Primetime TV is nursing a serious case of 1960s nostalgia right now. What was once groundbreaking territory exclusive to Mad Men has exploded into the go-to motif for nighttime drama, with shows like The Playboy Club and Pan Am attempting to cash in on Mad Men’s retro appeal. On the one hand, the desire to be transported to the Kennedy Camelot era is easy to understand: the time does lend itself to beautiful set design and glamorous costumes—who doesn’t want to see that? But on the other hand, there’s something unsettling about glorifying and almost pining for an era of girdles, segregation, and rampant sexual harassment. Though many of us likely will be glued to our screens come the Mad Men season premier, we’ve got mixed feelings about jumping aboard the 1960s good-time bandwagon altogether.
So far, Pan Am and The Playboy Club portray the era in similarly sanitized ways. Rather than exploring the social and political discontent that was just about to boil over in the form of the civil rights movement, women’s lib, and the hippie revolution, which Mad Men does to its advantage, each of these shows emphasizes a climate of swinging optimism. And that’s the appeal these shows are banking on. In opening credits of The Playboy Club’s pilot, Hugh Hefner sets the sunny mood by reminding viewers that it wasn’t the ’50s anymore. The show’s star, Eddie Cibrian, told DivineCaroline in a recent interview that he feels it’s the hopefulness and freewheeling spirit of the early ’60s that has people craving more of it—an escape from today’s dreary economic and political climate: “It was so carefree back then and people weren’t as aware of things as we are now … I think people want to revert back to that time.”
But can our fascination with the era really be that simple? Do we really want to go back to the early ’60s? While it’s clear that Mad Men has struck a chord with audiences, it hardly seems attributable to the show’s happy-go-lucky vibe. Quite the contrary; Mad Men allows us to observe taboo behavior with the comfy distance of a critical eye, oftentimes reminding us that although we might like to steal fashion tips and cocktail recipes from Don and Betty Draper, we overwhelmingly thankful their reality is not ours. Mad Men banks on the conflict of emotion in stirs in each of us. Or maybe we’ve just all got crushes on John Hamm.
What do you think? Are you pining for the past, or is there something more meaty going on with the current wave of ’60s nostalgia?
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