TV Criticism 036:065:001
March 30, 2014
Epitome of Patriarchy
The critically acclaimed and award winning television show Mad Men became quite a hit after its first season in 2007. It is a show that is extremely aesthetically pleasing, from the sets and costumes to the lighting and props. More so, the show really depicts the upscale world of an ad agency on Madison Avenue during the 1960s and gives the viewers insight into a “mans” world, so to speak. It is not uncommon to notice hierarchy and male dominance throughout the course of an episode and compared to our nation’s hegemony today the difference becomes immaculate. The way Mad Men portrays the women in the office makes them seem as though they are lesser in all attributes, and mainly are seen only has objects of desire, which many of the male characters, especially the notorious Donald Draper, take advantage of. At the very least this show brutally depicts the concept of patriarchy, in and out of the office, and does this through the use of the mise-en-scene or the sets, costumes, and the actors, which all mainly be focusing on.
One of the most visually striking aspects of Mad Men is the set design and use of props and eventually the sets progress towards a seventies décor. However, this is not the only intention to be aesthetically pleasing but instead
Mad Men’s mise-en-scene is really quite astounding and is why they have one many awards thus far. A crucial part to the mise-en-scene are the costumes and accessories the characters wear during each scene which eventually allocate broader tones of patriarchy, mainly with the female characters. For example when Peggy Olson is having her orientation with Joan, overseer of all secretaries, on her first day of work Joan mentions a plethora of times that she should change her “look” or fashion taste to expose her legs. Joan does this to “better” Peggy, in the sense of making her look more desirable for the men in the office, which ultimately feeds the patriarchal ideology at Sterling and Cooper. Another example that once again embodies patriarchy is the use of a, “foundation garment, also known as shape wear...and is an undergarment designed to temporarily alter the wearer’s body shape to achieve a more fashionable figure” (Rushing, Kaganovsky & Goodlad, 45). This undergarment serves only to develop desirable female aesthetics to please men and having the director present Joan, Betty (Don’s wife), and Peggy wearing these while standing in front of the mirror indicates that they are only seen in the eyes of the male sex as objects molded for their pleasure or desire. Thus allocating patriarchal standards in Mad Men.
One of the most influential parts of the mise-en-scene, which many forget is an integral part, are the actors because a few reasons, one they portray ideologies during a specific period of the show and second their interactions between other characters allocates some of the overarching themes the directors and writers are trying achieve, and in this case is patriarchy. A prime example of this is the main actor/character Donald Draper (Jon Hamm) and his lifestyle. Unlike women such as Peggy who are constantly bombarded by sexism and male dominance, Don on the other hand is living the high life. For example, “Don wanders from career triumph to career triumph and from bed to bed, his preternatural understanding of what motivates consumers grotesquely disproportionate to any understanding of his own motives; and back home, his gorgeous blond wife, Betty, a former model from the Main Line” (Mendelsohn, 1). Don is work focused and seems that he is able to take advantage of any women that crosses his path, whether it be in a business or sexual manner. Don is the epitome patriarchy, by establishing his male dominance and demeaning women at the ad agency throughout the series provides useful insight of the patriarchy during the 1960s, Manhattan.
Through the mise-en-scene or more specifically the set design, actors, and costumes the show Mad Men and the director was able to portray patriarchy at its finest. Utilizing the set as a means to allocate patriarchy gave the director a subtle way to indicate hierarchy and male dominance, which was quite accurate for that particular time period. Having the male actors/characters such as Don Draper portraying patriarchy by showing their power of both over women and men and both inside the office and out in the domestic life. Using certain costumes such as shape wear (undergarments) or low cut dresses provide clues that patriarchy is at hand throughout the show. This also explains the women’s position during this time period; particularly in this show they are seen more has objects of desire than coworkers or wives. If this blog isn’t compelling enough to provide you with necessary information about patriarchy in Mad Men then take from the Mad Men, after they coin the phrase themselves.
Edgerton, Gary R. Edgerton. Mad Men. London: I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, 2011. Print.
Mendelsohn, Daniel. "The Mad Men Account." The New York Review 24 Feb. 2011: 1-6. Print.
Rushing, Robert, Lilya Kaganovsky, and Lauren Goodlad. Mad Men, Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style, and the 1960s. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013. Print.