This week, while watching Mad Men, it was remarked somewhere that Don Draper, the show’s conflicted protagonist with a secret past, was 34 years old. This makes me 3 years older than him. It’s always a sign that you’re growing older when the characters on TV or films become younger than you.
But this time, it was startling because he always seemed about 10 years older than me. One of the interesting things about the show is its portrayal of how adults were expected to behave in 1960. Men graduated college (or high school), got married and had kids, put on a suit, got a job. Today it’s considered perfectly fine (for the most part) to hold off on all of these things until much later in life and sometimes not at all. But after ten years of marriage, mortgage, kids, and career, there’s a change in mannerisms that men develop that a lot of guys today don’t have.
It’s such a contrast that, when I see guys like this on TV or in life, I always feel a bit boyish.
On the other hand, that generation’s forced maturity has its downsides. One of the characters, Pete, is a 26 year old newlywed who’s just purchased his first apartment with his bride. To see them together, in their tailored and well accessorised clothing, they look like teenagers playing dress-up. If they lived today, they’d likely be shacked up, still in university, or trying on a variety of jobs. Neither of them are particularly ready for the life they’re leading. Pete, in particular, is still very much a child with serious “big man” issues. He once described to Peggy, the secretary/aspiring copywriter with whom he’s having an affair, in almost pornographic detail, his deer-hunting fantasy.
A fun aspect of Mad Men is the fact that it takes place just at the end of the 1950’s Eisenhower era and just before the damn dirty hippies take over. The most recently aired episode from the first season was one in which Don attends a late party at the apartment of Midge, his beatnik mistress. Her pre-hippy friends are smoking pot and listening to Miles Davis. After a pot-induced dramatic flashback to Don’s Depression-era childhood in which remembers a visit from a hobo, he comments on the ridiculousness of Midge’s friends pretending to be vagrants. Shortly after this, the police arrive at the apartment next door during a domestic dispute. Don makes to leave but one of beatniks tells him he can’t go out there, because of the cops.
“No,” he says, putting on his hat. “You can’t.”
As much as people romanticise the era in which the show is set, 1960 is a fun time to live only if you’re a white guy. And even, then, as Don Draper learned sometime while he was still known as [SPOILER ALERT] Dick Whitman: whore’s child, you also have to come from the right social class. I think today is better in terms of the freedom people now have to pursue their own interests before settling into something long term. But when you look at the man-children who make up the film and television characters who pass for leading men these days, a little forced maturity wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
By the way, the first season of Mad Men is currently airing on Bravo, while the second is airing on CTV’s A-channel and ASN affiliates. I’m not sure when season two will air in Montreal. But they’re streaming all episodes online the day after they air.