I continue to be amazed by the dexterity of the writers and creators of Mad Men. Each episode, including the one I just watched on Itunes about Draper's wife being used as a pawn in her husband's business dealings, is so smart in the way it handles the misogyny and backwardness of pre-feminist white America.
The show deals with the conflict between the beats and the straights, the counter cultural left and the Nixon right, the woman who wants to be judged on the merits of her mind and the women who think going to work is synonymous with looking for a husband. It deconstructs the supposedly assured hyper-butch provider masculinity and shows that beneath it lies a complex, insecure little boy dying to make his mother/wife happy.
It shows that while the "little lady" is going insane with boredom in a Valium induced haze at home, the "big man" is jockeying for position at work, and fielding literal and psychological punches from men more and less powerful than himself.
It's gripping, really. Like a horrible accident. Down to the black men working as elevator "boys," and the Jewesses in the garment business who can get the ad men to take their company accounts but never, ever, anything more. There's the closeted gay man, too, suave and gorgeous, and eternally alone. There's the incessant drinking and smoking standing in for real, human interaction; and those damning issues of class, status, and who can afford what apartment in New York.
I'm writing about Mad Men because all of the coverage I read doesn't seem to get how smart it is. Perhaps because it is too awful to imagine that it represents 1950's white America the way it really was. And maybe because if it can be recreated so deftly, a lot of that so-called lost world must remain.