Mad Men: Have Things Really Changed?
I started watching the AMC series Mad Men a few weeks ago, the show is set in the early 1960’s and follows the lives of a few ad men and the women in their lives, from their secretaries, to their mistresses and to their wives. My interest in the show, at least at the beginning, was in the novelty of watching the lives of people from a different time period: the clothes, the speech, the fact that EVERYONE SMOKES ALL THE TIME.
Beyond the novelty, came the characters and the way they interact with each other and the most notable interactions, at least for me, are between the men and the women. I’m sure there are a few people who watch the gender dynamics and think to themselves “ah the good old days when you’d come home and your wife would have dinner for you on the table” and if you’re anything like me you might have sighed a sigh of relief “thank god things have changed”.
The thing is though, the more I watch the show the more I realize that things really haven’t changed as much as you’d think and that was a realization that was much more disturbing than anything I had seen so far. Every subject that the writers of Mad Men tackle: gender roles, abortion, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, religion, war, and racism, are all still very much present today. Of course a lot of things have changed, laws have been put in place that make prejudice and out and out wrongdoing illegal.
People are equal in the eyes of the law, at least in theory, and although discrimination has become much more subtle it is still very much a problem in our society. Sure, you might not hear people call someone a pervert for being gay, at least not in an office full of people, but you know damn well that kind of discrimination is still happening. Racism and oppression still abounds. The last episode I watched showed a TV clip of JFK addressing the issue of riots that had taken place down in the south when the first black kid was allowed to register in a college (the name of which I forget), but it’s what he said that struck me the most, let me paraphrase: “People don’t have to like a law, but they do have to obey it”.
What JFK said in that TV interview is very much true, and although he probably had good intentions in saying what he said, it doesn’t exactly foster change in a very productive way, because that’s what we still see today. It might be illegal to discriminate against a woman, a homosexual or a non-white person, but hell you can go on hating them in the privacy of your own home if you want to. As long as you follow the law, because appearance is all that matters.
I for one, don’t believe that to be true. Don’t get me wrong, fighting to be heard and changing legislation is a powerful thing to be a part of and to see happen, but we have to go beyond that. What happens after “equal rights for all”? What happens now? It’s all still there bubbling underneath the surface, and I recognize the all too familiar dynamics I see between the characters of Mad Men in my life and in those around me. How do we do it, how do we change the way people think and feel? Everything seems to hinge on changing a person’s behavior, but the problem still exists if you can’t change the ingrained thoughts that move a person to act.