Understanding The Vices Through Mad Men
Period dramas are known to teach and entertain the public on what it was like to live in a past era. Suffice to say, they can also help us enlighten on the psychological traits that occurred in the characters’ minds on their day-to-day lives. However, not every television show has the guts to delve into deeper on the addictions that the characters faced. Exploring our own vices through the acclaimed series Mad Men has taught us what it is like to live out our fantasies through means of accessible pleasures. As Mad Men premiered its seventh and final season on April 13, 2014, we take a look back on the most prominent vices that have made the AMC television show a natural part in today’s pop culture.
All the men wanted to be him. All the women wanted to sleep with him. Casually holding his liquor while running his executive duties at the advertising agency, it’s no wonder that Don Draper’s cool and laid-back demeanor is the focus of the series. In reality, Don Draper is the embodiment of the typical alcoholic from the 1960s and 1970s as it was a time where liquor is king and mostly everyone needed at least one vice to keep their lives interesting. Some people have debated whether or not alcoholism in a professional environment was prevalent during the 1960s and 1970s. In an International Business Times article written by Benjamin Reeves, he portrayed that the three-martini lunch was a normal workplace practice from the 1940s through the 1970s. As this is considered to be a period drama, one can argue that the level of drinking on the show can be highly exaggerated. In truth, alcohol was visible for consumption during celebration and for after hours drink. However, there was no clear proof that the people who have worked in the advertising agency had amassed themselves to highly drunken levels just as the show portrays it.
While Don Draper never thought that his alcoholic adventures would not have any impact on his life, it was until the end of Season 6 when he realized that he had a major drinking problem. It was evident that he was struggling to cope with his addiction, despite his constant state of denial of his own actions. ABC News quoted an addiction specialist who said that “over the last ten years, alcoholism has been more fully understood as a disease. But in the sixties, bad behavior resulting from heavy drinking could be considered ‘macho’ and even romantic, rather than as a compulsive use of alcohol despite adverse consequences.” Roger Sterling sums this habit quite nicely:
You don’t know how to drink. Your whole generation, you drink for the wrong reasons. My generation, we drink because it’s good, because it feels better than unbuttoning your collar, because we deserve it. We drink because it’s what men do.
The unfortunate aspect of the show is that Mad Men has never been coy when it comes to bringing the worst traits under the influence of alcohol. It was never a rosy picture to be painted.
The portrayal of drinking and smoking among wealthy businessmen and their wives during the 1960s is very accurate on Mad Men. Most people drank and smoked in those days as part of their social activities even if they did not do so the rest of the time. It took a couple of decades after the connection between smoking and cancer for the majority of adults to be non-smokers. There was no rehab in the 1960s and alcohol consumption was tolerated to a degree unthinkable today.
At the beginning of the season, the company Lucky Strike approached Sterling Cooper for an ad campaign in the wake of the Readers Digest report that smoking will lead to health issues. However in the fourth season, Lucky Strike fires Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce as its ad agency. This prompted Draper to create an advertisement for The New York Times titled “Why I’m Quitting Tobacco,” which announces the agency’s refusal to take tobacco accounts.
The ads that were portrayed during the 1960s were part of a great influence during that era where every type of cigarette brand targeted both genders. The idea of smoking was considered to be a rite of passage for many young adults as it was considered to be a grown up habit.
Regardless of what era we focus on, adultery and sexism will always be an ongoing issue in society. In the case of Mad Men, many of the main characters have strayed outside of their marriages. Don Draper was no stranger to infidelity as he have slept with other women while being married. As the show progressed during the seasons, one of the main reasons why many men and women have went outside of their marriage to sleep with someone else is because of the fact that deep down inside, they were not happy with their current situations. The happiness factor was more of an emphasis in the show than a power play game. Sure, you do have men that sleep with many women as possible because to them, it’s a gratifying experience that they are able to “feel their way” into power. Even in this time, it was still considered socially acceptable for a man to have as many affairs as he wanted and not get caught doing so.
While sexism may not be a traditional vice as what we are accustomed to seeing, it is often used in conjunction when it comes to committing adultery. Sexism, by large, has often fueled a man’s bravado and egotistical views on women by placing the notion that just like children, they are meant to be seen and not heard. Unfortunately, because of the ideas being placed, women felt subjected to think that they are not fit to operate outside of their domestic duties.
Women had a much harder stance of being socially accepted in the workplace during the 1960s and 1970s. The underlying message that the only way a woman would be able to move up in the corporate ladder was for her to look pretty. Even if she were to excel in a higher position, it still wouldn’t last for too long. Unlike alcoholism, the gender issues that are portrayed by Mad Men are not exaggerated. As this is centered around the advertising agency, it would make a lot more sense for the producers of the show to focus on what have transpired during the work place. You can clearly see the push and pull relationships that the men and women had in the office environment. Two of the female characters, Joan Holloway and Peggy Olson, have been considered to be the feminists of the show. In the beginning of the season when the two characters were introduced, Joan mentioned to Peggy on how to succeed at her job:
You want to be taken seriously. Stop dressing like a little girl.
It’s not certain if there were many success stories of women who defied the sexism during the workplace in the 1960s and 1970s. However, it was a refreshing course of action to see two prominent women taking center stage as they fought their way through the glass ceiling that was placed above them.
Mad Men For The Modern Era
It can be easily noted that the vices that occurred during the 1960s – 1970 are no different in what we are experiencing in today’s society. However, because of the extremism that had happened during that time, it propelled regulations to moderate the consumption of alcohol and smoking. In most workplaces of today, there are a high level amount of rules that are placed to promote an ethical environment for the employers and employees to follow. That’s not to say that it would be a permanent solution as human nature does take control. At one point or another, you’ll often hear on the news that men and women are participating in illegal activities that are detrimental to the welfare of others. But lets not forget that we’ve experience much more corruption and hypocrisy in our earlier years.
Could we still keep on going and reliving our generations’ past mistakes? It’s a given since no two affairs and habits are the same. The question remains is for how long we can keep giving into temptation until we realize that we hit a brick wall and trying to recover from it. It took many years for Don Draper to realize that he had an addiction to drinking. The only difference between the Mad Men era and now is the number of resources that are made available to help addicts rehabilitate and reform.
Overall, Mad Men has proved to be one of the most engrossing television series that never held back in depicting the imagery of what have occurred during the 1960s and 1970s. As the show approaches to an end, we will miss the characters for helping bring forth a better understanding on what it was like to give into our own vices and the consequences that happened afterward.
Carr, Coeli (September 13, 2010). “Television’s Treatment of Alcoholism”. ABC News.
Reeves, Benjamin (August 14, 2012). “3 Reasons The 3-Martini Lunch Could Fix the Economy, Improve Your Work and Open New Horizons”. International Business Times.
What do you think? Leave a comment.