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The End of “Mad Men” and an age of “–isms”

By Chris Henson, Creative Director

Darren Stevens was an idiot. Sure, he married a woman who was several levels above his pay grade in looks, intelligence and personality. But she could work magic. And he strictly forbid it. Idiot.

Photo credit: AMC
Photo credit: AMC

Is it any wonder he worked in advertising in the 60s? “Bewitched” was a classic TV show about women’s rights before we really talked about such things. Its subplot set in the golden age of advertising — with its penchant for reminding us that looks, cooking and housekeeping are the most desirable attributes a woman can possess — was probably more apropos than the show’s creators envisioned.

Perhaps that’s why the backdrop of an advertising agency in the 60s was so perfect for the social commentary of the hit AMC drama “Mad Men.” The show portrayed just about every “–ism” you can imagine as being perfectly normal. And that’s why we watched. It’s oddly fascinating to see people smoking on an airplane, drinking bourbon during a business meeting, dumping trash by the side of the road, and patting ladies on the head for thinking. And yet that’s precisely the way things were in those days. In fact, the overt sexism, racism, and general hound-doggery were a major part of what anchored the series so completely in its time setting — at least as vital as the fashions, hair, furniture and music.

So, when the series finale ended with its “hero” Don Draper taking a deep personal crisis (his thousandth in the series) and turning it into the famous hilltop “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” Coca-Cola commercial, it was kind of magical. It was both easily predictable and completely unexpected.

Like the rest of the world, I was ready for Don to leap to his death from an office window, like the animated open for “Mad Men” always depicted. But here’s the thing: in that open, Don always wound up landing on the office couch with a lit cigarette.  

 

And so he did again, in the very last moment of the show. The 60s “–isms” were over. A hillside populated with young men and women of every race and nationality were going to smash all that racism and sexism with a refreshing bottle of Coke. It was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

When that commercial came out in 1971, I was eight years old. And I believed every freaking word of it. Everyone would get along in perfect harmony. Racism, sexism, pollution — all of that was over, thanks to advertising.

Except that racism, sexism and pollution still exist, right? Well, yeah. They do. But here’s the other thing: if we watched “Mad Men” to see the “–isms” as they were, perfectly acceptable in a 60s business environment, and we found them shocking by today’s standards, then things are changing. Attitudes are changing. And “–isms” are disappearing, slowly — so slowly — but surely. Could it be that in some small way we have advertising to thank for that?

By the way, the real story of the hillside Coke commercial is pretty cool. You can read about it here

Topics: Agency Life