Melissa donned her sixties-era best today, poured her and her guests martinis, and they all set about deconstructing one of America's favorite shows before its season premiere. As "Mad Men" returns tonight after an extraordinary hiatus, devotees of the show (myself included) will watch not just the compelling story and excellent writing, but the beautifully-photographed imagery of a time gone by.
But as we enjoy, we can't ignore the privilege -- racial, sexual, and otherwise -- inherent in the nostalgia we're being asked to Melissa and her guests warn against the allure of a selective nostalgia. And frankly, when we pay attention to the "performance of whiteness," embodied in the show by Don Draper/Dick Whitman, the show even becomes more interesting.
Anti-racist educator and author Tim Wise took up for the realism of the show's depiction of white privilege in the sixties:
The argument is that it's not realistic because race was such obviously the background noise of everything that happened in the sixties that for them to sort of gloss over that, only play it very subtly, is somehow dishonest. And what I would say about that is, the reality -- and I don't think we know this in America, because we have this nostalgic view of the sixties and how everybody was down with the struggle -- the fact is, the vast majority of white Americans were every bit as oblivious to racial realities as most of those characters seem to be ... The fact that these characters are, as disturbing as that is, is incredibly, historically accurate.
Not everyone is relying on the pinpoint depiction of privilege and bias to unmask what was happening. GOOD Magazine associate editor and previous "MHP" guest Nona Willis Aronowitz interviewed video artist Elisa Kreisinger of Pop Culture Pirate:
Kreisinger, who "consumes pop culture, critiques it, and then creates from it," is a huge fan of Mad Men. But she also wanted to tease out unexplored themes, call out the show's blind spots, and further claw at its carefully constructed facade. With her new Mad Men remixes, she wanted to "bridge that gap between being a fan and being a critic of something," she says. "Everybody is a critical viewer, and thank god for that."
Kreisinger, with the help of mashup DJ Marc Faletti, has released two new remixes of "Mad Men," using only footage from the show. The first, "QueerMen: Don Loves Roger," "critiques the two men's misogyny and the show's dearth of queer characters" by positing a situation in which they are having a secret affair with one another, and risk their personal lives to be together. The second remix hits a lighter note, cutting together words from the women in the show to construct a liberation theme, "Set Me Free." (According to GOOD, Kreisinger is working on a third remix spotlighting the show's treatment of its characters of color, "which, as you can imagine, isn't very long.")
Both remixes are after the jump. Enjoy the show, #nerdland, with a critical eye.