Mad Men transported us to the pivotal decade of the 1960s and dealt deliberately with the advent of Madison Avenue and the heyday of the advertising industry. This was the time in our nation’s history when our materialistic fates were sealed: We became a people defined by things, things produced in mass quantities to feed an insatiable cultural appetite. And that appetite was fueled by advertising.
Don Draper, the quintessential ad man, describes advertising early on in the series as “selling happiness.” In the boardroom, Don repeatedly does exactly that — creating scenarios that attach emotional, if not transcendental, value to otherwise common products and services. He brings his clients to tears or laughter or both, and opens their wallets besides. Deals are closed, Clio Awards are won.
I’m a big fan of the TV show Mad Men, which takes place in the midst of the Madison Avenue advertising agencies back in the ’60s and ’70s. Sure, I enjoy the drama and the “cool factor” of Don Draper and his cavalier ad team. But for me, the most fascinating part is all of the cultural norms of the time that seem fairly shocking now, only a few decades later.
Of course, there’s all the drinking and smoking in the office, but beyond that, the way that non-Anglo employees and the women in the workplace are treated would today be grounds for a lawsuit, if not public shaming for such brazen chauvinism. The thing that’s hard to remember is that, although we see such behavior as morally offensive today, it was simply normal back then.
Amy and I have been working (translated: watching lazily) our way through the first several seasons of Mad Men. The writing is remarkably subtle, and I was particularly struck by the fact that such a long-standing show could effectively have little or no plot focusing instead on rich character development.
For a writer, this is like enjoying a gourmet meal every night.
But the cherry on top for me is the sprinkling of anachronisms that apparently made plenty of sense at the time, but which are shockingly out of place now. There was a scene of the main family in the park, and when they’re done, the mother gives the blanket a good flick and leaves all of their trash wherever it falls. There’s also the constant smoking, even around kids and by pregnant wives (the perfect antidote for nausea, apparently), drinking at work and brazenly racist comments as the cultural norm.
Hard to believe sometimes that this took place so recently that my parents were teenagers when it took place.
Two things leap off the screen while watching the debut of “Mad Men;” first, everyone drinks and smokes. All the time. Second, women are treated like so much property, and though they seem complicit in their subjugate role, they also have a racket of their own going, using their feminine wiles to work their way up alongside the mean of greatest means and power to enjoy both by association.
It’s hard to believe only two generations ago that an executive was within his purview to suggest to his secretary that she hike up the hem of her skirt a bit and fetch him some fresh ice for cocktails with the boys.
Or is it?