Mad Men, for Mad Times

I often write about the cultural differences between two countries, two nations, two languages... But sometimes you can look back and consider the disparities between two ages. This came to my mind the other day when watching the last episode of the brilliant TV series Mad Men on BBC iPlayer.

The time difference.

This award-winning drama depicts the life of Don Draper, an advertising agency creative director in the 60s. Back then JFK was president, Cuba the devil, TV sets were in black and white, and so was the American society. Each episode is shot with great level of accuracy and realism, and can thus be watched from a sociological angle. For instance, I was amazed by how looking back in a mirror can be disturbing. Our society is evolving at fast pace, but as long as you live the change, you do not realise it. It is therefore good to step back and seize these opportunities to appreciate the progresses made.

In Mad Men, the hero smokes cigaret after cigaret, he drinks in his office too. Every man in the company has overtly affairs and nobody cares, as long as they are males. Homosexuals are bullied and seen as satanists, so are Jews. Women are discarded and can only be seen as mere complacent secretaries... Smoking, drinking, adultery, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and racism, in the very first minutes of the series you had it all. You are unsettled, because all that seems so different from today's values. And none of these today's sins seems to be seen as negative. This NY Times article sums it all, I must say.

Things change, for the better.

OK, there are still some legacies of this conservative mindset nowadays, but overall, when watching the first episodes, it stroke me how uneasy I was by seeing this guy light his cigaret in front of his children (not to mention the rest). That was only 40 years ago, two generations away, but so alien already.

The scene that struck me most was a family picnic. The couple and their two chilren seem to be the perfect imagery from glossy magazines from the fifties. He stands by the flamboyant cadillac, she sits with their children on a blanket, smiling. You can almost hear the Coca-Cola music in the background. And then it is time to leave. Don finishes his can of bier... and through it away in a bush. The mother collates the cuttlery and shakes off the rest on the ground leaving behind them a mayhem of dirty papers, platisc plates and rubbish. Shoking? Probably by our current standards, but so the norm back then. Who cared about the environment? About the greenhouse effect?

And then when you think hard about it, when I was younger, back in the 70s, did we care much either? We probably started to have some ecological consciousness. But let's face it, ecology, sexual preferences, gender equalities, etc. were still no primary concerns despite pockets of protest and progresses. We have seen these cause cut through only recently, in the last ten to fifteen years. That is not much in light of our history.

TV series are rarely more than entertainment. Mad Menwas an eye-opener to me and for that specific reason, and also because it is simply a thrilling drama, I would strongly recommend it to anybody. Even if you don't care about these guys who tried to rule the world from Madison Avenue.

To read further: