Left: Cybill Shepherd in The Last Picture Show
Today's question: How can we make art that is truthful to the past, without being obnoxious? We need to tell the truth about the role of women with sympathy and awareness, without being anachronistic.
I am particularly interested in the AMC series MAD MEN, which I assume was inspired in part by Tom Wolfe's dead-on essay about the advertising world, The Mid-Atlantic Man, also written in the 60s.
Plain(s) Feminist commented briefly on MAD MEN:
And while we're on the topic, I don't really care that the gender "issues" brought to the fore on Mad Men are true to the era. They make me damn angry to watch. What is the point? Yes, television is supposed to make one think, but it's not supposed to make me pissed-off for no reason. I have enough sexism to deal with in daily life without needing to reach back into the sixties for a fix, thank you very much.The New York Times recently reviewed several TV shows about domesticity in an article rather cutely titled Say, Darling, Is it Frigid in Here? Here is Alessandra Stanley's description of MAD MEN:
This Madison Avenue drama, set in the advertising business at the dawn of the 1960s, recreates middle-class life in the pre-Friedan era, when graduates of Wellesley and Bryn Mawr wore girdles and aprons as they raised the children and waited for their husbands, who stayed in town late, drinking and smoking and carousing with compliant secretaries. “Mad Men” has a satiric edge, but it is a stark reminder of what the battle of the sexes looked like before women’s lib, civil rights, the Pill and legalized abortion.Dump that pesky equality, guys, and get back to basics! Wink, wink, nudge nudge.
The series also serves as a taunting rebuke to modern wedlock: Careful what you wish for.
One couple on “Tell Me You Love Me” has a happy, vigorous sex life that is undermined by the wife’s inability to get pregnant. Another has two children and no sex at all, which is undermining the family bliss. Both end up slowly and guardedly confiding in an older sex therapist, played by Jane Alexander. She has an uninhibited sex life with her loving husband, Arthur (David Selby), but even her time-weathered marriage has a few cobwebs.
Katie (Ally Walker) and David (Tim DeKay) haven’t had sex in a year, but nothing appears to be wrong. They are a loving if repressed couple deeply and equally involved in raising their children, from grocery shopping to Little League practice. David is not impotent; he masturbates with furtive relish when his wife leaves the room. Yet neither seems able to summon desire for intercourse or take the initiative. A clue to their problem spills out during a therapy session, when the mild, buttoned-up David unleashes a rant about the lust-numbing domesticity of his life.
“I guess, yeah, I should be in the mood every time I clean out the gecko cage,” he hollers, his sarcasm turning to rage. “Everybody else is, it seems. I’ll tell you what turns me on: Buying Cheerios is really hot, and then of course getting shoelaces or fantasizing about minivans, that’s sexy too.”
Those intimations of emasculation stand as a cautionary tale next to Don Draper (Jon Hamm) of “Mad Men.” Don has a wife, two kids and a freethinking mistress in Greenwich Village. He doesn’t buy Cheerios or mop the floor. He’s barely ever home. But he has enough libido to sleep with two women and chase a third.
As I commented on Plain(s) Feminist's blog, one drama that succeeds in being sympathetic to women, yet totally realistic for its time (the 50s), was THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, which--not coincidentally--stars several (all?) self-identified feminists. Was it the strength of their performances and/or interpretations of their characters that made the difference? Or the stellar writing of Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich?
Which old movie makes you cringe regarding the role of women, yet you like it anyway?
And like Plain(s) Feminist, which one is impossible for you to watch without getting pissed off?