(Mad Men’s Peggy Olson, Don Draper, and Joan Harris. Photo-ACMTV)
I had lunch with a girlfriend recently and she offered: “I don’t get any real connection to the time period of Mad Men…I mean, when I watch the show, it doesn’t call to mind anything specific for me.” And I said to her: “Wow…I couldn’t disagree more.”
For Mad Men conveys all sorts of feelings to this woman who came of age in the period. I remember women’s form-fitting clothes, bouffant hairstyles held in place with industrial-strength hairspray, non-stop cigarette-smoking, boys’ club atmosphere in any office, everyone’s jockeying for power, backroom gossip and intrigue, and the ever-present sexual undercurrent cutting through… almost everything.
And then there’s the star of the show, Don Draper, the quintessential enigma. He represents all the men I thought I wanted… and a couple I married. So, why wouldn’t I find the show alluring? Now, I get to revisit that era, with the hard-won perspective of an older woman who’s paid for misperceptions. In other words, I can look at what captivated me from a safe and saner perch.
Additionally, I’m encouraged to learn a whole new generation finds the show (and what it represents) similarly hypnotic, for today’s generation is weekly sucked in to the Mad Men vortex, as is evidenced by the show’s success: Blog sites digest the minutia of each week’s episode; Jon Hamm (as Don Draper) appears as guest on other shows (Saturday Night Live, among others) ; people hungrily anticipate the new season; books and magazines are spin-offs on the theme.
In the latter category, I recently found a delightful book called MADMEN the Illustrated World, by Dyna Moe (as opposed to “dyna-mite?”), based on the Emmy and Golden Globe-winning series, Mad Men, created by Matthew Weiner. Moe cleverly catalogues the Mad Men mystique in several subgroups.
One section presents recipes for the cocktails of the period, drinks I’d long forgotten: Screwdriver, Sidecar, Seven and Seven (7-up and Seagram’s Seven), Sloe Gin Fizz (which I used to think was “slow “), the MaiTai (war efforts in the South Pacific probably inspired this), Tom Colllins, and Brandy Alexanders.
I’ve sampled all of them, at one time or another, with one in particular lodging forever in my memory as costing me a full weekend’s recovery time (I’d had waaayyy too many of them one Friday night in a bar in NYC, socializing with friends). The drinks seemed dangerously innocent (wise metaphor for life?).
In MADMEN, alcohol reigns supreme as necessary accoutrement to doing business: Bad news demands a good stiff drink; good news similarly invites the same. Small, well-equipped bars are conspicuous, in any executive’s office space, with their omni-present aluminum shaker, ice bucket, soda water, tonic. They’re part and parcel to décor; as such, Moe gives alcohol its gravitas, as business lubricant, in her book.
“Viva Bouffant” is a 2-page spread which demonstrates (through pictures) how to accomplish the various women’s hairdos of the day. Hairspray is the essential ingredient here, and a woman never wanted to be without it. I recall one night at college party when I helped myself to a can of spray from a bathroom closet and aerosol-bombed my hair. When I heard an unfamiliar crackling and Ssssssss-ing sound, I discovered I’d just spray-starched my hair.
In hindsight, I was fortunate, for (like the Mad Men folks), I had the continuous cigarette dangling from my lips. The mix of embers with aerosol could have meant my demise (no exaggeration as is evident in a clip from the TV show “1000 Ways to Die” where a young woman became a towering inferno when her date accidentally lighted her well-lacquered beehive hairdo.)
The “Modern Anatomy” section details the successful man’s dress as class ring (unless he’d given to his girlfriend), tie bar, cuff links, with conspicuous shine on the shoes and hair (Remember pomades like Brylcreem? And yes, I spelled it right).
Women, interestingly enough, had more going on under their clothes; in that proper foundation was critical. Every attractive woman owned conical-shaped bras that could just about stand-at-attention, on their own, and paneled girdles (to hold in parts needing restraint) with garters attached, hosiery, etc. (remember Youthcraft, ladies?) Even girls of 12 with concave bellies wore them.
In this section, a paper doll look-alike of office manager Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) is featured, with a 6-page spread of cut-out clothes, to put on her volunptuous frame, reminiscent of paper dolls, subtly reinforcing another Mad Men illusion: Women were never fully-dimensional in the world of business…or elsewhere.
Yes, Biddy readily recognizes the subtle and overt messages of that era. After all, we ALL bought into that world of illusion. Now, we ALL get to see how fantastical and skewed that world of illusion was—every week, and that’s real encouragement in the maturity meter.
(Click on this link to see the book by Dyna Moe: http://www.tvsquad.com/2010/10/13/mad-men-book/)