August 16, 2010 Leave a comment
Warning for “Mad Men” fans. This post contains an immediate spoiler about Episode 4, Season 4.
The most recent episode of “Mad Men” leaves us with a stunning image of a coming generation gap: As Peggy Olson bounds out the glass doors of her ad firm to join for lunch a group of 20-somethings wearing bright coats, her bosses at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce are standing on the other side of the glass in dark suits, preparing for a client lunch. Immediately, this image gave me chills, capped off as it was by Peggy and Pete Campbell, on opposite sides of the glass doors, meeting eyes for a second, as if to acknowledge their distance. Pete’s about to start a family, Peggy is moving ever farther from the possibility, at least at this time in her life.
And yet, I was struck that, as much as I think the show’s creatives want me to believe it is Peggy’s youth side that wins the race to the future, I think it is the men in suits that still dominate today. That doesn’t mean a youth culture doesn’t exist, but what struck me about Peggy’s young lunch group is their evocation of that fleeting period immediately post-college and pre- rest of our lives when you can still kind of be a teenager, when you don’t feel you need to make immediate decisions about a career or family or graduate school.
And let’s not kid ourselves about who is in charge today: it’s not the young people, it’s the ad people. Maybe they can’t drink at work like they used to and their jobs are less glamorous, but they still reign. Meanwhile, the guy at the West Village party who tells Peggy he would never sell himself to those forces of evil is nowhere to be seen. His spirit is a laughable hippie cliche now, why wouldn’t you sell yourself if you had the opportunity? For me, what’s been sad about watching Mad Men Season 4 is not marveling at how bad things used to be in the workplace, but how bad things still are. Not much has changed in the sense that the vapid advertising of the kind we see on the show, with the once new-fangled concept of focus groups now the awful norm, is what rules.