Okay, I get that with Don Draper single again, the Mad Men writers would likely amp up the sex content. But I’m afraid they took their cues from, say, the post 1990s hookup culture rather than mid-sixties Manhattan. I mean, come on: upper-middle-class girls dispensing fellatio in the backseat of taxi cabs? Today, sure, but in 1964?
My mother-in-law remembers being a nursing student in New York around this time. (It was upstate, granted, but it wasn’t a religious school or anything that would make it unrepresentative.) She remembers the one classmate known to be having sexual relations with her boyfriend mainly because of how scandalous it was. I get there were segments of The City that were more, um, progressive, and the show has Peggy Olsen falling in with what I take to be the East Village Bohemian set. But the show would have us believe that East Village sexual ethics were more widespread than they really were.
The rush to make the show more titillating has undermined character consistency. I’ve already remarked on this regarding Don Draper, but consider Joan Holloway Harris. Joanie has done a lot of bad things, but if I had to summarize her character in one word, I would say she is loyal: a loyal secretary, a loyal mistress, a loyal wife. So . . . crap, what’s this with her committing adultery with Roger Sterling on a frickin’ public street?
One of the themes of this season is the extent to which manners were coarsening among younger members of the new Sterling-Cooper. I’m guessing the show gets this right, but they rob the development of context. Since the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, we’ve been endlessly conditioned to believe that there is one set of rules for our social lives and another set for “work”, but that this should be so was not likely obvious to people in 1964. (My point is not that these rules are unfair, only to state that the question of fairness is orthogonal to the process by which they were created.)
But the show takes a dive on why manners were coarsening. I suspect that the career of Lenny Bruce had a lot to do with it. Bruce advanced the ball quite a way as to what was considered acceptable conversation in public. For this reason, progressives lionize him, but the other side of that coin is that a lot of people were now subjected to what feminists would come to call a “hostile work environment.” Unfortunately, connecting these dots would undermine the writers’ premise that “liberal” = “good”.