From the accompanying graphic featuring stewardesses in white gloves and pillbox hats, it should be obvious that the creators of “Pan Am” have observed the success of AMC’s “Mad Men” and are seeking to capitalize on the 60s nostalgia that made the show about the golden age of advertising a hit.
I’m not much of a television person, and I don’t watch “Mad Men” (though I have been informed that I ought to make a point of doing so – we’ll put it on my to do list). However, I am vaguely aware of the fact that the show deals intimately with high-power “boys’ clubs,” smoking, highball glasses, fantastic costuming and hairstyles, and pretty people. Sounds like a good time to me, and to the like, thirty or forty people who watch it.
Even though I don’t watch “Mad Men,” I can imagine that it makes for interesting television. The early 1960s were a pretty fascinating time in American history, if one is interested in social trends. After ten years of “I like Ike” and the nation’s “return to normalcy” following World War II, the early 60s existed in a state of tension and identity crisis. It was sandwiched right between the idyllic 50s (or seemingly idyllic) and the protest culture of the late 60s and early 70s. With social upheaval hovering threateningly on the horizon, anything set in the early 60s is going to be dripping with dramatic irony. The audience knows, though the characters don’t, that their worlds are going to change, even as the privileged classes cling so desperately to their rigid gender roles and their cigarettes. If only they could have seen what was coming…
It’s because of this dynamic that I think a show like “Pan Am” has some serious potential. Not only that, but the American sentiment for commercial airlines has been steadily decreasing for years, and I’d argue even more dramatically in the past ten. Increased security measures, new charges for checked (and carry-on) luggage, the Kevin Smith vs. Southwest debacle, the “enhanced patdown” – I’d imagine that any show about an airline would capture our attention, especially one that would obviously be steeped in nostalgia about when flying was an event, not an agonizing, and sometimes traumatic, chore.
The promotional image featuring the snappily-dressed stewardesses indicates to me, at least, that this show is going to deal with gender. Now, I’m all about smart television that deals with issues (and in fact, the aforementioned article also highlights another 60s nostalgia show about the Playboy empire in Chicago, which no doubt, will also deal intimately with gender and boys’ clubs), but I have to wonder if these nostalgia shows don’t allow us to make excuses? What I mean is, I wonder if by highlighting sexism or racism in a television series that takes place 50 years ago, we feel justified in patting ourselves on the backs and saying, “Wow, they were all so sexist/racist/whatever back then! Isn’t it great that we’re not like that now?” In the Stuff White People Like entry on “Mad Men,” Christian Lander humorously gives the following advice to any Person of Color hosting a “Mad Men” party:
The party should essentially run itself, however, you can severely curtail the amount of fun by saying: “I’m glad this isn’t really 1960 or else I’d be serving all of you.”
White people often find truth to be very depressing at theme parties.
If, indeed, “Pan Am” intends to delve into the social issues surrounding 1960s air travel (as it seems only logical that it will do), I wonder if it will spawn a “Pan Am” theme party trend, and I wonder if any women will show up dressed as pilots? Because it was so silly back then, that only sexy young women could be flight attendants, and that whole pilot boys’ club was ridiculous! Aren’t you glad it’s not like that anymore?
I’m sure you know where I’m going with this (definitely NSFW).
The boys’ club is alive and well in the airline industry. Only 6% of commercial airline pilots are women [H/T]. Do you suppose that by the time “Pan Am” premieres this fall, we will have all forgotten about this? Will it affect the way we view the show, knowing that there is no possible way anyone could grin and say, “Thank goodness it’s not like that anymore?” Because clearly, it’s still like that. It’s still very much like that.