November 12, 2009

What's changed since Don Draper's day?

Excerpts from my Taki's Magazine column:

Can I milk another column out of Mad Men?

Why not?

Matthew Weiner’s show about Madison Avenue in the early 1960s is so meticulously detailed that it’s worth using as a spur to consider what has and hasn’t changed in the Zeitgeist over the last half century.

The overall impression Mad Men gives of 1960 is that of a less crowded, less expensive world before we swarming hordes of Baby Boomers escaped our playpens and ruined everything.

• In a fecund era, when most families had heirs and spares to spare (the Total Fertility Rate peaked in 1957 at 3.77 children per woman per lifetime), kids could have more fun and parents weren’t as obsessive about safety. ...

• In 1960, however, there weren’t actually a lot of 20something babes throwing themselves at guys born in the 1920s, even ones as handsome as Don Draper, because there just weren’t that many babies born in the 1930s. There were 2.95 million live births in America in 1925, but only 2.38 million in 1935. Because supply and demand favored younger women, they were picky.

The real sex mismatch happened with the sexual revolution in the later 1960s, when a flood of Baby Boom babes born from 1946 onward came on the mating market and immediately set about stealing prosperous husbands away from their wives. ...

Something that Mad Men largely misses is that in the mid-20th Century the consensus of the most artistic and insightful souls was that American life was plagued by gender oppression. Men, in the view of social commentators such as James Thurber, Robert Benchley, Groucho Marx, and W.C. Fields, were relentlessly oppressed by women, who refused to sleep with them without a legally binding promise of lifetime support and fidelity.

The contemporary notion that women rose up as one to wrest from men the privilege of bringing home the bacon is one of the more curious myths in folklore.

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Lost Pilgrim said...

The Mad Men writers should hire somebody like James Lileks. He knows advertising and has a feel for what makes good nostalgia. He could point them in the right direction or write it for them himself.

alonzo portfolio said...

The only reason the writers listed focused on conditional sex as the salient oppression of the day is that minorities had not yet gained the privilege of getting white males fired or seriously injuring them. Whatever the annoyances of dealing with modern women, the essential fact of postmodern life is that you either keep your mouth shut around blacks or pay big time.

Anonymous said...

> social commentators such as James Thurber, Robert Benchley, Groucho Marx, and W.C. Fields <

The Dean Emeritus of them all, Mencken, has his say here. (Year: 1918-22.)

Dahlia said...

"In the late 1950s the plastics industry has already started its public service campaign to terrify kids about the plastic bag peril, a fear that forms one of my wife’s most vivid memories of her childhood."

This sounds interesting, do tell. We hear very little about Mrs. Sailer.

Eric said...

Sadly, nobody has yet figured out how to do on the Web what the Ogilvys and Bernbachs were doing in the pages of Life fifty years ago: making advertising noticeable, interesting, and persuasive without being irritating.

This is a great closing point. Somewhere along the line advertisers decided brand recognition was be-all and end-all, and it didn't matter how much they annoyed you as long as you remember which brand of soap they were selling.

I'm sure they have all sorts of data to back it up, but there must be a lot of people like me out there who reflexively tune out any commercial message. What's the point of listening or looking at a message devoid of information beyond "there's a brand of soap named Spiffy-Clean"?

Anonymous said...

You get a lot right about a lot of topics, but you do not understand Mad Men, not even a little.

First, it's not meticulously detailed, except in the costumes and other superfluous stuff. Weiner has said in multiple interviews that he has no particular knowledge of the era and has made no particular effort to acquire any.

Second, I simply cannot understand how you could possibly think the show portrays any of the joys of the pre PC era. Every single character in the show is deeply unhappy. Worse, every one of them is deeply unhappy because he's forced to live some sort of lie because of the repressive culture.

Third, in addition to being deeply unhappy, all of the characters are deeply unlikeable. Every single one. And that is because, in Weiner's eyes, no one created in the evil system before 69 could possibly be a good person, no matter how many good traits he had. It's sort of like in the Inferno, where everyone who predated Christ, even good people, were simply damned to a Hell they could not have done anything to escape. Dante believed -- albiet with sadness in his heart -- that there could be no true goodness before Christ. Weiner believes there could be no goodness before the Beetles stopped wearing suits.

agnostic said...

Formality is a set of rules for what to wear in which situations, so we can't dress less formally than before, only change what we wear in which situations.

Imagine wearing a jacket and tie in an IT department -- you would be thrown out for violating their rules of formality. If you dressed like a Victorian in 1600, you'd be thrown out as well -- look at how lazy you are, wearing pants instead of breeches and stockings! And why no color -- are you trying to look shabby? And where are your high-heeled shoes -- what, are they too much trouble to wear? I guess you Victorians prefer comfort over formality...

agnostic said...

The lack of competition with the dead shows up in the envious phrase "low-hanging fruit" -- that's the impossible-to-reach fruit that your contemporary somehow managed to get.

No one talks about Newton taking the easy, low-hanging fruit like basic calculus and mechanics, as though it were baby stuff. They talk about it reverentially.

Dutch Boy said...

M'boy, I've found the perfect mate -
Who could ask for more?
She's deaf and dumb and oversexed
And owns a liquor store!

- W. C. Fields

DYork said...

While watching Mad Men, Weiner affords us ample opportunity to congratulate ourselves on how much progress we’ve made. For example, most of the black characters in Mad Men have servile jobs. Today, of course, things are infinitely better. Black men are seldom seen in servile jobs (unless they are African immigrants or gay). In fact, black men aren’t seen in any jobs as much anymore: ten percent of black men were out of the work force in Don Draper’s 1960 versus 24 percent in booming 2000. Indeed, black men aren’t even seen at all as much anymore because a million are now locked away in prison. (The incarceration rate of black male high school dropouts was one percent in the Bad Old Days of Dwight Eisenhower’s last year in office versus 25 percent in Bill Clinton’s glorious finale.)

Here's Bill Clinton's take:

You ever watch that TV series “Mad Men?” If I keep watching this program, will I ever find a happy person? Great television. Good drama. But a lot of really painful reminders in that show about how black people were supposed to run the elevators … were supposed to ask permission before they get on an elevator. The way women were treated is appalling, and only occasionally funny to me.


Weiner, who has a wife and four sons, is at least aware, however, that he finds feminism a hoax.

I don't agree. The guy hired an all female writing staff for Mad Men. It's him and 6 White women writing everything as far as I know.

Here's the gender breakdown of writers on Late Night TV:

"The Jay Leno Show": Zero.

"Late Show with David Letterman": Zero.

"The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien": Zero.

"The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson": One, apparently (his sister).

"Jimmy Kimmel Live!": One.

"The Colbert Report": One.

"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart": Two female writers just added.

"Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:" Three out of "about a dozen."

Anonymous said...

James Lileks could certainly advise on aspects of advertising and its history but write? Please God, no! Reading his stuff is like, well...I dont know what its like but its bloody hard work I can tell you.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Here are some things I remember:

Teenagers earning income by doing yardwork and cleaning commercial office space

Shopkeepers who practiced open-carry

White garbagemen

Barbers, who actually made a decent living

Vietnam vets with missing limbs--much more visible and numerous than Iraq/Afghan vets

Anecdotally, I also recall seeing a lot more wheelchairs and crutches due to poorly managed pregnancies. There also seemed to be a lot more domestic violence.

Anonymous said...


Yeah, it seems like an incredibly petty and stupid thing those worthies to have gotten upset about when you consider how things are for white men nowadays.

Mr. Anon said...

"Here's Bill Clinton's take:

The way women were treated is appalling, and only occasionally funny to me."

That's rich.

Anonymous said...

Transportation hasn’t sped up at all. The cruising speed of today’s Boeing 777 is no faster than that of the 707 that entered domestic service in 1959, and it probably took Dan Draper less time to get to La Guardia Airport from his home in Westchester Co. than it would take his son driving from the same house today.

That's because the laws of physics and aerodynamics haven't changed since then. It still takes a really powerful engine to push a big hunk of metal through the air, which eats a lot of fuel, which drives up your cost per passenger. A bigger, slower plane is a better moneymaker for the airlines than a smaller, faster plane.

On the plus side, the new aircraft are much more fuel efficient and safer than the older ones.

craig said...

Your last paragraph is spot-on. I think part of the problem is that the advertising industry moved away from salesmanship and Ogilvy. Instead they care more about the opinions of their peers and winning awards.

Sgt. Joe Friday said...

"Transportation hasn’t sped up at all. The cruising speed of today’s Boeing 777 is no faster than that of the 707 that entered domestic service in 1959, and it probably took Dan Draper less time to get to La Guardia Airport from his home in Westchester Co. than it would take his son driving from the same house today."

There's also the small matter of airlines padding their schedules to a ridiculous extent so that they can claim a higher "on time" arrival percentage.

greenrivervalleyman said...

If Season 3 turns out to be Mad Men's finale, I'd like to see a spin-off set approximately 10 years later. Don will of course be divorced now, though not on account of his serial philandering but because Betty discovered her "feminist mystique". Little Bobby Draper will have grown up to be a seriously disturbed Vietnam vet, while Sally will have gotten into radical politics, moved to Oakland, and become a "comfort girl" for a cell of Black Panthers.

The spin-off practically writes itself. C'mon, Steve, I have some time. Let's write this thing!

albertosaurus said...


If you keep writing about this show I'm going to be forced to actually watch it. Can you handle that much responsibility?

Anonymous said...

Women are just no damn good, are they? If they are virtuous and won't have sex until they are married, they are manipulators holding out for a lifetime support contract. However, if they hold a job during marriage, they are taking away the jobs white guys used to have (and perform far, far more intelligently) - doubtless through feminist inspired government chicanery. If they don't give a fig whether they are married or not and just enjoy the sweaty, they're whores.

The relentless misogyny displayed on this site is tiresome. All that's missing most of the time is a "No Girlz Allowed" banner across your tree house. Well, back to my ironing.

Truth said...

"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak out for me."
— Martin Niemöller

"The relentless misogyny displayed on this site is tiresome."

Yeah, but I guess the racism and anti-semitism are fine?

There is a Jew posts here who has, on more than one occasion decried the anti-semetism but is all to happy to take part in the racism/misogyny. And, of course if I weren't the only black male commenting here you'd notice the same thing amongst "us."

When they come for you, look in the mirror...Toots.