Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men (2007-2015) was one of the pioneering series of television’s current golden age, praised for the complexity of its characters, its stunning production design, and its nuanced take on the milestones of the 1960s. This class will explore Mad Men’s nostalgia for a bygone era, while also examining its more critical perspective on the relationship between the past and the present, considering the real events, trends, and attitudes interwoven through the show’s narratives.
With Mad Men’s specific depiction of gender in mid-century America as our main focus, we will discuss the series and its characters in relation to such contexts as suburbanization, the sexual revolution, and second-wave feminism, and in terms of their ongoing relevance for women today. Of particular interest will be the complexities of the program’s female characters, the nature of the male characters’ sexism, and the Madison Avenue ad campaigns that relentlessly objectified women. The course will end by refracting these gender issues through the lens of race, juxtaposing the program's unusual racialization of Jewish women with its more common erasure of African-American women from history, and assessing just how well Mad Men’s depiction of the past represents concerns of the present.