‘Mad Men’ shows how our parents partied down

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By Steve Hansen

QCS Managing Editor

I’ve been watching “Mad Men,” the series about the advertising crowd of the 1960s, when Madison Avenue advertising, not Wall Street banking four miles away, attracted the best and the brightest to New York City.

If you are a Baby Boomer like me, you recognize “Mad Men’s” characters as your parents, and if “Mad Men” is accurate, you see that our parents’ generation was deeply involved in two of the three activities we thought we invented — sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.

Well, rock-n-roll didn’t come of age until we did, but “Mad Men” is set in the days of the swingin’ Rat Pack — Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, et al. Swingin’ and rockin’ are the same except swingers dressed better.

At the end of the ’60s, when we started coming of age, our parents despaired over our experiments with drugs other than alcohol and our free acceptance of sex without marriage.  They at least tried to keep sexual indiscretions hidden, but alcohol and tobacco were as much a part of the average household as beef, butter and bacon.

Humorist Dave Barry put aside the myth of Puritan virtues in the swingin’ ’60s in a recent Wall Street Journal essay.

Remembering what he witnessed as a child lurking around the corner, he wrote, “Sometimes the partyers sang, pounding on our upright piano and belting out popular songs, or parody songs they wrote, sometimes on the spot. They’d give each other elaborate gag gifts, and sometimes put on skits or little musical shows, complete with costumes … The next morning, the living room would be littered with empty drink glasses, loaded ashtrays and, occasionally, a partyer or two snoring on the sofa.”

My own parents a continent away from Dave Barry’s New York suburbs also had fun. We lived in Missoula, Montana, a college town that probably had more saloons than corner stores.  To be social, as they were, it was necessary to have a full liquor cabinet and more ashtrays than silverware available for entertainment.

I marvel when I see “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, as portrayed by Jon Hamm, maintain his lean physique when he smokes a pack or two, attends five alcohol-charged meetings and a three-martini lunch, then heads home to steak and potatoes, wine and more bourbon, all in one 43-minute episode.

He should look like Buddy Hackett, the chunky comedian who always looked like he had tied one on last night and couldn’t remember where his shoes ended up.

Now we’ve managed to outlaw or ban most of the abuses that made Madison Avenue a pleasure dome in the ’60s. People don’t drink or smoke at work.

Drinking and driving are deeply frowned upon. Civility runs rampant in our workplaces, and women are treated with respect.

We will probably never see the likes of “Mad Men’s” excesses, but our children, as we did, are managing to worry us as we worried our parents. I think it’s their job just as it was ours.

Our parents turned out all right. The ’60s were productive if hazy. We’ve turned out all right, too, and we are likely to live longer because we now know how to avoid the worst of our parents’  bad behavior.

Our children, too, outgrew the worst of their worrisome bouts with drugs and random sexual adventures, and if they can get working again, they’ll probably do all right, too.

Steve Hansen is managing editor for Quay County Sun. Contact him at:

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