July 26, 2012
Masters of Surface: Roy Lichtenstein in Chicago, Mad Men on TV
Anna-Claire Stinebring over at Critics at Large (Mad Men Collection by Banana Republic. Photograph by Tom Munro):
I found myself thinking of Mad Men: its popularity and all the mixed messages that go along with its good-looking façade. Mad Men, of course, is about advertising men in the 1960s. It explores but also glamorizes the world that produced the material for [Roy] Lichtenstein’s most famous paintings. The Mad Men full circle – from television show that allegedly tells us about another time to something we want in our own time – is exemplified by the simpering ad campaign that went along with the very successful Banana Republic Mad Men-inspired line.
What disquieted me about the image above is that it embraced the gender dynamic of the show’s world with a kind of visual shorthand (the confident man, studied by the adoring woman) as well as the style. Fashion is about taking on roles, it implies, and perhaps even misogyny is fun to try on for a little while. I’m relying here on Daniel Mendelsohn’s inspired take-down of the show in the New York Review of Books (Feb. 2011; after season 4), which also pinpoints why the show is so alluring. Watching stylish, emotionally stunted characters smoke and drink and torpedo their marriages, we get the double reward of living vicariously through them while feeling good that we are (surely) more enlightened. Mendelsohn goes on to say:In its glossy, semaphoric style, its tendency to invoke rather than unravel this or that issue, the way it uses a certain visual allure to blind rather than to enlighten, Mad Men is much like a successful advertisement itself. And yet as we know, the best ads tap into deep currents of emotion. As much as I disliked the show, I did find myself persisting. Why?
Glossiness, “the tendency to invoke rather than unravel”: much of Mendelsohn’s description of Mad Men stands true for Lichtenstein’s oeuvre as well. Yet for me there can be a sense of foreboding and even nausea to Lichtenstein’s ad-inspired images. With the prominent use of a shade-towards-sickly yellow, this isn’t the feel-good world of advertising.
Posted by Robin Varghese at 12:58 PM | Permalink