They Were Astronauts: Mad Men, Time Travelers

In season 4 of Mad Men, school-marmish secretary Ida Blankenship died in the offices of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Bert Cooper remarked that Miss Blankenship wasn’t just a fusty old lady:

She was born in 1898 in a barn. She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She was an astronaut.

Ida was not even 70 years old, but her lifetime stretched from an era of horse-drawn transportation to one of live television broadcasts and international flights.

If Mad Men characters were real people, most of them would be much older than Ida Blankenship. Don Draper is now roughly 90 years old – give or take a few, because, you know, Dick Whitman and everything. Joan is 84, and Peggy is about to turn 75. At 61, even little Sally Draper is getting AARP mailers and gearing up for retirement.

That’s right: Sally Draper is only a few years younger than Miss Blankenship.

The magic of old-fashioned style: Peggy actually looks younger in 1970 than she did in 1960.

The Mad Men crew witnessed as much change in the second half of the 20th century as Miss Blankenship did in the first. Contrast the first scene between Peggy and Joan with the last. In 1960 Joan told Peggy that the way to be indispensable at work was knowing what kind of liquor to stock for your boss. Working as collaborators was out of the question. By 1970 (spoiler!), Joan proposes that she and Peggy become partners in a production company. In 1960, Joan told Peggy to “always be a supplicant;” in 1970, they’re both bosses.

During the first seasons, Mad Men’s costuming reflected early ’60s style — which, of course, owed a lot to the straight-laced 1950s. Men wore suits, women wore skirts, and pillbox hats were a hot accessory. By the last season, we saw glimpses of the fashion world we live in now. Characters wore casual clothing – jeans, even! – in settings they wouldn’t have dreamed of in 1960. Early on she dressed like a cat from a Richard Scarry book, but the Sally of 1970 could almost be mistaken for a teenager of today. Some of Mad Men’s 1970 styles look dated to us now – Pete Campbell has the semi-Medieval haircut of every man in my family’s 1970s photo albums – but most wouldn’t look out of place in a hipster neighborhood. By 1970 our modern fashion culture had emerged: much less formal and easier to maintain than the early ’60s looks, owing at least in part to all of the Joans and Peggys who were now working and didn’t have hours each week to press laundry.

RIP Sally’s knee socks.

Then there’s advertising. A few years ago I saw an old diner sign for pie. It said: “it is so good!” That’s it. That was advertising of the 1940s or so: tell them the pie is good. By the early seasons of Mad Men, more sophisticated targeted advertising had materialized. Pitch meetings involved discussions like “what kind of person uses this product?” and “who does the person using this product want to be?” By the finale, the public’s aspirations had changed. No longer striving for the middle class, suburban post-war ideal, the consumer of the 1970s wants to be enlightened, free-spirited and original. He wants to buy the world a Coke. With an ad concept that’s sure to get people talking, by 1970 we’re even looking at the start of viral marketing.

When I look at how the changing world affected these characters from 1960 to 1970, I have to wonder what would have happened to them after that. Throughout the 1970s, the firm probably focused on the youth-oriented marketing that was so successful in the Coke pitch. After all, the baby boomers had aged into that lucrative 18-35 demographic. Don Draper, at least trying to be a steady presence in his kids’ lives, stayed away from hardcore ’70s drug use. Sally had a misspent youth, as was the style of the time, and was just about the right age to hit the Studio 54 scene. Joan would have been hard at work at Holloway Harris. And Peggy… I can see the 1970s being Peggy’s decade, with the world finally getting a little closer to catching up with her. She and Stan would have made a great team both at work and out of it, and I’m sure Peggy got really into macrame decor, the ERA and oversized lapels. She would have spearheaded the firm’s pitch for a public service spot during the Oil Crisis. Baby Kevin probably ended the decade very wealthy indeed, because I can’t imagine Roger Sterling lasting that long.

The 1980s is when most of our characters would have seen a big payout. Most of our former “young professionals” would be in their 50s, the prime of their careers. Pete Campbell is still a weenie in the ’80s, because “Pete Campbell is a weenie” is an immutable truth. As a company man at Learjet, he probably made major bank targeting the Reagan-era business travel demographic. Don would find himself going back to the all-American family advertising of the early 60s, now that boomers were settling down with kids. Can’t you just see Joan getting really into ostentatious 1980s fashion as her production company booms?  Trudy is absolutely the kind of ’80s woman who decorated with ducks in bonnets. And of course, little Tammy Campbell would have graduated from Dartmouth in 1986.

Think of the popular advertising of your 90s childhood – all the neon and weird surfer slang. Some of it was coined by young ad execs, but there’s a good chance that those Nickelodeon Magazine and Sunny D spots were pitched by an aged Don Draper type. By the 1990s, the clunky typewriters are all replaced with computers, and 60-something Mad Men sat in front of desktop monitors waiting for the dial-up to turn on. This is probably the decade when most of our characters retired. 1990s Joan may be the world’s fiercest grandmother, with Kevin hitting his 20s and 30s. If Holloway Harris is a success, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Joan keep working into her 70s.

With the 2000s recession, most of our characters would be relieved to have left the work force. But maybe someone like Peggy would have kept working into the information age. All of these characters who used rotary phones are now face-timing their grandchildren on iPads. 90-year-old Don probably gets a kick out of online advertising.  If you’re reading this as a 20- or 30-something, Sally is probably close to your mom’s age. Can you picture a middle-aged Sally moving her kid into college in the 2000s, or an adult Sally tuning into Oprah every day after work? Or maybe her trips into the seedier parts of New York City are a sign that she ended up living the Bohemian lifestyle that Betty never had.

Back to 1970: in the Mad Men finale, Don was hanging out with his weird friends and I saw something unmistakable. It was the same exact cooler that accompanied my family on every road trip throughout my whole childhood. Then I did a little math. Let’s say one of my parents got that cooler in 1970 – reasonable, since they were college students at the time – and I remember traveling with it in 1992. The duration between 1992 and now is greater than from 1970 to 1992. In other words: I’m as far from my own childhood as my childhood was from the Mad Men era. The show was set in another time, but I’m from another time, too. When we were kids, the world was full of a lot of the same people, attitudes, and even tangible objects that had been there in the 1960s and 1970s. The other day, my dad mentioned that when he was a kid, all of the “old people” were folks who were alive in the 19th century – and now there are only 5 people left from that century. My brother added that the year he was born is as long ago today as the Korean war was when he was born.

It’s not just Ida Blankenship, and it’s not just Mad Men: we’re all time travelers. We’re all astronauts.

 

In Search Of: Mad Men Characters’ Closure

Last night, we said a final farewell to the folks on Madison Avenue, or rather the folks who ran away from the grind of the advertising life and the ones who decided to stick it through.

I personally was pleased with the way everyone’s story was wrapped up, as that was one of the main concerns of mine as we counted down to the final episodes. Would the last installment be just about Don? Would we ever get a Don/Sally scene? Or Roger/Joan? Or even Peggy/Pete? Luckily, we got all of those, and despite the fact a lot of people might not think enough “happened” in the series finale, I thought it was the best way to shut the door (and have a seat) with the characters we’ve been following for almost eight years.

And even one-liners about other characters like Dr. Rapist Harris/Joan’s ex-husband (lived through the war, is married with twins) and Margaret Sterling (still in that cult), gave us some sort of ‘cherry on top’/’tied with a bow’ ending.

But what about the characters that have been long gone? What happened to the ones who didn’t get a carefully crafted montage in the finale? I realize Mad Men/Matthew Weiner’s whole M.O. is that sometimes people leave without saying goodbye (see: series finale), but I just can’t help but wonder what happened to some of the people who used to be in the Mad Men inner sanctum.

Carla

HONESTLY, STILL MAD ABOUT HER LEAVING. Still mad at Betty for the way she fired her. Still the number one character I love to this day and held out hope for a return in the future. I bet she’s doing great things with her life. Honestly, any boss after Betty is an upgrade.

Sal Romano

Oh Sal. His storyline was heartbreaking – a closeted gay man who couldn’t come out and his homosexuality was ultimately what led to his firing from Sterling Cooper. Sal was a fan favorite and many still hoped he would make at least one appearance in the later seasons, but that never came to fruition. Is he still with his wife Kitty (played by Sarah Drew/April Kempner from Grey’s!), or by 1970 is he out and proud? Was he a part of Stonewall? Let’s just say yes.

Jimmy Barrett

Jimmy Barrett was an annoying son of a bitch. To this day, if I see that actor in another show, I’ll immediately hate him (**series finale mild spoiler***** kinda like that older woman just shoving Don at the retreat. They didn’t say a word, but she still felt like he needed a push (in the right direction?). I hope he and Bobbie called it quits. He should be single and doing his act in a bar in old Las Vegas.

Joyce Ramsay

Remember when we thought Peggy was gonna be a lesbian? Lezbehonest, it totally could’ve happened, and it totally could’ve happened with a pre-Girls Zosia Mamet. Joyce, and I think Peggy probably thought this too, was a breath of fresh air, the type of person she didn’t normally encounter during her corporate advertising travels. She was sure of herself and confident enough to wear a blazer in the 1960s. Did she become super feminist activist or just Shoshanna Shapiro’s mom?

Helen Bishop

If you forgot how Creepy Glen got into Betty’s life, it’s because his mom, Helen, was friends with her. Glen and Betty’s relationship got super weird, and by the time Betty gave young Glen a lock of her hair, Helen refused to let Glen get anywhere near her. Of course, he managed to avoid her stern request and met with Betty anyways. We get to see Glen as an 18 year old adult in one of the final episodes, right before he shipped off to war. Does Helen still hate Betty? Is she supportive of Glen’s decision to fight on the frontlines? Is there any possibility of a Mad Men/Scandal crossover-spin-off show?

Lois

This is the person who drove the John Deere tractor over someone’s foot. Where is she now??

Paul Kinsey

It was bound for one of the mad men to become a hippy dippy/granola/crunchy/spiritual type, considering the era. That person became Paul Kinsey and I solely correlate Hare Krishnas to him now.

Beth Dawes

Pete’s affair with the woman on the train ended up in crazy town – literally. She was sent to the looney bin, and that’s the last we see of her. I don’t think she was ever right for Pete anyways, but you always hope for an ending that leaves the character at peace. But I guess Alexis and Vinny lucked out IRL, since it turned out they were right for each other all along.

Stevie Wollcott

***series finale spoiler alert***

I am totally on the Peggy/Stan (Steggy) ship, but when I thought there was no hope for them, I was kind of rooting for Peggy to date Stevie, aka Mathis’ brother-in-law. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, whose proposal of going to Paris didn’t seem too insane, but just crazy enough. But again, this is all moot because OMGZ STEGGY FEELS!! Also, he apparently was on My So-Called Life.

Bob Benson

Like Sal Romano before him, Bob Benson had a lot of hide. He even went so far as to propose to Joanie in hopes of living a ‘typical’ 1960s family, but she knew his secret, and luckily for him, said no. TBH, I don’t care where Bob Benson is now, I just think this exchange with Pete is one of the most iconic in Mad Men history.

Chauncey

No, but really. Where in the world is Duck’s dog Chauncey???