If rumors are true, then tonight’s new season of Mad Men takes place roughly six months after the last episode of season four, giving a fair amount of time for the dust to have settled after the more surprising events of “Tomorrowland” and a new status quo to have been established. But as Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce heads into its second year of existence, what else is happening in the world? Before you get too settled into “A Little Kiss,” here’s a quick guide to what about 1966 could end up affecting the show.
With the season beginning in the late spring of 1966, we’re likely to see a continuation of the thread of Vietnam War-related storylines (Joan’s husband was stationed there by the end of the last season, and there’s been an increasing presence of political radicalization in the show, both as Peggy’s self-confidence grows and Don’s social circle and sense of disillusionment widens); May 1966 saw both thousands of anti-war demonstrators picket the White House and also Dr. Martin Luther King making his first speech on the war in New York City. The next month, the US behind bombing Hanoi and Haiphong, and in future months, the massacres in Binh Tai, Dien Nien-Phuoc Binh and Binh Hoa take place. I foresee bad news for Joan in the near future, even if her husband makes it out of there alive.
Despite the overwhelmingly white culture of Mad Men, I’d be surprised if we don’t see some notice taken of the “Black Power” movement that really grew in force throughout ’66 (The phrase “black power” was actually coined that year); in addition to Dr. King’s increasing public presence that year, 1966 also saw the formation of the Black Panther Party in October by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, as well as civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael – at the time, leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee – urge African Americans to stand up to Ku Klux Klan attacks instead of just living in fear.
Perhaps more likely to be covered in terms of social change, the National Organization for Woman was founded in June 1966. Something that Peggy and Joan might find something to think about, perhaps…?
1966 was, of course, the year psychedelia hit the U.S.; we’ve got the release of both “Pet Sounds” by the Beach Boys and “Revolver” by the Beatles, and the rise of LSD culture in the country, which I can imagine Don finding some interest in, even if that interest is couched in suspicion and mock-disapproval (LSD was made illegal in the U.S. in October 1966, with even scientific research using the drug being shut down).
It’s also a year that saw the launch of such classic TV shows as Star Trek and The Dick Van Dyke Show, as television became more and more of a unifying and central presence in U.S. households. Harry Crane is going to be very happy about that, of course.
(1966 also saw the death of Walt Disney, but I really don’t think we’re going to see that being referenced, sadly. Poor Walt.)
Mad Men isn’t exactly a topical show, in so far as news events of the day are rarely referenced unless they genuinely affected the characters (See: JFK’s death), but I wonder if we’ll see passing mentions of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, first moon-landing (The unmanned Surveyor 1 landed on the moon on June 2nd), or Charles Whitman, a student at the University of Texas at Austin who killed 16 people and wounded another 32, having climbed the university’s Main Building Tower and shot random strangers after murdering his wife and mother. That last event, at least, feels random and senseless enough that I can imagine it would have some impact on some of the SCDP staff, if the season lasts through August 1966.
Of course, none of these events may have any kind of impact on the show this time around; it’s possible that we could see a particularly insular year for the series, as the conflicts and relationships take priority over the world outside everyone’s windows. Either way, I know that I’ll be glued to the screen, waiting to see what happens next…
Mad Men returns tonight at 9 ET/PT on AMC.
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