Monday, August 16, 2010

The this-actually-happened generation

A brief follow up on Mad Men. Over at Slate, Julia Turner writes:

I think that is partly right and partly wrong.

The right part is that there really is a generational shift both in the show and in real life at that time. And the way the drama that is Mad Men contrasts them one way of getting at that difference is Alison's insistence that "this actually happened".

But we should slow down a notch both in our analysis of what happens in the show and in real life here. In reality, the real contrast is not between what is real and what isn't but between the significance of things and our feelings about them. Or, as I must point out, between sense and sensibility. And the lesson is learn to control your feelings and hide them long enough to figure out what is really going on. If necessary, learn to handle the problem alone even if, as Turner puts it, that means carrying your mistakes silently to your grave.

It's not that we shouldn't care. I feel for Alison but I bet I could walk out my door right now and head down Bank Street and it wouldn't be two blocks before I walked by more than one person who'd had casual sex sometime in the last year and later found it meant a lot more to them than it did to the other person. She's learned a lesson, now let her learn to stand it like an adult.


  1. I agree with you Jules, but I think you would be less likely to find someone like you describe in your last paragraph today than in 1965. Today we take casual sex for granted, but back then people didn't. I have a colleague/friend--older than me--who married his first wife in the mid-60s because they both felt they had to get married because they had had sex, and she wasn't even pregnant at the time! Hard to believe, but in 1965 having sex with someone still meant something to many people, at least women who considered themselves "good girls." And, some people still felt guilty about having sex before they got married, so a way to resolve that guilt was to marry the person you had sex with pretending you were in love with them. But the scenario with Allision is definitely part of the generational shift that was occurring. As you say, she learned a lesson, albeit hard, and leaving SCDP was really the best--the only-- thing she could do. As I alluded to in the earlier post, maybe the most important long-term implication for the show of that scenario is that Don seems to feel some remorse for what happened, he doesn't blame her for being young and stupid or naive.

  2. I don't know enough to honestly claim to what what things were like before about 1979. That said, I'm sure you are right about attitudes in the mid sixties.

    What I have my doubts about is that we are really as casual about casual sex as we like to think we are. There are people who can be casual about sex but I believe that most of us can't treat sex casually. Which isn't to say that we don't often convince ourselves that we can.

    Related to which, if we go back to the Christmas episode, I seem to remember that Alison made a show of taking in pretty casually. I'll have to watch it again to be sure but I think that is what happened.

  3. Jules, you raise a good point and I think I agree with you, i.e., that even today many people don't treat sex casually, although they might try to convince themselves that they do. I think that's what Allison was trying to do when Don blew her off the morning after, in an effort not to be "uncool." In the end her true feelings caught up with her and now she's picking up the pieces, and I've seen that with many young people today. I guess I identified with what Alison was going through because I was there a few times myself when I was in my youth, after the generation of people who thought they should get married if they had sex. I guess I was pretty uncool and probably still am, but those were painful lessons to learn.