Beneath the Mask

by

I found this episode of Mad Men extremely intriguing for its ability to be righteous and immoral at the same time.  The aesthetic of the show is nearly puritanical: the men sport perfectly parted hair and crisp suits, where the women model highly conservative necklines and polished faces.  The sets are simple, never cluttered with extra people or props.  Even the language is clean and grammatically proper.  However, the underlined concept of Mad Men lies in the suppressed sex drive of the characters trapped inside.  For example, Peggy is about as wholesome looking as they come, and in the first episode she is already at the gynecologist receiving birth control.

The last scene to me was the most fascinating part of the episode: the snapshot that left me begging for more.  We find out that our protagonist, Don Draper, is leading a masked existence.  He is not the untamable bachelor we assumed him to be.  He is a husband and father.  The last image of the episode is of Don watching over his sleeping children while his wife stands in the doorway.  It almost feels like a twisted Rockwell painting to me.  The color and framing of the shot implies safety and security.  Even the song, “On the Street Where You Live” implies a wholesome love and familiarity.  But the context is deeply rooted in affairs and lies.  One can’t help but be enamored by the contradiction between sight and knowledge.  The look and sound of the show serve as the mask essential to the lifestyle of a proper family in the 1960s.  The puritanical atmosphere acts as a blanket to the scandal that lies beneath. Mad Men is a look at what is underneath that mask in Pleasantville.

This idea of masked layer is applicable to Adorno’s concept of a multilayered structure in his essay “How to Look at Television.”  On page 165 he says, “The full effect of the material on the spectator cannot be studied without consideration of the hidden meaning in conjunction with the overt one.”  In my opinion Mad Men takes the multilayered structure that was dominant in the 60s and exposes it through imitation.  The hidden meaning in the relationship between appearances and reality is exposed to the active audience.

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