Friday, September 16, 2011

Period Dramas: Stylishly Glossing Over Grit

This summer, I had an averse reaction to Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. "Why?" my film-studying friends asked. Because I don't idealize the past. Much as I love classic '50s and '60s cinema, I would never wish to live in another time. The modern age may be rife with digital age issues and economic depression, but we are also living in a time (at least in the US) of the most equality thus far.

Now, I've only watched one episode of Mad Men, so that's really not enough to judge the content of the show. What I do know is the drama has garnered much praise for bringing back the '60s vibe. I will agree, vintage fashion is cute (minus those weird cone bras), but '60s attitude is anything but. I guess as viewers we're all supposed to root for Peggy, the first female copywriter in her agency, a wide-eyed young woman making her way in a man's world. But, all I can help but think is how misogynist the show, and the '60s were. And Mad Men, for all its exposure of the advertising underbelly, seems to underplay the social issues of the time.

Premiering next week are two more TV shows playing up the alleged fabulousity of the Civil Rights Era. So far, all the praise for Pan Am and Playboy Club has revolved around their plays on nostalgia. I see nothing nostalgic about a time in which women had to meet certain beauty standards to be selected as stewardesses. And as a modern, intellectual, freethinking woman, when I think Bunny Club, I think blantant mistreatment of women, not those women knew how to put themselves together. I thought Gloria Steinem had established just how skeevy conditions there were.

Think of all the strives we have made since the '60s. Women's lib. Civil rights. Better immigration laws (prior to 1965, there was an Asian Exclusion Act in place). Gay rights. We might not have progressed to where we ought to be - Cukoo Michele Bachmann announced the other day that she wished the the Exclusion Act had never been lifted! But, my gosh, why would I ever want to go back?

Seeing these new shows on TV does make me wonder if there's a certain anxiety in our culture that has lead to their development. Are people yearning for "simpler times?" When men couldn't marry men in New York? And white was right? Don't feed me a high-gloss fantastical whitewash of history. Show me what was really going on.

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