Don Draper, John F. Kennedy and the Politics of the 1960s

Perhaps one of the best things about Mad Men is not it’s look and feel, but rather the way it deals with politics, race and gender. Draper’s agency is tasked with presenting Nixon’s campaign against Kennedy (they lose), one of the (white) copywriters accompanies his (black) girlfriend down to Mississippi for the marches against the riot at Ole Miss (you can see parts of it here), and the episodes that deal with the possibility of nuclear war are both harrowing and very real.

As PBS wrote recently “By 1960, there’s a TV in almost every American living room, bringing newly visible images of war, poverty, racism, and nuclear threat. Harder to see (except in hindsight) are a number of domestic and global forces building up a storm of political activism.

The ’60s begin with a race for President, and John F. Kennedy wins by promising to keep the U.S. ahead of the Soviet Union in the Space Race and Cold War. America’s new President is young and charismatic; the First Lady is sophisticated and fashionable. The nation is on the brink of a fresh political era, with the old era of segregation on its way out.”

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Other influences that appear in and around Mad Men include air travel (which was arguably in its golden age, as Buzzfeed argues here), spaceships (you can learn more about the Apollo missions here, and the Vietnam war.

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It’s hard to overstate the impact of this series. You know that when Sesame Street riffs on a TV show, it’s become part of the general consciousness. Likewise, when the city of New York decides to honor the series in its last season (read more about that here), it’s safe to say that the legacy of Mad Men (and the real Mad Men who inspired them) is safe in Gotham.

 

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