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Pan Am: “A different breed of girls”



That’s how co-pilot Ted Vanderway refers to the stewardesses of Pan Am at the end of the first episode of, naturally, Pan Am.  And he couldn’t have put it better.

Though it premiered several weeks ago, I made an executive decision to watch the pilot this week and I can’t lie, I liked what I saw.  Pan Am is about the glamorous role of airplanes, flight attendants (called “stewardesses” back then), and pilots in their cultural heyday: the 1960s.  In the vein of shows such as Mad Men (which is in it’s 5th season) and The Playboy Club (which already has been cancelled), Pan Am revels in the golden age of the 60s.  There has been a lot of talk about how we as a society are searching for a simpler and more idealized time (almost a Stepford Wives type culture when the lines weren’t blurred as they are today) and television is turning back the clock to nostalgic shows based in the 60s.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Mad Men (a huge grievance I know, I need to get on that ASAP), so I can’t compare the two shows, but I did observe some specifics about Pan Am.

The first is that there is a sense of awe surrounding this time period and group of people: the stewardesses and pilots of the airlines.  It was exciting to think of traveling to the four corners of the world in the company of pretty girls and adventurous men, and Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) led the world in international flights and, thus, in the perceived glamour and romanticism of travel.  It’s filmed in a softer light, all the actors/actresses have alluring head shots, absolutely nothing is out of place and classy Frank Sinatra music plays in the background.

This first episode reveals the backgrounds of the lead characters when the four main stewardesses, and the main pilot and co-pilot, board and christen the new Clipper plane just added to the Pan Am fleet.  As with most every pilot episode, plotlines and dramas are introduced, but not solved – setting the hook in viewers to tune in the following week to see how they develop and what unfolds.  For me, one of the most intriguing plotlines is that one of the stewardesses begins to work with the CIA, something it seems that she inherited.  It’ll be fun to see what that turns out to be.

And how could I talk about the show without mentioning the role of women.  The show focuses a lot about how being a stewardess for Pan Am was an escape from the reality they with which they were presented as women in the 1960s.  These women were able to see the world – they were smart women with a decent amount of schooling who were actually able to put that intelligence to work (albeit on a much smaller level compared to what women today are able/should be able to do).  But, it can be said that these stewardesses were on the cutting edge of redefining the role of women in society.  Most of the stewardesses speak two languages and one even speaks three.  Their motto, “buckle up…adventure calls,” shows the beginning of the end of the Stepford Wives protocol – how women could break through their traditional roles of becoming wives and stay-at-home moms.  At the same time, they hadn’t yet shaken the stereotypical yoke of male dominance that placed very strict standards (and restrictions) on how they looked and how they behaved – all meant to keep women in their place (even though their “place” now was outside of the home and into the friendly skies).  For instance, the stewardesses are inspected pre-flight for their appearance, because their “value” was in how they looked.  And, they’re made to look like cookie-cutter versions of each other. Most importantly, they can’t work if they are married, or five pounds overweight.

As I said, however, the show set up some pretty intriguing characters and plot points, so I’m most definitely interested to see what happens next.



The BEST holidays

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