Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mad Men, Ambiguity and Transgression

The happy couple

I’ve been thinking a lot about a scene from the second season of Mad Men. It’s not a particularly dramatic, disturbing or funny scene; it doesn’t move the plot forward; yet it is unsettling in its own way. And it demonstrates why Mad Men is such thought provoking television.

It happens in episode 7 of the series. Don and Betty Draper are having a picnic, talking as the kids play. It’s an idyllic scene. Sunshine, pristine countryside and they’ve obviously enjoyed a good spread food-wise. Then, when it’s time to leave, they call the kids, simply shake all their rubbish from the picnic blanket onto the verdant grass and drive off in Don’s shiny new car.

The reason it sticks in the mind is primarily, I think, because there’s something massively transgressive about the Drapers’ wanton littering. It’s shocking to see someone on television doing this, more so than a brutal murder or infidelity.

That’s interesting in itself.

You’re also left pondering whether this is another wry observation on 60s mores (maybe people did give less of a shit about their environment then), whether there’s an ecological subtext (the first disposable nappies are introduced in this episode, as is Don’s new gas-guzzler) or whether it’s meant to make you feel that the Drapers are shits. Perhaps all three.

So, ultimately, it’s the ambiguity of this (literally) throwaway scene that makes you think.


mjh said...

Yep, that scene struck me too.

Steve said...

Makes me wish I'd watched Mad Men.

Tristan said...

Get it as a boxed set Steve - you won't regret it!

En_Croute said...

I loved a clever scene in Season 1 - the kids were running around and they appeared in the doorway with a dry-cleaning plastic bags over their heads, and the mother said - "Oh God - if you kids have creased my dry cleaning...."

No worries about potential suffocation. Brilliant.