Mad Men Series 4 and English Teaching

On the train going to the ETA Conference, there are a number of options available to me with this iPad on my lap. There’s books to read, twitter to follow, the Herald has been downloaded. I’m not on a train very often, but if I did it daily, I’d be vaguely disappointed to arrive at my destination!

This time I’ve decided to add to my blog and I’m settling on Mad Men Series 4, the one just finished. And phones.

One of the reasons I adore Mad Men is the efficient use of dialogue, sets, costumes and props (indeed, my partner and I have moments where we cry ‘props porn’ each time we see a lovingly lingering shot on a particularly good bit of 1960s kit). Each scene seems to finely honed and crafted, which makes each episode an event, rather than an episode in a TV show. But fans of the show would already know all this and there’s a mini industry of Mad Men analyses out there, so I’ll move swiftly onto my point.

The key symbol of Season 4 seemed to be the telephone. It featured on the pre-season computer wallpaper, standing next to Don Draper in an empty office, implying a desperate connection to a marketplace that could cause the downfall of a young advertising agency. Indeed, a phone call to Roger Sterling placed from Lucky Strike threatened to do just that. However, the most significant phone moment was when Don was dreading phoning California to ask whether his first ‘wife’ had died as yet, showing that the program is as much about the eternal question of maintaining and developing relationships as it is about cultural production in the 1960s.

The telephone continues to be as significant as it ever was to teachers. It might be dreaded phone call from a parent unhappy with their child’s progress in class; a call from a hospital saying that your child is there after an accident at school. There is something a little bit tense about the ringing of a phone, the mystery of what comes next. It’s different to the arrival of an email, which allows time to contemplate a response, a building of fear or development of a way to celebrate. The email is a silent messenger, whether it be a good or bad message. The phone, especially in an open plan staffroom, isn’t.

I find it ironic that this iPad has a phone SIM in it so I can communicate to the outside world. It uses mobile telephone infrastructure to send out its arguments – usually mobile phone communication is short, sharp conversations or texts – both are not exactly ideal for an extended contemplation on anything.

So, there it is. There is so much more to be said about Mad Men – Peggy, for example, has become a focal point for the examination of femininity in the 1960s – but that will do for now. I have some tweets to read and write.

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