The Pill

In the first episode of Mad Men, titled “Smoke Gets in Yout Eyes,” Joan sends Peggy to a gynecologist to receive a prescription for The Pill. During the appointment, one of the first doctor’s first comments was to question Peggy’s desire, as a single woman, to take the pill. Through the entire scene, he makes comments that judge Peggy, and other women, for their use of contraception. If these attitudes were so prevalent in the time period, why was the pill invented, why did it become so popular?

Development of the birth control pill began in the early 1950s at the urging of early birth control advocate Margaret Sanger. The activist believed that because of unreliable or inaccessible birth control many women and families were burdened with children that they could not possible take care of. Because of many retrictive laws, Sanger was unable to distribute a great deal of useful information on the topic. Despite delays in development, large scale clinical trials of the pill began in 1957. While earlier small trials had occurred in the United States, laws against birth control forced the developers to hold trials in Puerto Rico. Later that year, The Pill, called Enovid, was given FDA approval for the treatment of menstrual disorders. Three years later, it became the first drug approved for use by a healthy person when it was released as birth control. Within two years 1.2 million women were being prescribed The Pill and other companies are beginning to break in to the market.

Image credit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/timeline/timeline2.html

One problem with the early birth control pills was that they carried the risk of deadly side effects. These side effects, such as depression, blood clots and strokes, were often ignored by the drug company, the FDA and the prescribing doctors. Often, they were viewed as relating to outside causes and sufferers were referred to specialists. It took the publication of a criticizing book in the late 1960s before an investigation finally occurred. Despite these side effects, the number of women choosing to take the pill continued to increase: in 1973, 10 million women were taking the pill, and by the mid-1990s the number reached 80 million worldwide.

Image credit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/timeline/timeline2.html

This Pill’s main result was giving women more control over their bodies. They were able to decide when to have children and whether or not they wanted a career. This allowed women to remain in the workforce longer and develop a career. This is one reason that, by the 1980s, 60% of women of reproductive age were employed in the United States. It also meant women could be more spontaneous in their personal lives. The doctor clearly objected to that aspect.

Links referenced: http://www.nyu.edu/projects/sanger/secure/aboutms/index.html



Mad Men and Environmentalism

Don Draper has done some things that are pretty shocking to a modern audience - the smoking, the drinking, the philandering, but littering? Unfortunately, Don’s actions were more or less the norm for the time period. America, along with most of the world, was a polluted mess in the early 1960s; there was widespread littering, polluting, burning of fossil fuels (Don’s Coup De Ville got about 8 MPGs city), and most importantly almost no regulation to prevent these things from happening. The air was thick with smog, and the highways were littered with trash.

However, in 1963, one lady decided to try and stop all this. Her name was Lady Bird Johnson, and her goal was to make America just a little bit prettier. Although she was not an environmentalist, per se, she did want to give the Don Drapers of the world a nicer place to have a picnic. Most of her efforts involved the cleaning up of highways. She helped to reduce the number of billboards and junkyards along interstates and planted wild flowers in the medians. She then joined an organization called Keep America Beautiful, who were the first to fight against littering (they also coined the term “litterbug”). Although they certainly would not have liked Don’s littering, they may have enlisted the help of Sterling Cooper. These guys loved advertising and had some of the most famous PSAs of all time. Like this one:

Image credit: http://www.keepvirginiabeautiful.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/litterbug.jpg

Or this really famous one: http://www.youtube.com/embed/m4ozVMxzNAA.

It is thanks to the efforts of the First Lady that the idea of littering is so foreign today. Honestly, there just was not a concept of environment back then. People were stuck in their little 1950s bubble of naivety and, like Don, did not take a lot of time to contemplate the consequences of their actions.

Links referenced: http://www.kab.org/site/PageServer?pagename=kab_history



Suburban Housewives

In Mad Men’s first season there is no doubt that Betty Draper is one of the main characters; however her daily life is mostly left up to the viewer's imagination. Besides the moments when something important to the plot is happening at the Drapers' house, Betty’s role as a ‘housewife’ is seldom shown. While the plot of the first season does not focus solely on Betty’s activities as a housewife, the viewer becomes keenly aware of her function through subtle cues. For example Betty is always dressed impeccably and keeps a good face no matter how bad the situation is; food is always ready for Don when he gets home, and in another 1960’s stereotype Betty drinks heavily. There are several poignant moments throughout the season where I found it interesting to contrast Mad Men’s perception of housewives in the 60’s to the perception of housewives today.

Image credit: http://www.vintagelingerieblog.com/vintage-lingerie/how-does-betty-drapers-dress-flare-out

In one of the greatest examples of Mad Men's dry, subtle humor, Betty and her fellow housewives grill Helen Bishop on why she would walk aimlessly around the neighborhood. Helen responds that she does it because it clears the mind and its good exercise - which leaves the housewives stunned. The interaction is one of many which demonstrates that the perception of women in the 60’s, even of themselves, was that their place was in the home; Betty is never shown shopping (besides for groceries), eating lunch or being out of the house with any of her friends. In today’s culture, housewives are perceived as being constantly out of the household. In fact one of the main stereotypes of an affluent housewife today is the exact opposite - that she is rarely actually at the house. Perfect housewives are more often showcased in pop culture as constantly ‘doing lunch,' shopping and gossiping with their fellow housewives. As the perception of a woman’s place has changed, one of the only factors that has remained consistent in pop culture is a housewife’s love of gossip. Betty and her female neighbors take pleasure in constantly gossiping about Helen Bishop and tearing her down. The central plotlines of many shows, like Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise and sitcoms such as Desperate Housewives and the 80’s Dynasty, revolve around gossiping housewives.

Image credit: http://missericasblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/my-recent-guilty-pleasure.html

As I was watching the portrayal of Betty throughout the entire season and the portrayal of suburban life in general in the 1960’s, there was one massive difference to today’s culture that stood out to me. In today’s suburbia, the “American Dream” is no longer to have a white picket fence in a perfectly manicured lawn, with an apple pie in the window of a Colonial style house with central hallway and four bedrooms. The “Dream” has completely shifted to one that has created the material culture today. It is perceived today that the ideal of every housewife is to own an SUV which you can park outside your McMansion and occasionally drive to the necessary Botox or ‘glass of wine’ sessions with your girlfriends - all while the nanny’s watch your kids of course. Upon my realization that the perception and culture of Housewives has changed so drastically, all I could do was ask myself: Why?

And then I suddenly understood it all. In The Feminine Mystique the author Betty Friedan describes what she calls “the problem with no name." Basically, Friedan suggests that housewives in the 1960’s had a lingering dissatisfaction with their lives as creatures of the home, and they constantly wondered if it was all their was to life. Many believe that the problem has gone away become of changing gender roles and equality in the workplace. The rise of women leaders and business people however has not stopped the existence of housewives. Today’s housewives bury their ‘problem with no name’ under piles of credit card bills, tummy tucks and the word ‘cougar’- but it still exists; the same problem forces them to pressure their husbands into having American Express Black Cards and 10,000 square foot homes. So basically if you’re still looking for someone to blame that pesky little recession on don’t take it out on Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, blame it on Claire Wellington from down the street.


In August of 2007 Anna McCarthy wrote a piece for The Nation titled, “Mad Men’s Retro Charm.” The author aptly describes Mad Men as the combination of a soap opera and a history lesson but does not seem to really grasp the content of the show as she delves deeper. McCarthy puzzles over the portrayal of smoking and drinking. The assertion that she makes regarding the prominence of smoking and drinking (especially among pregnant women) is that the show is about a time when “fatal, dirty habits were considered fun.” However, the characters clearly know little about the long-term health risks of smoking and drinking, and the author’s interpretation seems to be based more on her own knowledge of the substances than anything from the show.

McCarthy briefly seems to understand the show when she discusses “conformist WASP culture,” anti-Semitism, and a lack of racially diverse main characters. She posits that the representation of these issues may shed more light on the perspectives of contemporary writers than it does on the state of the advertising world in the 1960s.

Immediately after this moment of insight however, the author asserts that the part of the show that is the most telling about its “relationship to the era it claims to document is the animation accompanying the opening credits.” McCarthy concludes that this depiction of businessmen falling past the skyscrapers of Manhattan hints at a nostalgia for a time when American consumer culture was an icon of greatness and not resented by the world as a symbol of American egoism and ignorance. She unnecessarily politicizes the show by mentioning connections to propaganda in the “war on terror.” Ignoring the actual substance of the show in favor of an analysis of the opening sequence is the greatest mistake that the author makes. If not for this complete disregard for the show’s content, the reader might be able to forgive her for her mistake in repeatedly referring to one of the shows most polarizing and well-known characters, Betty Draper, as “Betsy.”

The author ultimately gets turned around and around when trying to analyze a modern show about the past. It is her modern interpretation of the show that reveals truths about the present, not necessarily the show itself.


George Lewis Hates Mad Men

In an interview on the website Big Think George Louis, a famous ad man of the 60s recalls his early years from his graduation from the High School of Music and Arts, his time at Pratt University, where he met his future wife on his first day. Although he disliked his time at Pratt, he stayed to be with his future wife. He was told by one of his teachers that he didn’t need anymore schooling and was given the name of a woman who would give him his first job. After being drafted during the Korean War he joined CBS only to leave some time later. He went on to work at many unsuccessful advertising jobs before working with advertising greats such as Doyle Dane Bernbach and Bill Bernbach. He then left Doyle Dane Bernbach to start the second creative advertising agency.

The interview proceeds with the question of how accurate Mad Men is to the atmosphere in the 60s. Louis talks about a call he received from one of the producers of Mad Men who called him because his named had come up many times while they were interviewing the original mad men of the 60s. Louis, angered by the producers lack of knowledge of him or what he had done in the 60s tells him to look for his book Be Careful George which illustrates his growing up in New York to his founding of the second creative agency. Louis is later called back by the producer who, after reading the book, is astonished about all it contains saying “Oh, Jesus, wow, we could have done the show on that!"
In the interview George Louis gives a good summary of his early life as a budding designer and ad man in New York. Although the article gives a first hand account of the 60s from one of the founders of New York creative agencies, his hate for the show Mad Men seems more placed on the fact that he was offended the producers did not know who he was or come to him first. Whether or not the show is an accurate portrayal of the advertising firms of the 60s, it is a drama, not a History Channel documentary. At the end of the day, accurate or not, the show does what it’s meant to do, entertain.


Although you cannot read this tourism advertisement, the images are quite clear. In the first picture, under the title "the La Costa Idea...," there is a woman laying out in the sun with a palm tree in the background. The picture to its right is a man with a fish, most likely caught by him, that is twice the man's size. Underneath him is a woman in the middle of playing tennis. To the left of her is a man possibly surfing. On the next page there are two people riding horses; it seems as if one is a man and one is a woman. Underneath is a couple going sailing. Below that are a group of men golfing, and finally, there is a picture of a specific hotel or cabin that this advertisement is sponsoring. 
This advertisement is quite straightforward. Although it is not an advertisement for California in a general manner, it is still a representation of the way it is portrayed. For example, the first image that is viewed on this ad is the woman laying down in a bikini, in the sun, and with a palm tree behind her. It is interesting because it seems as if it is trying to make California seem like a getaway. There are many places to go on vacation, but California is one of the only places where people go to sit in the sun and, as some would say, "chill." Not only that, but they put the woman at the threshold of the image and the palm tree and any form of land in the background to show that, when in California, one's surroundings do no matter, nothing matters. It is a carefree place. In all the other pictures, there is a similar idea shown. For example, the fish that the man obviously caught would rarely ever be caught by any fisherman, but it is trying to send the overpowering and always sought out idea of freedom and endless possibilities. Although there are images of people alone and relaxed, there are very few images of couples together; this idea can be tied back to Don Draper because whenever he goes to California he is not with his wife. Although he is with Anna Draper a lot of the time in future episodes, it is generally a place of escape for him. For example, when he goes to California with Peter Campbell, he ends up leaving him and going to stay with an unknown and "sketchy" family for a while. This California venture is a symbol of the way that all characters in the film and actual people in the time generalized it as; many characters talk about California like it is a different country to vacate to, and that's what people made of it. 

Links referenced: "Vintage Travel and Tourism Ads of the 1960s (Page 26)." Vintage Ad Browser. Web. 28 Feb. 2011.


Don and Betty Are Mirror Images

From watching the first season of Mad Men, some people refer to Betty as the demon while others describe Don as pathetic. Many people argue and might consider one character to be better than the other. Though both of these may stand to be true, in my opinion, I see these characters to be similar to one another, and one character cannot survive without the other. We can see that there are many problems in their marriage, and I can only say that both are responsible for the demise of their marriage. They are both emotionless and are unavailable to their children. They seem to use their children as an excuse to maintain their marriage and relationship. I think Don wouldn’t be the man of who he is without Betty, and Betty wouldn’t be the character she is without Don.

Don without Betty is pathetic. Though in front of everyone at Sterling Cooper, Don seems to gain a lot of respect and is offered money and promotions from here and there. However, he is not different from any other man. He simply goes after other women and is called pathetic behind his back. When his relationship with Midge fails, he goes after Rachael Menken and builds another similar relationship. Don gets the respect he does in his office because of Betty’s physical appearance. Without her beauty, Don wouldn’t be able to save his reputation. Not only that, but he wouldn’t be able to escape from his past without Betty.

Betty without Don is simply a normal housewife. Without Don, Betty is no different from Francine. Although she was a model before, she is no longer the same young lady that can defeat the models of the younger generation. Don is the one who’s supporting the family, and without his support, Betty wouldn’t be living in such a stable condition as she is now. She also wouldn’t be viewed as the pretty and elegant character without her husband’s title of a creative director of Sterling Cooper.


The Roots of Counterculture: The Beat Movement in Mad Men

“Nobody knows whether we were catalysts or invented something, or just the froth riding on a wave of its own. We were all three, I suppose.”
-Allen Ginsberg

Image credit: http://vintagescientist.blogspot.com/2010/03/mad-men-beatnik-style.html

The “Beat Generation” was a term first coined by Jack Kerouac in On the Road in the late 1940’s to describe the ever-disillusioned youth who had been worn down by the confines of society. Along with Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Gary Snyder started the Beat literary movement that would later turn into a large anti-conformist undercurrent of American culture in the 50’s. With a longing for freedom and self-expression, they were adamantly opposed to the increasing emphasis on consumerism as well as society’s mainstream, one-way conveyor belt.

As this movement grew, New York’s Greenwich Village and San Francisco became the epicenters of beatnik culture. These groups advocated for self-isolation from society and soon became associated with breaking social norms, like experimentation with music, drugs and sex. This underground culture, which was meant to serve as a critique of the stereotypical American Dream, quickly became a counterbalance to suburban life.

The character of Midge is exemplary of the beatnik ideal. Independent-spirited and unattached, she exists in stark opposition to Betty, whose perfect housewife veneer is indicative of the idyllic 50’s “white picket fence” image encouraged by society. The smoke-filled scenes in underground coffee shops and in Midge’s bohemian studio apartment serve to contrast Don’s seemingly structured and picture-perfect life as well as to highlight his isolation even within this alienated and self-segregated subset of society. In addition to this, the Beat Movement’s appearance, although brief, shows the building pressure and beginning stages of counter-culture movements in 1960’s society. As Bob Dylan so famously sung to epitomize the zeitgeist of the decade – “The times they are a changin’.”

Links referenced: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/57467/Beat-movement and


After re-watching Mad Men’s first season (and almost all of the other seasons), I have come to a conclusion: I have a severe disdain for Betty Draper. From her cold, distant gaze to her ridiculously childish personality, Betty is by far one of my most hated characters on the show, which actually says a lot because I think that Glenn Bishop is the strangest, creepiest character ever. Ken Levine’s blog, “… by Ken Levine,” gave her a perfect name - “the Wicked Witch of Westchester County” - and I cannot agree more.

I started out the series feeling bad for Betty, sympathizing with her because of Don’s womanizing habits. I felt terrible that she would be waiting for him to come home at night, alone with the children not knowing that Don wasn’t actually at the office but off in some Manhattan apartment doing inappropriate things with inappropriate people. My heart would hurt as I watched her sit around her kitchen, lighting a cigarette all made up in a fantastic dress with nowhere to go. But as the series progressed, my sympathy for her declined, and quickly. The audience began to see how she treated her children (“Go bang your head against the wall” from season three’s “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”), how she allowed herself to be treated by Don, and her clueless actions (giving Glenn Bishop a lock of her hair). While it could be argued (and rightfully so) that Betty is this way because her mother was mean and judgmental towards her, Don cheated on her all of the time, and she was so depressed with her life, my problem with Betty is that it takes her so long to actually do something about her situation. Up until season three, Betty rarely stood up for herself, like she had no backbone. And by the time Betty actually did leave Don (after she took him back), my opinion of her was already formed and solidified. Also, when she left Don, she didn’t change. I was hoping for some sort of transformation from stone cold housewife to happy, loving, strong mother and woman that would have perhaps allowed myself to hate her a little less. Unfortunately, that moment never really came. As of the conclusion of season four, she is still and terrible mother and seems unsatisfied with her life. She still relies on her husband for everything, especially reassurance that she has a purpose in the world. Forbidding the creepy Glenn Bishop to see Sally just reinforced her childish nature and she rarely leaves her house, still. Hopefully season five will bring a new Betty Francis, but I am not getting my hopes up.