So we’ve always known Mad Men is not your typical view of the 1960s, but until creator Matt Weiner’s pre-mid-season-finale interview with Stephen Colbert last week, I didn’t really understand how. While most (not all) critics and recappers focused on Colbert’s ballsy suggestion of a ridiculous ending for the show (having Don Draper explain the ending of The Sopranos, for which Weiner had been a writer and producer), the interview was really an impassioned plea for a new point of view. As Colbert noted, Mad Men does not conform to our “beatific vision” of the 60s, with its “sainted figures” and world-changing free love. Feigning baby-boomer indignation, he asks, “Don’t you have any happy memories of the 60s?”
But Weiner is clearly fed up with that “certain generation” which has passed down that “very rosy” vision of the era.
They invented sex. And drugs. They have a view of it that is a child’s view. So I wanted to see, what would it be like if you were an adult, and had lived through some fairly interesting things like World War II and the Great Depression and then this came along. And there was tremendous change, and the clichéd word turbulence, and free love, and things like that. But there’s free love in the 1920s; there’s free love in the 1930s; the beatnik movement in the 1950s. No one invented any of this.
What was different in the 60s, according to Weiner, was that baby boomers were spoiled: plenty of education, money, entertainment; there was a war, but you could get out of it if you were lucky. This vision of unprecedented opportunity strikes me as fair; my parents, born in the 40s, will come right out and claim to be “children of the 60s.”
For my money Mad Men’s best example of this adults-behaving-like-children trope was the scene between Roger Sterling and his daughter Margaret, who had abandoned her child to go live on a communal farm. (“I know everyone your age is running away…but you have a child,” says irresponsible father Roger.) Weiner’s hard-nosed vision of the turn-on-tune-in-drop-out movement reminded me at first of Barbara Ehrenreich’s frustration with the “too-sweetness” of spirituality. Metaphysical matters do not have to be woo-woo; nor do historical eras have to be one-of-a-kind.
When boomers come up to Weiner, as they often do, demanding to know why something they remember was left out of the show, “I’m like, ‘I’m not telling your story, I’m telling the story of your parents.’ You know, or your grandparents. I don’t have a judgment on them necessarily—that sounded really judgmental…maybe I do have a judgment…”
Yes you do, Matt, and it’s ok. I will attempt to hold on to your less rosy, more historically informed view while I watch the new CNN series The Sixties, which, according to press materials, will include testimonials from “people whose lives intersected with destiny” and “infuse new relevance to cultural touchstones” they explore; cultural touchstones such as the Kennedy assassination, moon landing and the “indelible impact of music and technology on the era.” But it’ll be tough.