From 1946 to 1970 is a time that modern Americans look upon as the modern golden age. Jobs were plenty, productivity was high and America was recovering nicely from World War II and the Great Depression. We were also in the middle of a baby boom, a population explosion that gave rise to counterculture that followed. The ‘baby boomers’ are still referred to as this monolithic age group that changed the face of America. Most baby boomers recall their childhood through rose tinted lenses and if you were white, middle-class, you were alright. It was a time in history where everyone and everything knew its place, no one to disrupt the social order.
Well, Matthew Weiner blew that notion out of the water for us with show Mad Men which begun in 1960. Housewives were not happy to just be housewives. The only jobs available to women were secretarial and clerical work which opened women up to all sorts to sexual harassment. We today take for granted our much more civilized office culture, at least between the genders. Women in the workplace in the 1960s were groped, petted and basically molested on a continual basis. The only women that were left alone were women of a certain age where they were no longer attractive to men anymore. If a woman wasn’t being groped or petted, she’s being told how to dress, to hike up her skirt, to take down the neckline as though she were some circus act.
The men, however, on the surface look like they are having a grand old time at work, where drinking begins at noon and ends into the wee hours of the night, but they face incredible pressures to succeed to provide for their families. Married women didn’t work then and so it was up to the man to bring home the bacon. So the pressure to stay on top of your profession is relentless. It’s created this scenario where husband and wives though share the same roof but are living parallel lives. The wives are bored to death with the minutia of domesticity and the husbands are under constant stress and anxiety to perform at work. And the children are stuck somewhere in the middle, existing between two unhappy parents, suffering from benign neglect.
Mad Men showed that people are just people, regardless of what era they are from. The frustrations, unhappiness, successes and triumphs are the same. There was no golden age. The so-called economic golden age only applied to white men, women and all other minorities did not benefit from the economic boom of the 50’s and 60’s. One thing that was glaringly obvious was the lack of black people in important positions besides the janitorial staff, elevator operator and secretary. The secretary was promoted to head of HR by Joan Harris and that was about it. Sterling Cooper didn’t bother to sign companies that catered to black people and they treat Jewish people like they are from outer space. The believed that Jewish people sell stuff just to each other and they get Jewish ad agencies to represent them, so when Rachel Menken wanted to make an appointment to take tje department store Menken’s to the next level, they were confused. They even paid some guy to be ‘David Cohen’ from the art department to sit in on the meeting. The whole thing was a farce. Though that didn’t stop Don Draper from having an affair with Rachel Menken, when Don Draper asked Rachel about Israel and how to advertise Israeli tourism, she told him to ‘crack open a book’ once in awhile and wondered aloud if she was the only Jewish person he knew.
Watching the show also made me grateful. Grateful that I am Gen X and that the women that came before me had to endure this type of indignity so that I didn’t have to. But I am most grateful to Matthew Weiner for putting an end to the nostalgia of the ‘Mad Men’ period, because when you dissect it and look closer, there is nothing nostalgic or sentimental about it.