Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Pioneer of Modern Television

I would like to thank Mary Richards (played by Mary Tyler Moore) for being a feminist. Once you get past the cheesy theme song (and the famous "hat throw"), the show's pilot begins with Mary moving into a new apartment in Minneapolis. We then learn Mary had broken an engagement with her boyfriend of two years. Later in the episode she is hired as Associate Producer of the "Six-O'clock News" (SPUNK!) Quick summary: female television character is single, has job and most importantly, is happy.

The housewife, Laura (also played by Mary Tyler Moore, about ten years earlier) that we see on Dick Van Dyke is essentially who Betty Draper wanted to be: happy, graceful and loyal to her husband. The interesting part is, if Laura was a real person, she would there's a chance she would have been more like Betty Draper.

The character of Betty Draper is depressed and cranky, though she has every right to be. She is stuck at home doing dull chores, taking care of her kids, and then finishing her day attempting to look like she came straight out of Dial M for Murder...well, not exactly the scary part

Which is why Mad Men is so fascinating. Much of the sixties is associated with glamorous Hollywood, and Mad Men seems to prove (by the example of Betty Draper) that regular women were socially required to do the work of a mother and housewife, all while looking and acting with the gracefulness Grace Kelly displays on screen.

Mad Men is a twenty-first century historical fiction television show. It's been about "fifty years" (playing by the television setting) since Betty Draper had emotional breakdowns, and shot pigeons. Mary Tyler Moore began in 1970, a few years after the second wave of feminism had began. Even though feminism was real, the transition to fictional television was a bit slow.

There was another character on Dick Van Dyke, named Sally Rogers (played by Rose Marie). Alongside Robert Petrie, Sally Rodgers was a comedy writer for the Alan Brady Show (Yes, Dick Van Dyke is a sitcom about a comedy-program writer). Though she made (and wrote!) jokes, the character was obviously written to be an unhappily single woman; suggesting that women can't be happy unless married.

I love Mary Tyler Moore, partly because it was funny, well written, well cast, and you will find some of the best characters ever on television (Lou, Rhoda, Georgette,...). Though what made Mary Tyler Moore so great is the confident, independent yet still humble character of Mary Richards, a strong, yet still feminine woman. At age thirty, I hope to display the same attitude in real life, that Mary Richards does on screen.


Domenico Maceri said...

this was wonderful! I really enjoyed reading it. Mary (Tyler Moore) is an interesting character because she was both strong and at the same time she managed to be a sensitive and caring human being.

Linda said...

I agree. The character was a great role model in that she was both strong (and ambitious) and cared about other people. She was also not always confident, which seems surprising in a woman who was both beautiful and smart, but isn't all that uncommon, I think. It especially wasn't back then, when the world was even less supportive of smart women than it is today. They also managed to get a lot of good stories out of the conflict between aspects of her personality. (I remember the episode where she went to jail rather than reveal a news source, which was great because she was pulled between being a conscientious and being basically a very conventional, law-abiding person.)

It would be interesting to compare her to the other famous fictional newswoman of the seventies -- Faye Dunaway's character in Network, who was also beautiful and ambitious (and smart, in a creepy way), but totally lacking in a soul.

Oh, yeah, and I agree, this is a very interesting and well-written post.