Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

Mad Men: Scary Food, Feminist Leanings

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I love, love, love this Brokelyn post on “scary food from the Mad Men era”:

If you’re thinking of catering a Mad Men party this weekend with authentic 1960s cuisine, you may want to reconsider—a look at the terrifying stuff that passed for dinner back then offers a clue as to why Julia Child was regarded as such a revolutionary. lemon-jello-tuna-pie1-250x153The following photos are from Betty Crocker’s Dinner in a Dish cookbook, published in 1965, a mayonnaise-slicked, canned-fruit dotted roadmap to an American culinary era thankfully gone by. First among the supper-time atrocities: a “Summer Salad Pie” (above), whose ingredients include lemon-flavored gelatin, tomato sauce, and tuna fish tossed together in a cheddar-cheese pie shell.

My mom still kinda cooks like this.

While we’re on Mad Men, interesting post at RH Reality Check from Amanda Marcotte, about the show’s feminist leanings:

I think the moment for me on “Mad Men” that made me realize the strong feminist bent of the show was far from accidental was the opening sequence of the masterful episode “Maidenform.”  You see the three main female characters Peggy, Joan, and Betty getting dressed and see how even Peggy, who is low maintenance by 60s standards, has to go through intense amounts of work just to be considered worthy of stepping out the front door.  You also see Joan rubbing her skin where her bra strap cuts into it. True, second wave feminists didn’t burn their bras–or their girdles or their garters–but the show argues with this visual imagery, that they probably should have.  As the actresses on the show have complained repeatedly, underwear for women then was a potent symbol of how painfully restrained women were, how their personalities, ambitions, desires, and very flesh and to be pinched and molded to fit male demands.

My favorite Mad Men lady is Betty Draper (I dressed as her for Halloween last year, although I ended up looking rather more like an erstwhile drag queen after having applied makeup for the first time than like the lovely Betty; I have never been able to pull off red lipstick), but then, I’m a sucker for repressed housewives. Too much Sylvia Plath as a teen, I’m afraid.

I recently watched Revolutionary Road (phenomenal!) and immediately ran out and bought the book, which I am in the midst of devouring. What’s interesting about April Wheeler, Revolutionary Road’s repressed housewife, is that author Richard Yates, through the viewpoint of her husband, Frank, explicitly states that the wanna-be actress on some level enjoyed falling into the wife/mother role, or at least finds it a little bit of a relief, because it saves her the disillusion of trying to “make it” and failing. Yet, at the same time, she clings to a kind of anger at her husband for having “trapped” her, as a response to her own guilt/sadness/whatever at being a suburban mother and wife.

Meanwhile, Frank, her husband, insists on working a job he dislikes, and doing all sorts of “responsible man” things, to the exclusion of his “dreams,” for the same reason—because it prevents him from having to confront that he might not actually be special, and might not actually be good at anything. But instead of, like April, lashing out about the inanity of it all, he finds himself defending it—especially when she wants to subvert it (by, say, having an abortion)—even though he actually agrees with her, because by pretending he can find confort in the normalcy she can’t find comfort in, he wins some small victory over her and his failed path in life. It’s crazy-intriguing stuff.

Anyway, it reminded me of the Mad Men episode in which, after Betty tells Don not to come back home, a friend tells her that the scariest part of being single is suddenly having to make decisions for yourself (paraphrasing, but it’s something like that). Having pretty-much predetermined paths in life might have been stifling, horrifying, boring, etc., etc., for both men and women, but damn if it wasn’t, at least for a while, probably a pretty easy way to avoid some of life’s big quesitons.


Written by Elizabeth

August 16, 2009 at 6:01 pm

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