chapter  3
35 Pages

Mad Men

The Pleasures and Perils of Food and Drink
ByMarsha F. Cassidy

This chapter traces the visceral dimensions of the perils and pleasures of food and drink on Mad Men and considers how appetite, overindulgence, self-starvation, and vomiting provide bodily intensity to themes of nostalgia and gender oppression. Mad Men’s fascination with the forbidden flavors of the 1950s creates a tenuous bond between the past and the present and reinforces the feeling of schadenfreude so central to the series.

A struggle against gender constraints inherited from the 1950s is likewise expressed viscerally. As they transition to the more liberated 1960s, Betty, Peggy, Joan, and Megan each confronts what Susan Bordo calls the feminine ideology of hunger. The chapter centers on Betty, who is entrenched in the feminine mystique and gains 30 pounds as an expression of her unhappiness. Through Betty, the viewer experiences both the sensations of overeating and the self-imposed starvation of dieting. In the interplay of these women’s storylines, the destructive ideals of archaic femininity are viscerally condemned. Additionally, the visceral is evoked by Mad Men’s repeated acts of vomiting, which render the restrictive ideals of a binary gender system as contaminants that must be expelled. Betty’s initial heaving in season one, when she rebels against Don’s infidelity, foreshadows later scenes in which Roger, Lane, and, most notably, Don emit the burdens of corrosive masculinity by violent vomiting.