by Erica German
Episode after episode, the hit TV show, Madmen, provoked an unsettled feeling within. After discussing it with my colleagues, feeling even more unsettled, I watched another episode, searching for the answer to why it seemed so disturbing—the show is essentially, boring. Still, no answer that I could easily put into words would come to me until studying an event in history, known as the 1943 Zoot Suit riots of Los Angelos, CA, in which a group of rebellious Mexican American youth wore the extravagant suits, called zoot suits, enraging many military servicemen who felt the suits were unpatriotic and too flamboyant for the wartimes of World War II. On June 24, 1943, over 200 of these lavishly dressed youth were randomly chosen by military servicemen to be beaten and publicly humiliated. In the textbook, Out of Many, by John Faragher, it states that one of these Latino youth was hauled into a theatre and stripped of his clothing in front of an audience who jeered and ridiculed him.
So what does this 1943 event have to do with Madmen, which represents the advertising business of the 1960s? The heart of what caused the horrific aggression shown towards the zootsuiters had persisted into the clean cut, suburbia of 1960s society. I could see more clearly the subtle struggle that a few of the white American male advertisers entertained in their conscience; however, each time their shoulder-angel-self says “don’t,” they smoke a cigarette, have another cocktail and change the subject. There seems to be no redemption for these men, nor is there adequate restitution for the women they wrong as their twisted story unfolds.
Now that I think I have an understanding for why this show evokes uneasiness in me, tell me what you think. Have you heard of the show, have you seen it? Are you a fan? If you want to read more on Madmen, you might want to check out these links:
About the Zoot Suit: