A few months ago, ABC announced that it picked up the pilot for Pan Am, a Mad Men-style television show about the iconic Pan Am Stewardesses of the 60’s. Last month, pictures of the show’s star Christina Ricci with a 60s makeover surfaced, confirming that the project is moving along.
It has all of the makings of a potentially great show: a former Addam’s Family member in a lead role, direction by The West Wing co-creator Thomas Schlamme, writing by ER alum Jack Orman, and the colorful design of a swingin’ sixties set. And just like Mad Men, I’m sure all of these will make for a fantastic show with rave reviews, and that viewers will tune in weekly to transport back to the classy “good old days” when a man could proudly display a mini bar in his office and his boss would join him in a mid-afternoon drink.
As the daughter of a proud Stewardess whose gorgeous portrait in pill hat and perfectly styled hair still rests on my family’s mantle, it is my sincere hope that Pan Am will take a respectful but honest approach to recreating the lives of the iconic men and women of Pan Am – one that both celebrates the form and exposes the frays. My mother often shared stories with my sisters and me about her training at an “Air Career School,” where students (all women) lived together in dormitories and learned how to become Stewardesses. It was when she exclaimed “And I always was able to eat the pecan pie!” that I understood how times have changed. Each Stewardess-In-Training was weighed every week, and if they gained any weight over the last week, they weren’t allowed to have any of the desserts that they prominently displayed at every meal. It was a small detail that encompassed so much of the general attitude towards women and their roles back then.
Beyond the glamour of the pencil skirts and tailored suits, the most important reason for Mad Men’s success is its careful balance of characters and ability to highlight those who broke beyond the barriers or their sex’s assigned roles. For example, if Mad Men didn’t have Peggy (played by Elizabeth Moss), the first woman to take an executive role at Sterling Cooper, it would mostly be a show about the men in the boardroom and the women they often took for granted. No doubt, Mad Man is full of well-rounded characters with loads of complexity and room for maturation, but without characters who push the boundaries of tradition, you lose a big part of what creates the constantly shifting balance and tension of a good series.
Undoubtedly, the writers and producers of Pan Am will include moments of strength “behind-closed-doors” role reversals for the female characters (one of the characters is reported to be an undercover spy), despite living in a world where they are hired as servants, but will it be enough? In focusing on a time and field where overt sexual harassment and objectification of women was not only acceptable, it was handed to you with a free beverage, a smile, and a pillow, how will they find room for characters who defy the standard?
For now, one can only speculate; maybe a female pilot will step on the plane for the first time, to the shock of some and quiet cheering of others. Maybe a Stewardess will opt to wear pants, or swoop in to save the plane from crashing to the ground as an ill pilot passes out over his control panel. With bated breath, I look forward to watching how the Pan Am creators make room for changing dynamics and personalities of the crew aboard. The pilot (ha!) is reported to air this Fall.
Candice Dayoan is the Creative Director/Senior Editor of Geek Girl on the Street.com. She has worked on the hit TV show Lost and had her artwork featured on Dante’s Cove. She is currently the New Media Director for David Chiu for Mayor (SF). She might be the only person that has the same exact reaction to being in the same room as President Obama and George Lucas. Candice’s Stuff: @candicecd | Candice’s Art Portfolio