This scene is stunning both visually through the costuming and in the gender roles that are expressed during the scene.

The costuming is truly effective in this scene because it immediately tells the audience about each character. The woman from the research department, Dr. Greta Guttman (Gordana Rashovich), who has a “man’s” job, is wearing a masculine grey suit and grey shirt, the manliest wardrobe for any of the female characters. From previous episodes, the audience knows that this woman is not accepted by the men or by the other women. She, like her costume, is somewhere in between what was expected in the gender roles of a man and a woman in the workplace of the 1960s. Her palate of grey is just as boring as she is to all of the other characters.

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Joan (Christina Hendricks) stands in stark contrast, wearing a vivid red dress that shows off her feminine curves, as well as highlighting her bold character. Red is associated with passion, desire and lust which perfectly fits Joan’s use of her sexuality in the workplace. When wearing red, all heads turn to Joan, her usually eye-catching look taken to extreme. Red also symbolizes power. Joan’s power over the other women is very clearly shown in this scene because they all look to Joan before answering the researcher’s questions, as though they are seeking her approval.

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Peggy (Elizabeth Moss), dressed in a conservative and juvenile outfit, does not participate with the other women in trying on many shades of lipstick. Her brown dress is rather boring compared to the other secretaries’ pastel outfits. Brown traditionally denotes masculine qualities, and its frequent use in her wardrobe foreshadows her future rise to a masculine job. Also the color of the earth, brown implies genuineness and wholesomeness. Peggy is seen as a very na├»ve girl, still genuine in comparison to the people she works with. The styling of Peggy’s dress is oddly matronly and stiff with a very high neckline, letting the audience know she isn’t using her sexuality to advance in the workplace. Clearly Peggy is set to contrast Joan, both in personality and costume.

The wardrobe for the women of Sterling Cooper, while stunning and era appropriate, helps progress the narrative by telling the audience more about the characters. The color and styling of each costume gives further understanding of the complexities of each character. Each of these women’s roles in the workplace is typified by her costuming.

4.18.2010

It's a Barbie World

With the first season the Mad Men taking place in 1960 and the Barbie brand being introduced in 1959, it was only a matter of time before the two industries merged together. Sold at around $75.00 per doll, Barbie and Ken will soon become one of four characters in Mad Men: Joan Holloway, Roger Sterling, Don Draper, or Betty Draper.

But do the characters of Mad Men fall too close to home to be a typical Barbie doll? Is Betty Draper not a Barbie doll herself? This draws an interesting question; now that we see the damage and disloyalty that truly lies behind the perfect “Barbie doll” characters on Mad Men, does that make the image of Barbie and Ken less perfect?

This is something the creative executives at Barbie marketing took under consideration. As stated by Stuart Elliott in his New York Times article about the subject, “The dolls come with period accessories like hats, overcoats, pearls and padded undergarments, but no cigarettes, ashtrays, martini glasses or cocktail shakers." It turns out, it doesn’t matter whether you are living in 1960 or 2010; when it comes to advertising, image almost always takes precedence over truth.

4.16.2010


The role of a woman was vastly different in the 1960’s than of today. Most women were expected to pursue lives as housewives instead of starting a career. The boredom and isolation of being at home affected women greatly which is represented with Betty Draper in Mad Men. The final episode, “The Wheel,” features a scene where Betty finds Helen’s son, Glenn in the parking lot. As one of the lowest points for Betty in the season, the music is slow and eerie as Betty pulls up and approaches Glenn who is alone in a car. She seeks comfort and ends up crying while talking to the child. This scene demonstrates just how alone and unhappy Betty is with her life when she goes as far as to look for any sympathy and comfort in the innocence of a child.

At this point Betty has little strength left; she constantly keeps up a cheerful appearance but is hurting inside because she realizes she has no one she can talk to. Glenn seems like a suitable companion not only because he once appreciated her beauty in a way Don doesn’t, but also because he’s a child and had not yet been corrupted. Throughout the season we witness Betty’s constant attempts to catch Don’s attention in any way. She is constantly keeping up the ideal image she believes Don would want for his wife whether it be how she keeps company and her demeanor or with her personal appearance. When Betty goes to watch Glenn and he admires her beauty, Betty not only tolerates it but is maybe even a bit flattered because she is getting the attention she never gets. It is common for many housewives, who had little to take pride in other than their appearance, to feel accomplished and justified when they felt they were desired by men. In this case, it slightly more disturbing as the admirer is not a man but a child, further putting Betty’s judgment into question.

As the scene continues, the unusual pair continues to talk and the discomfort from the peculiar conversation is felt and emphasized with a shot and reverse shot pattern. It focuses on the expression of uneasiness on Glenn’s face and the desperation of Betty’s. When Glenn refers to his youth Betty does not care because she doesn’t believe in the wisdom of adults saying, “Adults don’t know anything." Betty is drawing on the innocence of children. Her childhood, having not been tainted like Don's, is a memory of simpler times before the temptation of greed and cruelty reached most. Remembering this, Betty wants one just person, even if he is nine-years-old, to tell her everything will be okay.

At the end of the scene, Betty leaves immediately reverting back to her act of politeness having been somewhat rejected by the one person she tried to open up to when Glenn hints that his mother may be coming back. The quick shift from vulnerability to politeness seems drastic, yet it is only because for once the feelings Betty has are noticeably hidden. Once again Betty is left disappointed and lost, yet this facade is one she puts on on a daily basis. From the way she reverted back to it when leaving, one can see it is one that she will continue to portray. Betty is the portrait of the lonely and uninspired housewife revealing the frustrations many of the women like her felt in the days of Mad Men. Like Betty, it’s unfortunate that most of these women simply wiped their tears and continued on further intensifying their discontent.

4.14.2010

Don Draper's New Car

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In episode 7 of Season 2, Don buys a brand new 1962 Cadillac El Dorado coupe like the one above. To many in our generation, Cadillac’s are though of as big, slow cars for old people, but at the time, Cadillac was a big deal. It is only recently that the company has earned this reputation.

For the majority of the 20th century, Cadillac’s motto was “The Standard of the World." The company was known for being innovative, forward thinking, and the epitome of modern design and luxury. Many of the standard appointment we enjoy on cars, like the V8 engine were first premiered on a Cadillac. They were the car of choice for movie stars (click here to see Marlene Dietrich standing next to hers), politicians, and everyone rich and famous. Driving a Cadillac was one of the ultimate expressions of wealth and power.

Cadillac reached its high point in the late fifties and early sixties. Its cars were the biggest, most comfortable, and advanced vehicles a person could buy in the United States. However, this luxury came at a price. In 1957 a new Cadillac cost as much as a Rolls Royce, over $13,000. $13,000 may seem like a small amount of money, but adjusting for inflation, that same car would cost over $130,000 today. Considering that the average American salary in 1960 was a little over $4000, Cadillac’s were astronomically expensive and far beyond the purchasing power of the vast majority of Americans.

Don’s decision to buy a Cadillac reveals a lot about his income, position in society, and the image he has of himself. It was arguably the epitome of the consumerist consumption culture. This car, and Don's purchase of it, is just another fascinating contradiction in the life our of favorite TV ad man.

Special thanks to Popular Mechanics article “100 Years of Cadillac History” available here.

4.13.2010

A Place Where We Ache to Go Again

One of the most significant scenes in the first season of AMC’s Mad Men is when Don presents the ad campaign for Kodak’s wheel called ‘The Carousel.” Don uses the wheel to show pictures of his family in order to market the machine as something that evokes nostalgia within a consumer. This moment presents Don with a deeply sentimental and emotional reaction as he sees pictures of his kids and him and Betty as a happy couple. This experience gives Don his own nostalgia for happier times and suggests he may feel guilt or remorse for his actions but reminds him what he values in his life- his family.

Don says that nostalgia literally means “The pain from an old wound.” This relates to Don’s current situation as he feels pain when looking at these pictures and seeing how happy his life once was and how now his marriage is failing. Don goes on to explain how nostalgia is more than memory because it is felt in the heart. This proves that these pictures did have meaning to them and were not just the Drapers’ pretending to be happy. In comparison to the family portrait taken earlier in the season, the pictures in the slideshow seem much more genuine and capture true happiness. In The Way We Never Were, author Stephanie Coontz references Christopher Lache when he suggests that many people tend to be overcome “by fantasies even more than by things” (176). These pictures provide more meaning than any other material thing Don owns. The idea of a perfect family seemed like a fantasy to Don, who grew up in a broken family, but these pictures remind him that he did, at one point, have a close, happy family. However over time Don and Betty have drifted apart due to their lack of communication and commitment. This fantasy of a perfect family is not so unrealistic and suggests that Don may be remorseful towards this nostalgia that he longs to go back to.

Throughout Don’s speech the idea of aches and wounds is emphasized to demonstrate Don’s longing for those times of happiness. He states that the wheel “takes us to a place where we ache to go again.” This speech is almost as if a veil is being lifted off Don and the viewer gains insight into his heartache. There is a slight sense of regret in his nostalgia, as it seems as if he is questioning his affairs and the distance he created within his family. Don also brings up how the wheel lets you travel like a child (hence the use of the word carousel) and lets you go home to a place where you know you are loved. The idea of childhood is significant because it is something so innocent and pure, untainted by adulthood. Youth is a time when thoughts and dreams are joyful and simple. Don came from a troubled childhood, and the only time when he was truly happy in life was the early stages of his marriage and when he is with his kids because this when he experienced love. Don aches to feel this love again and has a strong desire to go back as if on a carousel.

The setting of this revelation is important because creator Matthew Weiner said that advertising is “a great way to talk about the image we have of ourselves, versus who we really are” (Witchel). This scene embodies Don’s heartache while presenting his nostalgia in the form of his work to illustrate the man he once was and the man he has become. The wheel ads depict a man who loves his family and is truly happy. While Don still loves his family dearly, he has not made the best decisions when it comes to keeping his marriage stable. This moment allows Don to self-reflect on his actions by giving us insight into his guarded persona. Don deeply cares about his family, his kids above all else, and truly displays nostalgia as he aches and longs to go back to a time full of happiness, something missing from his current life.

References

Coontz, Stephanie. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. New York, NY: Basic, 1992. Print.

Witchel, Alex. "'Mad Men' Has Its Moment." The New York Times 22 June 2008. Print.

4.05.2010

A Guide to Getting Girls? What More Could a Guy Get?

According to Saturday Night Live, Don Draper has all the answers to getting women.



"Don Draper’s Guide to Picking Up Women" plays off of his popularity, not on the show Mad Men, but also among viewers. An Askmen.com survey congratulated Don Draper with being the most influential man of 2009. No one can deny Don’s lure, as manipulated and deceitful as it is. Don advises that men be silent when in doubt and to by vague and mysterious. The spoof is emphasizing Don’s quiet but strong demeanor that so many talk about behind closed walls. Overall, SNL exaggerates the number of Don’s affairs to articulate that having 4-5 affairs on your wife isn’t exactly "normal." But despite the atrocious activities Don participates it, we still like him. After listing step 3 as “having a great name," SNL then turns to the climax of their clip, highlighting all of Don’s characteristics, as he lists them off in a confident and suave manner. From looking fantastic in everything, to being “uncannily successful” in your job, to taking absurdly long lunches, to finishing it off with drinking and smoking all the time, Don fits his personality into a minute-long clip. Highly unattainable, extremely desirable, Don’s lifestyle is one not normally lived among today’s working-class Americans. SNL did a fantastic job spoofing Mad Men and Don Draper in general because no one can deny it - women want him and men want to be him.

Links referenced: NBC and Askmen.com