How Will 'Mad Men' Tackle Politics, Counterculture of the Late Sixties?
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Mad Men has been absent from our TV screens for a year and a half, but the universe in which it operates has reportedly progressed almost longer, culturally speaking. When the show left off, it was set amid the paradigm shift that had begun in 1963, with Don Draper—the enigmatic, problematic quasi-protagonist—as a type of sundial showing how swiftly times were changing. While the younger employees around him are malleable, growing and bending with the era, Don Draper becomes increasingly rigid. As culture moves on, his womanizing ways become increasingly self-sabotaging until, at the end of last season, he rejects the modern woman he loves and proposes, rather out the blue, to his much younger secretary. He is becoming a relic, particularly when measured against Peggy, who in past seasons emerged from her out-of-wedlock pregnancy to become a burgeoning proto-feminist and adventurous weed-smoker. Draper is looking daunted and worn out, whereas Peggy’s fresh-faced combination of enthusiasm and wariness are increasingly the way of the world.
At least we hope so. As AlterNet noted in 2010, Mad Men’s feminist and racially aware takes on the 1960s are maybe not that feminist or racially aware, as every woman and/or person of color has been viewed through the lens of a rich, powerful, white male jerk. This is, of course, its necessary point of view as a show about the exclusionary ad agencies of the early 1960s, but its perspective still doesn’t feel whole. But with the show’s painstaking adherence to its timeline, as the ‘60s slowly transitions into a more enlightened era, this next season is a real chance to expand its purview, and to deepen some characters who have been previously in the background.
Early interviews with show creator Matthew Weiner suggest this will be the case: that the show’s evolving timeline will put Draper in the background, and Peg and Pete Campbell front and center. (Pete has consistently been a hapless young jerk, but maybe his drive to make money will have him clamoring to understand a new generation of consumer. Ha.) In an interview with Reuters, Weiner noted, "As it relates to the business and his personal life, Don is in a different place. That is the story I want to tell. You have to be prepared that this season is going to be about something different.”
Indeed: 1966 brought Vietnam war protests, civil rights marches, and increased support for feminism (almost all in one summer). As a burgeoning new age begins, here are some important political topics we’re hoping Mad Men will tackle, whether in its main storyline or in subtler ways.
1. The formation of the National Organization for Women. How awesome would it be if Peggy landed NOW’s first campaign, after it formed in June of ‘66? It could dovetail with her own political awakening, and she could team up with Betty Friedan and Shirley Chisholm to finally realize the real-life implications of her second consciousness. Imagine her quoting The Feminine Mystique to a weary Don as he sees another shred of his old life slipping away, particularly when his would-be conquests start denying his old-man advances based on principle and self-respect.
2. Martin Luther King Jr. Vietnam war protest. MLK’s first protest statement against the Vietnam War was made at a demonstration in Washington, DC. Imagine Pete Campbell, there on business, stumbling across the protest, and fecklessly realizing he has a bigger calling. Of course, it would be over a week after his initial revelation after he got back to the grind of New York, but at least it would be fodder for someone to shut down the inevitable self-righteous armchair speeches he gave about it afterward.
3. Blonde on Blonde. Bohos and hipsters have already been alluded to on Mad Men, usually in the form of Don Draper looking for free love, but way downtown in Greenwich Village, far from the fancy digs of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a whole revolution is going down in the form of acoustic guitars. Bob Dylan dropped his classic album in 1966, and we’re hoping Don gets hold of a copy and at least gets a scene where he looks longingly, contemplatively at a wall while sucking down whiskey and listening to “You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine.” Also: what if he tried heroin!!!
4. Haight-Ashbury. Though the summer of love is not for another year, we’d adore a plotline where Joan, new baby in hand, goes to visit some distant relatives in San Francisco and discovers hippies—mostly because we’d like to give actress Christina Hendricks a reprieve from girdles and form-fitting frocks and let her wear a tunic for awhile. But it would be awesome if she came back and decided Roger was a boring suit and she needed to practice her sexual freedom with much younger men. Also: what if she tried LSD!!!
5. Black Panthers. As the Black Panthers are getting started, we envision our new, alternate universe plotline in the Bay Area will introduce a brand new character we haven’t met yet—an ill Angela Davis type who’s not only an activist, but becomes a main part of the plotline. It’s unclear how she’ll interact with the other characters in our minds, but a powerful black female character is just the shot in the arm this show needs if we’re expected to watch it for another season after this. Plus, Don needs a formidable foil. Let’s do this.