Struggle in a World of Privilege: A Mad Men Salon


I have to agree that the Mad Men world is about to
experience the decade of change that was the 1960s, but I suspect the
characters will surprise us along the way. 
As Amanda points out, the season premier set the stage for an
exploration of evolving gender roles within Sterling Cooper.  The episode also continued an exploration of
class privilege through the character of Pete, who continues to be frustrated
by a world where his social background no longer guarantees that he’ll have all
the power.  Sarah
asked which character would be the first in the office to follow Paul Kinsey’s
tepid lead
and get involved with the radicalized forces of the day and I’ve
got to say that the true development might be that a lo of the radicalization
will take place elsewhere.  Because what
struck me most was that the characters living in the world of Mad Men aren’t
exactly the folks history has taught us to associate with the radical 60′s.

Slight Spoiler Alert! 
Even as we anticipate watching the women who work at Sterling Cooper
struggle with changing gender roles, we are watching that struggle take place
in a privileged world.  Peggy may be
preparing to fight to get a seat at the conference room table, but the fact
that she’s in a position to launch that battle is the result of her privilege
as a white woman.  Joan may sit back and
indulge in regular countdowns to her wedding while gleefully admiring her
engagement ring, but the fact that her character can even contemplate leaving
the work force after marriage reflects both her class aspirations and the privilege
that makes achieving them possible. 

So as for the question of which character will be the next
to take a dip in the radical pool, I suspect that we’re more likely to see
Sally Draper emerge as a young radical feminist than to see any of the adults
really participate in 60s radicalism.  I
anticipate seeing most of the characters of Mad Men experience the radical side
of the 60s from the sidewalk and the agency spend a lot of time trying to
figure out how to use all that social change in advertising campaigns.

Last week the media got nostalgic over Woodstock and the 1960s,
but watching Mad Men’s season premier reminded me that there was a mainstream
the radicals of the 1960s were rebelling against – a mainstream that resisted
change and horded power even as they adjusted hemlines and flirted with trendy
liberal causes like voting rights for black people. 

But Mad Men is nothing if not unpredictable and I can’t wait
to see how things shake out!

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