Mad Men: Televising the 60s back into fashion

Credit: Ioulia Bespalova
Credit: Ioulia Bespalova
Oprah Winfrey has been busy. The television icon has relaunched her book club, interviewed Whitney Houston and plans shut down downtown Chicago. But the most unexpected of these is a 60s themed episode that aired on Sept. 21. Don’t tell Oprah this, but she is just following a sudden trend to embrace everything 60s thanks to the success of Mad Men. Fashion trends, barware, music and even the surge in sales of Frank O’Hara poetry, can all be contributed to this show.

Mad Men, created and produced by Matthew Weiner, premiered in July 2007. It has received critical acclaim for its historical accuracy, visual style and exceptional cast performances. This past Sunday it was named the Best Television Drama at the 61st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards for the second consecutive year. Now in its third season, Mad Men continues to mesmerize audiences week after week.

Set in the early 1960s, Mad Men follows the employees of Sterling Cooper (a fictional New York City advertising company) and their families. The drama centers around Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Sterling Cooper’s creative director. Draper, a man who creates the falsities of reality, leads a double life where his past is constantly in conflict with his present. Not even his wife Betty (January Jones) knows about his true identity.

While the Drapers and their seemingly perfect but painfully horrible family life drives the series, it is the supporting characters who provide the show with exceptional substance. The best of these characters is of Salvatore Romano (Bryan Blatt), the closeted Art Director for Serling Cooper. This storyline about a taboo of the decade relates the period to current times.

Moreover, in an industry where compelling female characters are few and far between, Mad Men features the best on television; there is Joan (Christina Hendricks), the office manager and her desire for the ideal husband, and Peggy, the only female copywriter, and her aspirations to be a successful working woman. Peggy’s second season storyline about her heartbreaking affair with married accounts executive Pete Campbell is among the show’s most powerful moments. Then there is Betty Draper, deeply pained and destroyed by domesticity and her husband’s infedilities, she clings to the hope that the birth of her third child will create the domestic bliss that she longs for.

As a show dependent on historical accuracy, Mad Men not only revolves around showing the cultural fads, but also explores how the tumultuous time period affected the Americans that lived and shaped it. (It will be thrilling to watch how this show addresses the Civil Rights Movement, which has been rarely addressed so far). Season two ended with many characters not knowing their fate as the Cuban Missile Crisis loomed. It has already been suggested that season three will conclude right around President Kennedy’s assassination–an event that no doubt reflects both overt and subtle distress in the Mad Man of the 1960s.

Mad Men airs Sundays at 10 P.M. on AMC.

Published: Mount Holyoke News
September 24, 2009

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