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Summer Pierre

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The Scent of Mad Men

Posted: 04/ 4/2012 6:47 pm

Is it me or does Mad Men smell this season? I don't mean that it isn't good; I mean, can you get a whiff of the world that they are living in? My husband and I watched Sunday's episode last night and both had the sensation of knowing well what their world is starting to smell like. As I watched, it was like all the cigarettes they have been smoking for the past four seasons, the alcohol they drink all day, is now embedded in their skin, clothes, and carpets and exuding from the screen.

In previous seasons, everything had this scentless atmosphere -- as if the characters were themselves ads for a world that was beautiful, if lacking in humanity. This season you see that things, bodily things, cannot be so much controlled as they once were, but covered up. Betty's body, growing with weight and age, is covered up in thick, quilted polyester from the neck down, as if to say, "Nothing to see here!" Yet, what fabric absorbs and exudes smells more than quilted polyester? I could practically taste the Oil of Olay foundation cream, mixed with Chanel No. 5, and Moore cigarettes as she lumbered from one scene to the next. Don is still handsome, but a little oilier, his molded hair and skin giving off the same moist sheen. In the show's current time, 1968, Don's age -- his personal age, and his era -- is getting tired and it's starting to smell of too many cigarettes and too much aftershave. The smooth world of surface that the show began with, and we have all reveled in aesthetically, is giving way to something much more raw -- and I can smell it coming.

Perhaps it's partly because the aesthetic atmosphere of the show is aging from the deodorized Kennedy era, to the sweaty Nixon era -- an era that I actually have some associations with. Granted, I wasn't born until 1972, but the aesthetics of the late '60s, early '70s stuck around for a lot longer through my grandparents and relatives. Through them, I know how the quilted polyester feels and smells all too well. My friend Jenna has a term she uses to sum up the aesthetic feeling of the 1970s I am beginning to experience on Mad Men. She calls it simply, "Orange." For example, quilted polyester is definitely "Orange," as are Phyllis Diller, white patent leather men's shoes, and macramé plant hangers. I would say so is the wrinkled plaid jacket of the new copywriter, Michael Ginsberg. As my husband said, once a plaid jacket shows up, it's all down hill from there.

I wonder how long Mad Men will be able to survive just on the aesthetic question alone. Part of its charm has been the vintage style of its atmosphere. Its story is sunk in an era just old enough that it seems alien and fascinating -- but what happens when it starts to bleed into the places we already know too well and find less pretty? Of course, older people than I may already be experiencing this, while younger people than me probably don't get the same smelly recall I do. I like to think of the '70s as a particularly stinky time, but that may just be the stench of my limited memory bank. Either way, the fumes are starting to leak out -- and to me, they are so orange.

 

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