TV News: “Mad Men” and the Mystique of the Sixties

By Harvey Blume.

Mad Men, Episode E11, “Favors.”

The Sixties — The Beat Goes On . . .

It’s ’68.

There is, there really is, a war going on, which neither Madison Ave. nor unlimited alcohol consumption of the most expensive kind can deny.

This war, this atrocious war, punctures and perforates other proceedings.

“Shields are down to 15 percent, Scotty!”

Vietnam busts up business meetings.

Executives endure political disagreements.

Don Draper has lunch with the heart surgeon whose wife he has bedded. They delicately compare notes about service in Korea. Between drinks Draper says, by way of comparison, This war is wrong.

A little more might have been done with that in the way of discussion, argument, follow through.

Mathew Weiner’s strengths do not include follow through.

Remember Pete Campbell mellowing out on grass, last episode, how his face changed? No follow through. Betty plumping up then thinning out? Why? How? No follow through. Remember Betty blond becoming Betty brunette? Again and yet again, zero connect the dots, zero follow through.

Still, wow.

This war is wrong.

What Bill Clinton said to H. W. Bush in one of their debates when the elder Bush attempted to tax Clinton for not being around to serve in Vietnam.

To which Clinton, usually a blabbermouth, simply said, I was opposed to that war.

That shut Pres. elder Bush the hell up.

Moving on:

Peggy has a rat under her couch, which has been trapped but is still alive and leaves a blood trail. Plus it squeaks.

Practical sort that she is, Peggy gets a big orange cat.

Good for Peggy.

NYC is coming apart.

Chaos in the mother country.

The center cannot hold etc. . . .

But an orange cat is never a bad idea.

Still, Don should not have jumped in bed with Sylvia, the heart surgeon’s wife, and certainly not when Sally, his teenage daughter, was staying with him.

Sally witnesses and is freaked by it.

Chaos in the mother country.

Oops I’ve already said that.

Now then, Mad Men is not that great by cable standards. It doesn’t deserve comparison to The Sopranos, The Wire, and much less Deadwood for sheer stunning—you’ve never seen the likes of this before—originality.

Mad Men gets all manner of undeserved attention. Yet I attend to it.


It’s the sixties.

The Kennedy boys, both of them, have been shot. MLK too.

That war, that war is wrong.

Posted in ,
Tagged: ,


  1. Bill Marx, Arts Fuse Editor on June 11, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Vietnam today? The war is over … but we have won, at least when it comes to having a country that makes us goods for cheap prices at an unconscionable cost: near the top of the exploitation list when it comes to child labor and unsafe working conditions for low wage workers making college-branded clothing for America, according to the Workers Rights Consortium.

  2. Harvey Blume on June 11, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    i’m not defending current labor practices in vietnam, or political repression. i am saying that the war — 58,000 americans killed & over 2 million vietnamese — was dead wrong, with terrible consequences for the u.s. and for vietnam, & that it’s gratifying to see that fact noted prominently in a soap opera about the sixties.

    • Bill Marx, Arts Fuse Editor on June 11, 2013 at 2:01 pm

      My point is not that you are defending labor practices or political repression — only that it isn’t risky for a Cable TV show today to condemn the war in Vietnam. You will look long and hard to find someone, somewhere on Cable TV commenting about what is happening in Vietnam today — unless some major accident happens — that is what I want noticed. Understandings of the past should inform the present –the country has not gone away.

  3. Harvey Blume on June 11, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    “mad men” is a soap, true to so many conventions of the genre. i don’t think it’s the best soap ever. (my vote would go to “passions”, back when timmy could either be that witch tabitha’s big doll or a flesh & blood little boy, depending on the episode. now that was a soap!)
    but “mad men” is the only soap i know of that shows vietnam tearing this country apart, as it did.

    is that risky? no. you could say it’s overdue. and it is something new for the genre.

    • Bill Marx on June 11, 2013 at 3:59 pm

      Over the decades we have had numerous anti-war books, movies, songs, etc. Now we have a soap that steps into that well-worn genre. Not enough to make the show interesting … except as nostalgia. Downton Abbey on PBS took up issues of labor unrest and homosexuality in a bygone age — and it was another reactionary look back.

  4. Harvey Blume on June 11, 2013 at 6:22 pm

    i’m not an unqualified fan of mad men, far from. as i’ve said in a previous post, while it does, in fits and starts, introduce elements of the budding counterculture into madison ave offices, it usually does so carelessly, badly, without even bothering to get the stereotypes right, (eg roger sterling’s no trip of an acid trip). and this business of mathew wiener forgetting what happens to his characters from one episode to the next? what, is this some sort of postmodern approach — shit happens, let us not concern ourselves unduly with continuity or cause and effect? or is wiener suffering early onset alzheimer’s? or is it supposed to be funny (as it often, however unintentionally, is)?

    and i don’t applaud the show for being anti-war, if it is. i do value it showing how the war raised hell at all levels of society. i do like seeing an effort to register its effects on madison ave, on executive luncheons, on elite manhattan abodes. vietnam stuff, pro or anti, never goes there.

    is mad men nostalgic? for what? rats, roaches, street crime, riots and the draft?

    maybe. but i’m not.

    it’s a soap. you get to live through other lives. when it tries to rise above that it’s usually ham-fisted: footage of rfk assassinated on an episode that ends with the lyrics:

    i think it’s so groovy now

    that people are finally getting together.


    i want to say i think there is often genius involved in cable shows — & not only deadwood. i accept the nostrum that cable has sucked up the kind of talent digital hollywood does not know how to use. but mad men, well, not so much.

    however, downton abbey? no, no, don’t say that. downton tops the vapidity scale.

    i often can’t wait for mad men to be over & done with, for don draper to meet his shadows, his others, his alters, his exes, & suffer his so thoroughly foreshadowed downfall.

    i can barely turn downton abbey on at all.

  5. Pat Sherman on June 11, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    Actually, my impression is that the anti-war movement of the sixties has had a pretty rough press in the post 9/11 era. Sixties nostalgia seems largely confined the music, not the politics. Though I do confess I’m curious to see if Mad Men makes any reference to the Miss America Pageant of 1968 at which a group of women from New York crowned a sheep Miss American. (And no, they did not burn their bras.) Wonder what Peggy, Joan, and crew wold make of that…

  6. Harvey Blume on June 12, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    also: it’s fine to be sick & tired of boomers & the sixties, even if in a different venue, such as, with mad men, madison ave.. but that’s not the same as being done with vietnam. we don’t have the right to be done with vietnam. we, as a society, haven’t had nearly enough vietnam. if we had more, a lot more vietnam, maybe we wouldn’t haven been led like a nation of sheep into the next debacle, the invasion of iraq.

    • Bill Marx, Arts Fuse Editor on June 13, 2013 at 9:43 am

      The boomers are retiring and we are beginning to see how they are going to receive “The Greatest Generation” treatment for the sake of profit — the mainstream/PBS machinery is in motion. You want more Vietnam, I think you are going to get it in the next couple of decades — documentaries and mini-series that will remind the retirees (with bucks to spare) about their salad days.

      As for Iraq, that makes my point. Vietnam didn’t make a whit of difference. The boomers went for the war, big time. They neglected their elemental responsibility: to pass the significance of the horrors of the Vietnam conflict onto the younger generation.

  7. Harvey Blume on June 13, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    < As for Iraq, that makes my point. Vietnam didn’t make a whit of difference. The boomers went for the war, big time.

    more than everybody else who was stampeded into it? a bit of evidence, please.

    so your response is enough with vietnam; let's have less vietnam, since we don't learn a "whit" from it.

    tell me how that isn't just cynical.

    • Bill Marx, Arts Fuse Editor on June 13, 2013 at 9:21 pm

      Given that we went into Iraq, the evidence should be provided by you. Mass rallies, sit-ins, major disruptions, the revolt of the middle class, other reminders of the Vietnam period? I missed it, though there might have been some of this activity. If Vietnam anti-war actions had a rough press after 9/11 whose fault is that? The boomers were in powerful positions to make a difference — apparently they didn’t. (Though we have had Tony awarding-winning revivals of Hair and Pippin — that is the form Vietnam nostalgia will take, not an explosion of anti-war plays.) The shameful mainstream news media, in the possession of boomers — or a lot of them — didn’t do its job.

      As for Vietnam, I am not saying ignore it — I am urging the exact opposite. Right now, at this moment, many boomers are making money off the country’s poorly treated, badly paid workers, in too many cases women and children. Look at Vietnam today — there is valuable work to be done, lives to be saved. Then chew over the sixties, once again …

  8. Harvey Blume on June 15, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    pat & i are saying different things.

    i’m saying “mad men” is a soap that therefore by its nature does the opposite of what brecht meant by verfremdungseffekt: you are invited to lose yourself in its characters. i’m also saying, that to its credit, it is more & more exposing its characters to the brunt of the war in vietnam. finally, i’m saying that for all its flaws, the shows approach to the sixties is not nostalgic — unless you consider multiple assasinations, the draft, police riots, crime, urban decay, moral breakdown and confusion a spur to nostalgia.

    i agree with you that our experience of the war in vietnam did too little generate doubt about the invasion of iraq. that is demoralizing, for sure, but i really don’t see that it’s more the fault of boomers than anyone else.

    i’ll add this: i was against the invasion, said so and attended demonstrations against it. i think george bush & his team were warmongers in every sense of that word.

    too many people, including, to my surprise, people who wound up opposing the war in vietnam, didn’t see it that way.

  9. Shelley on June 21, 2013 at 10:26 am

    If for no other reason, this whole post/thread would be worth it just for “verfremdungseffekt.”

    I can’t watch Mad Men. Five minutes, and I’m depressed to death.

    Don’t know why.

  10. Harvey Blume on June 21, 2013 at 11:14 am

    you like “verfremdungseffekt”? what are you, some kind of brechtian?

    i do mull over “mad men” a fair amount, why i watch it, why i like it, why i don’t. and the answer i come up with is that despite the complete absence of verfremdungseffekt, the series does encourage argument about some pivotal things: the sixties, vietnam, advertising.

    to that i could add — alcoholism, and, fascinating to me, the presence of powerful works of then contemporary art in the offices of people who never once stop to take note of them.

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts