It’s a (Mad) man’s world

Mad Men (AMC, Season 1 on DVD now; Season 2 premieres 9pm Sunday, July 27)

So it’s the ’60s. No. Not those ’60s. Not LSD and free love on Haight Street in 1967, but the ‘60s that happened seven years earlier.


Alcoholism and clandestine adultery on Madison Avenue in 1960. Dial it in there.

For those of us born well after the fact, it’s not easy to place Mad Men in a historical context. Guys are wearing skinny ties, sure, but they also still rock fedoras and chain-smoke Lucky Strikes. Women still use secretarial school to get out of the Bronx. Those who attend college go to land a guy and become a housewife. There are no cowhide vests to be seen.

There’s the rampant prejudice.

There’s the misogyny.

There’s the general sense, to the non-boomer, that this could be just about any time in that vague swath of military-industrial prosperity between WWII and the Summer of Love. The America of that era was a big blur of economic prosperity and fear mongering. Or perhaps that’s just the way things looked from high atop midtown

Through the lens of a small advertising agency that revolves around Don Draper, its creative director, we get a look at an entire industry on the trailing end of a 20-year orgy of wealth and paranoia. We went straight from a hot war into a cold one. Everything’s been easy to sell in this climate. Americans are richer than ever — or want to
appear so — and also more scared. They have money. They want comfort. “Advertising is saying, ‘whoever you are, whatever you’re doing, that’s OK,” Draper says at one point. He sells them happiness, one (often lethal) product at a time.

Mad Men is about a segment of society so drunk on its power and influence that the better part of a decade passes before it realizes its time has come and gone. MM’s delicious and timely irony is only hinted at in season one. Expect that irony to become more potent this season. Though it chronicles an obsolete product, Mad Men’s most productive years are ahead of it. •

See also

The Secret Life of the American Teenager It’s hard to tell which is worse for 15-year-old Amy. Being 15? Being 15 and pregnant? Being 15 and pregnant with the baby of a dick she met at band camp? (ABC Family, Tuesdays, 7pm)

Secret Diary of a Call Girl Sure their characters are interesting and funny and bad in an OK-for-the-edgy-middle-class way, but Showtime’s original dramas are in danger of becoming rote. (Showtime, Mondays, 10:30pm)

The Baby Borrowers “Picture this Bob: we give dumb-ass kids babies to take care of and tape them screwing up.” “Fantastic! Just the thing to turn NBC around! But where do we get the babies?” “Dumb-ass grownups.” (NBC, Wednesdays, 8pm)

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