Surely Mad Men is not truly over. Sunday’s finale of the popular television drama cannot be the end. We who loved the show will always wonder how things turned out through the decades until now for Don Draper and cohorts in the Madison Avenue advertising business. They took us from 1960 when America’s future seemed ordained for peace and plenty to 1970 when the world was in full cultural upheaval.
Can 1970, when the show ends, really be 45 years ago? Surely not.
I suppose each decade is important. Each is the soil that germinates the seed that flowers into the years to come, but changes seem more profound in some decades than others.
America convulsed during the Great Depression, World War II and the 60s.
In Platte County you can look for major changes at the opening for pioneer settlement in the 1830s, the Civil War, trains making towns prosper in the 1880s and electricity coming to the countryside in the mid-1900s. The county’s personality changed after the arrival of the Trans World Airlines Overhaul Base, the Kansas City International Airport and Interstate 29 after the war years.
But those are things that mark decades, important things.
Mad Men was a lot about human values, feelings, how people treat one another. The show startled us at how we reacted to social pressures and one another, way back then, and how it influences today. Mad Men mostly took place in New York City and California with a few rural stops here and there. But the feelings and attitudes were much the same in small-town Midwestern America.
The struggles of women characters in the show against sexism and male chauvinism were stark. Changes make us forget the push for equality in the work place and social settings. Those changes did not come easily or quickly.
The show ends in 1970 with hard-won progress for women at work. Yet, I can recall news stories from Platte County into the late 1980s and 1990s about towns having their first woman mayor. It was news that women held key leadership roles in county government. Now, we take it for granted that women are equal players in politics, at least on the local level. This is not a given in state and national government.
And in business, even news stories in recent months discuss a general lower pay level for women in the work force.
When we take our first glance back at World War II, our attention is on troops, combat, battles, countries and continents, but when we look deeper, we see people involved at all levels in all places.
Ken Burns illustrated that in his excellent PBS series, “The War.”
For many of us the 60s were much the same. And the Midwest in the 70s was much like the coasts in the 60s. Relatively few Midwesterners saw the Beatles play live, went to the Woodstock music festival or partied in San Francisco, but we all were swept along whether by trend or marketing, no matter the inertia of tradition.
Our parents generally disliked the changes and times. My generation either tried out fashion and fad or gazed in bewilderment and fascination. Change was so rapid in the 60s with a lot of momentum carrying on into the 70s.
Mad Men got the details right.
Little nuances of language and attitude, often conflicted attitudes, they nailed from those times. And the Mad Men time period stage sets were rather amazing. I could watch the show again — all episodes from the eight-year run — just to see the furniture, clothes, cars and knickknacks again.
For example, Don Draper’s daughter Sally, a teenager by show’s end and close to my age range, is talking with her folks on a shared pay phone from a dormitory hallway. All those who remember calls home on those phones from college raise your lava lamps.
Can you imagine today’s teenagers waiting to talk on a pay phone at the end of the hall, and that’s their only telephone connection with the outside world? I cannot.
But it’s the way people treat and view one another that really stand out in Mad Men.
Society is on a journey. For all our troubles and trials, there is still progress. We are more tolerant and understanding.
I would not want to go back to those times. Too much progress would be forfeited. But even if it was just TV, the step back in time brought reminders that I am going to miss.
Bottoms up everyone; life goes on.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.