Posted by Billyjam, July 31, 2007 09:14am | Post a Comment

Last Thursday night I watched the second episode of Mad Men -- the engaging and very stylish new TV drama on (of all places) AMC about the business and home/family lives of young, upwardly mobile American ad men in the very beginning of the sixties. The show, which was created by former Sopranos * writer//producer Matthew Weiner, perfectly nails the whole style and feel of that era in American history when things were radically different from today, both socially and culturally. It was a time when everyone seemed to smoke cigarettes, often chain-smoke, and also happily knocked back cocktails during as well as after work every day. And did it sans any guilt or conscience whatsoever. Different times indeed!

As the show reminds us, it was time when people weren't all caught up in safety issues. A different time for sure when one didn't fuss with such silly distractions as putting on seat belts while driving. As last week's episode showed, neither mom nor her kids in the back of the car had seat belts on when she had a little crash. And speaking of mom, this was before the idea of women's rights was a common concept across America. Men were cads, or at least could act that way towards women. (Although you can tell in this well written script that their dominant ways will not go unchallenged by all women for too long.) As well as getting away with being cads, men also got all the good jobs. Women, it seems, were either wives who stayed home or else single women who became secretaries in offices like the Madison Avenue one in Mad Men where they're likely to be subjected to harassement -- except this was eons before the concept of sexual harassment really existed. 

The well cast Mad Men, which stars Jon Hamm as handsome Madison Ave ad man Jon Draper, brilliantly plays up the numerous social and cultural differences from a time that is only half a century ago yet seems like a million years ago. Set in 1960, it was when, culturally, America was still in the 1950's mentality but on the verge of entering a totally new age.

But the one thing that really jumps out is the acceptance of cigarettes: In 1960 both men and women smoked non-stop all day, even in bed right before they fell asleep. And of course, back then (and for many years later too) smoking in public places and even in the workplace was a totally acceptable practice. Why, work desks even came equipped with ashtrays! Wow, what a long way that is from today, when smokers are (it seems) treated like lepers and must shamefully sneak out to back alleys to puff on their cancer sticks! 44 states have banned smoking in bars and restaurants, with Illinois being the latest.

But anyway, watching this show makes me wonder what life another half century into the future might be like. How different will the cultural habits and social mores be in the year 2060? Will cigarettes be outlawed completely by then? Or will we have completely reversed our attitudes and not even care if anyone smokes, since global warming will be so bad by then and the air will be so messed up that a little cigarette smoke won't add much more harm?

What do you think? Add your COMMENTS below -- especially if you are a smoker, since, in my opinion (and I've never smoked cigarettes), you all get a real raw deal nowadays, being ostracized by society in general, like in bars where it is illegal to smoke cigarettes, even when everyone in the bar wants to smoke! I often think if the Government feels so strongly about cigarettes (of course, they are swayed by the powerful tobacco lobby), why not just outlaw tobacco smoking and make it completely illegal and be done with it? But then imagine if smoking a cigarette were a serious criminal offense? I bet some people would risk a prison sentence just to have that ciggie in the morning.

*Tony Soprano Bay Area Sighting Footnote:

On a totally different but kinda related subject (due to Mad Men's maker): If you are in Hollywood or New York, seeing movie stars or celebrities is nothing unusual, but if you are in Berkeley it is. So the other day when I was working on an AMOEBLOG sitting in Berkeley cafe A'Cuppa Tea, I glanced up to witness James Gandolfini, who plays Tony Soprano in the recently completed HBO series, come in, order a coffee drink and go. I nearly fell out of my seat. And what was funnier was no one bothered him or seemed to notice who had just graced this College and Alcatraz WiFi cafe. In fact, one customer, shaking his head in disbelief after the star had exited, went over to the guy behind the counter who had just nonchalantly served him, and asked him "Do you know who you just served?" He didn't, apparently, nor did he care. "Oh, I don't watch TV," he smiled, and went on about his work.

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Sopranos (3), Tobacco Smoking (1), Sopranos (3), American Culture (94), 1960 (2), Mad Men (15), Amc (1)