Am I the only viewer getting apprehensive as Mad Men's timeline moves deep into Mod Squad America? Of course the younger characters are already there, smoking pot, exploring Eastern religion and discarding the old double-breasted suits, or in the case of the women, the old twinset.
By dropping acid, Roger Sterling has made a valiant attempt at keeping up.
Hats, switchboard girls, lunchtime drinking ... Mad Men has awed us with its powerful evocation of the sheer strangeness of the ordinary aspects of past. But the show has galloped from March 1960 to March 1967 with indecent haste of five years, or four years for most Aussies. Which means we’re hearing the Kinks and the Beatles on the soundtrack, not Julie London and Vic Damone.
All well and good but what about the era before the Rolling Stones couldn’t get any satisfaction, an anti-advertising song that was cleverly used in Mad Men season four? For me, at least, Mad Men works best as a tribute to the America that rose and rode high in its majestic pomp between 1941 and 1963; in other words, between Pearl Harbour and JFK’s assassination.
After that, excepting the fall of communism, the world becomes basically what it is now, minus the Apple gadgets. The post-1963 era is full of the sound and fury of the baby boomers calling for attention, trying to change the world and not changing it. This presents the writers of Mad Men with some interesting challenges.
Remember the episode The Wheel, when Don tells his people: “Bringing in business is the key to your salary, your status, and your self-worth.” There is a world in that statement.
As the ’60s progress, the rising demographic of alternative lifestylers, or hippies, are out to vanquish all that ‘‘you are your job’’ stuff. The hippies will preach that what you have to do is ‘‘be’’.
The rise of identity politics will hit the old Mad Men men hard, because everything for them was about what they do. Yes, the admen are wrestling with their feelings of alienation from the structure around them, the demands of work and family. But they are company men and work means everything. Remember the very first scene in the first episode – there’s Don, sitting in a nightclub, working.
The changing mores will find expression in the rise of the new Hollywood. The ‘‘easy riders and the raging bulls’’ who have supplanted the old studio system offer up movies where making a social statement is as important as the story.
Movies will be more about the message than pure escapist entertainment, at least until Jaws and Star Wars. The Graduate appears in 1967, and it’s high noon for the highballs-and-martinis generation.
The new attitude is well summed up in the sleevenotes to that film's soundtrack. Musing on the ‘‘generation gap’’, Charles Burr comes down on the side of the youth rising up against Madison Avenue America. ‘‘What The Graduate says, in part, is that this generation did not create the gap from inborn hostility to elders or out of sheer truculence, but that they were forced away. And it shows pretty clearly what kind of things forced them to put the ‘gap’ between generations.
‘‘Like hypocrisy about sex – good for the parents in any and all forms but something to be kept away from the young. Like pretentiousness. Like self-arrandisement masquerading as friendly fatherly advice. Like talking man to man fairness but turning vicious when it’s your ox that’s gored. Like using people.
‘‘These are things everybody knows about and agrees about, to be sure. But gee – these kids are taking them seriously!’’
In Babylon, when Don sees the free-spirited Midge hanging loose with the beatniks in Greenwich Village, he still stands up for the old world. ‘‘How do you sleep at night?” one of these prototype hippies asks at a poetry reading. Don: “On a bed made of money.”
Vanquished then, but the hippies will have their day, and white men in business suits are about the worst thing around as the ’60s progress.
The suits will come back – but not till the ’80s.
New York is going bad too. There was one hint of that early on when rubbish was shown on a subway staircase, and then later, when Roger and Joan were mugged. New York is going to become Taxi Driver town. The city will ask President Gerard Ford for a bailout and be refused, with the Daily News rendering the classic headline: FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.
The city will come back, in a slightly Disneyfied incarnation, but not until the ’90s. In the meantime it will be a tough town for the old crew at Sterling Cooper.
But if they’re marching towards Woodstock, I’m coming too. Those smooth bastards can sell me anything, no matter how wide their lapels and ties are going to get. And, ugh, how many kaftans appear.