Films and television shows set in bygone eras often serve to teach us something about a time period that we will never experience ourselves. We can live out fantasies of what it would be like to live in a certain era by watching those movies or shows.
They can also draw our attention to how things have changed and improved over time.
Part of the popularity of the AMC show Mad Men is that it dares to delve deeper into the psychology of its characters than most television shows, revealing some unpleasant things in the process.
It's also true that watching the characters on Mad Men constantly smoke, drink, and sleep around may be a guilty pleasure (because we're not exactly allowed to do those things in our own lives). Here is a rundown on some of the vices portrayed on the show and how they may be influencing today's culture.
We watch the show's main character, Don Draper, drink his way through his days working at an advertising agency, through work lunches, dinners, and even on his weekends off. Yet throughout it all he still manages to keep his cool, for the most part.
Don's drinking eventually catches up with him though, and it is then that he realizes what viewers have known all along: his alcoholism is slowly destroying his life. There has been some controversy over whether or not drinking in the workplace was as common as the show portrays.
Some experts say that from the 1940's to 1970's, it was done with regularity and a work lunch with three martinis was not surprising. Others disagree, and say that the drinking on Mad Men is exaggerated for entertainment purposes.
No matter how you look at it, it's undeniable that attitudes toward drinking and alcoholism have changed a lot since Don Draper's time. Today, we know a lot more about alcoholism and how to recognize the signs of it.
We also don't see drinking as such a masculine, romanticized activity anymore. Mad Men has indeed influenced a lot of its viewers to set up home bars and mix fancy cocktails that would have otherwise have been forgotten, but it's influence on drinking doesn't seem to go much further than that.
Smoking was definitely much more common in the 1950's and 1960's than it is today, with the lighting of cigarettes being a part of almost every social gathering. Back then, the connection between cancer and smoking was not known yet.
Smoking was considered to be a way to look more grown up for young adults. Men who smoked were considered more masculine and women who smoked did so to look more elegant. Attitudes have certainly changed a lot since then. It remains unclear whether or not Mad Men has influenced a new generation of smokers to take up the habit.
One of the most interesting parts of Mad Men is its realistic portrayal of sexism in the 50's and 60's, and how each of its female characters silently (and sometimes not so silently) struggle with it. The most obvious example of sexism on the show is the rampant adultery that goes on among its male characters and accepted their behavior is.
Don and several of the other men practically lead double lives, with a wife at home taking care of the kids and a mistress or two in the city to fulfill their carnal needs. The two women who work at the agency, Joan and Peggy, are others who struggle under the influence of men while trying to live life on their own terms.