Mad Men is a show that I have historically gone back and forth on. I watched religiously during the first season, but have come and gone in successive years. For Season 5, I’m back with a vengeance, very much enjoying how Don Draper and company are navigating the turbulent ‘60s.
Without giving anything away, the first three episodes have included heavy doses of the civil rights movement. And last Sunday, the Rolling Stones were a major theme. Season 5 is all about change – starting up a new agency at a crazy time in American history, dealing with life after the J.F.K. assassination, and the personal challenges are all a big part of the disruptiveness of this season’s focus.
And it’s a reminder of the times that we’re living through right now. In some ways, 9/11 and its aftermath is analogous to what those Mad Men experienced back in their day. The British Invasion, racial relations, and (soon) the war in Vietnam and feminism are all part of the major changes of that era.
So Draper, Cooper, and Campbell are charged with coming up with effective ad campaigns while the world roils around them. And the ongoing advertising agency wars about who wins what account are part of the superficial activities these guys take part in. But the larger backdrop of what is taking place in America is a story they cannot escape.
And in a way, isn’t that what we’re experiencing now? In our microcosmic world, we read every day in the trades about format changes and who’s winning this month in Arbitron. But there are bigger, disruptive issues that are stealing that spotlight – politics, war, oil, and of course, the Internet and all the new competition it has wrought. How can we be effective at our jobs when the world is changing around us? There’s an uncomfortable feeling that we all walk around with.
So, this last episode ends with a prescient quote from Roger Sterling (who seems to have the market cornered on great lines). As his importance in the agency is being minimized and he looks at all the change in his life and the world, he asks:
“When is everything going to get back to normal?”
And we instinctively empathize with him because we intuitively know the answer to his question.