Mad Men Season 6: The Ghostly Character

 Posted by on December 30, 2013 at 2:00 pm  Mad Men, Season 6
Dec 302013

No, not Bob Benson, and not PFC Dinkins. The unspoken, implicit, omnipresent character of Season 6 Mad Men is 1968.

In the past, world events have encroached on our characters in ways both small and large. Matt Weiner is always careful to show that our characters live in a specific world, whether that means an ad campaign focused around real politics or simply a casual conversational reference to the news of the day. But Don, Peggy, Joan, Roger, Betty…they live their lives next to the world, like you and I do. We care about the world and sometimes we get involved, but mostly, we care about our lives, our relationships, our jobs, and our families. That’s how it’s been for five seasons, unless you’re talking about huge, huge news that stops the world in its tracks: Once each in 1962 and 1963.

Not so in 1968. In Season 6, the world encroaches constantly, pervasively, and disturbingly. The Tet Offensive, the assassination of Martin Luther King, crime, pollution, the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, racial unrest, war, music, sex, it’s a never-ending presence. Characters are seen every episode watching TV, listening to the news, discussing the news. Every episode: To the point where you want it to stop, to the point where many questioned the wisdom of that much news coverage on the show.

But in this season, the 60s aren’t a setting, a milieu, or a style. They’re everything. The smaller, interpersonal world is frequently swallowed up by change, by turmoil, by 1968.


  9 Responses to “Mad Men Season 6: The Ghostly Character”

  1. Hi Deb,
    Is that a picture of the hotel balcony where MLK Jr. was murdered? I am about Sally’s age when it happened. So, without a caption I am not sure what I am looking at here.
    Also, last night I started back watching season 6.
    I recall Matt saying of the season,”It’s everyman for himself.”
    That also applies to Joanie who lands Avon in her own way and Peggy who has rats.
    Reminds me of the delicious scene where she calls Stan and tries to get him over to kill a rat she defines as being “mortally wounded”. Ha!
    Really funny. He declares, “I’ m not your boyfriend.”
    Then she him why he’s using his sexy voice.
    I wish those two would be a couple. I could hear him call her Peaches and Ma call him Stanley. There is something so right about love when it starts off as friends and percolates.
    Thanks for stirring things up again!

    • Yes, that is the MLK murder scene. The men on the balcony are pointing at the place where the shots came from. I remember the two assassinations that year very well. Not everyone reacted to the King assassination with the shock depicted at the Clio awards banquet, however. There was so much hatred that year, you knew that King ‘s life was in danger. His murder was terribly tragic but most unfortunately not a total surprise.

    • I want Stan and Peggy to be together too. I knew they were perfect for each other when they had to work together in the hotel room during “Waldorf Stories”.

  2. 1968: The year all hell broke loose. 1967 was the year that forced the establishment to admit that that the world had changed. 1968 forced the establishment to realize that life would never be the same. Change, decay, tension, combat. News reports were pervasive. There was no escape from what was going on. The sense that you had walked into a proverbial sauna. MW and company did a wonderful job of conveighing what “normal” life felt like at that critical point in time.

    We know that s6 ended on both downward and hopeful notes. Much of S7 should be spent in 1969 which in many ways was a year of healing after the trauma of 1968. Will MM take on a more hopeful tone to reflect the year?

  3. Brilliant observation, Deb!

    The idea that the membrane between Americans and their culture, their country, and events thereof, would not be breached is clearly evaporating.

    One way to measure this is to consider how often we can hear media in the background in the early season versus the last couple. Every episode the last two seasons seems to include a radio or television with the news on, indicating what’s going on in the world – it’s happening more and more.

    In addition, there’s more and more talking about the news going on. The first time a character mentions Vietnam, I think, was in “The Grown Ups”, and it’s been a growing and steady drumbeat since then.

    Part of this is the increasing ubiquity of media itself during the sixties (the first transistor radio was commercially available in the mid-fifties), and of course the growth of television (maybe Harry Crane is the ghost?).

    But the show itself has represented this shift very cleverly, and I think it’s a component of what you’re saying about how the characters are responding to, and increasingly reflecting what’s going on “out there”.

  4. When Pete reverses the car in the showroom he knocks over the 1969 sign, which I thought was perhaps a ‘sign’ things were not going to get better soon.

    • Maybe things are not going to get better for Pete, although we last see him heading off to L.A., which was a much more hopeful place to be than the decay of NYC in 1969.

      In relative terms, 1969 was a much better year than 1968 — the first moon walk, Woodstock and Altamont concerts; the Beatles give their last concert, and their album Abbey Road was released; John Lennon and Yoko Ono marry and stage a “Bed-In” for peace as a protest against the war; protests against the war continue with a march on Washington, DC and on college campuses, the very first US troop withdrawal from Vietnam starts; the Stonewall riots occur in NYC, Golda Meir becomes president of Israel, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) was started; there were no assassinations of US political figures, but Ted Kennedy drunk drives his car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, killing his “date;” and slowing down his political ambitions for a while. Overall, a much better year than 1968, even though the Manson Murders happen in L.A.

      • You can’t possibly mean to include Altamont among the positives?

        • Good question. Thank you for letting me clarify.

          I prefaced my list of 1969 events in “relative terms” as some have interpreted the violence at Altamont as a ‘bookend’ event to Woodstock that signaled the end of the Woodstock nation, the end of the 1960’s youth culture and the death of the hippie movement — for someone like Don Draper who has been feeling the youth culture “picking at his bones” throughout most of the 1960s, Altamont would be a relatively positive thing.

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