“Mad Men” paves the way for swingin’ ’60s revival in modern TV shows

In Arts & Entertainment, Film & TV

It seems that since the creation of AMC’s Mad Men in 2007, the 1950s and ‘60s seems to be the era to replicate on the small screen. NBC’s The Playboy Club and ABC’s newest drama Pan Am are both examples of the newest TV trend.

The front-runner of this trend, Mad Men, wrapped up its fourth season last year. Mad Men takes place at Sterling Cooper, a fictitious New York advertising agency in the 1960s. It transports the viewer back to a time when business was conducted over cocktails and cigarettes, specifically a Lucky Strike and an Old Fashioned.

The lead character, Don Draper, is everything a 1960s Madison Avenue big shot should be: a handsome, whiskey-drinking womanizer, schmoozing clients and women while at the office, and returning home each night to his picture-perfect housewife and two children.
Mad Men manages to capture the very essence of the post-World War II baby boom, an era that conjures up images of American ingenuity, breakthroughs and economic growth as well as an ever-evolving tale of the American identity that was shaped so drastically during that time.

“Memories transform things into romanticized visions, and so does television,” said Craig Loftin, an American studies lecturer.

Perhaps flying on the coattails of Mad Men’s success, Pan Am takes the beauty of 1960s to the skies. Centered around the “Jet Age” of 1963, it takes viewers to a time when commercial air travel was broadening the horizons of the American public. The ABC show follows the pilots and stewardesses of Pan Am Airlines that made flying in the ‘60s seem so glamorous.

As the swinging ‘60s has come into vogue, NBC has followed suit, debuting The Playboy Club as a headliner in its fall lineup. The show takes viewers back to the early days of the Playboy franchise by going inside the original Playboy club in Chicago. Directed by past Mad Men director Alan Taylor, it will capture all the appeal of the early 1960s in the provocative setting of Hugh Hefner’s visionary franchise.

The trend is obvious; TV shows set in the early 1960s are coming to heightened popularity. However, it begs the question, what is it exactly about that moment in time that both intrigues and draws in audiences?

Loftin has taught an American studies pop culture class at Cal State Fullerton for four years and offered unique insight into exactly why we’re mad for 1960s culture in 2011.

“There’s a big impulse for nostalgia in popular culture; it’s kind of continuous,” said Loftin. “No matter what period you’re looking at, there is nostalgia for a previous time period, something that will take you back to the time when everything made sense, when everything was so much better.”

Loftin also credits “baby-boomer nostalgia” as being a big draw in, as well as the aesthetically appealing set and costume design, and the fact that the era carries mass appeal for modern-day society to work through current social issues through the lens of a previous time.

“The 1960s was related more to style, not that Mad Men is only about style, it focuses on larger issues … Those things are all being focused through stories of the 1960s. Tapping into current crises about gender, what it means to be a professional, what our place is in the world as a country politically,” said Heather Osborne-Thompson, a radio-TV-film professor.

Osborne-Thompson has taught in the RTVF Department since 2007 and regularly teaches Critical Studies: TV. She credits a mix of nostalgia and brilliant costume and set design.

“(Man Men is a) gorgeous show to look at. Production, too, is amazing. It’s a hit for that reason alone, you could argue. Different clothing manufacturers position their clothing to the Mad Men look,” Osborne-Thompson said.

She continued, “I know that nostalgia for a different time has been used as a reason for it, the popularity of this particular genre.”

The 1960s trend that stems from Mad Men, which is replicated in both Pan Am and The Playboy Club, has found its way into the fashion world as well. This month Banana Republic debuted a collection of signature Mad Men looks, designed by Mad Men’s very own Emmy-winning costume designer, Janie Bryant.

In an online article for Time magazine, Bryant said, “I think people love to romanticize the early 1960s. People think of that period as the most glamorous and elegant in time. Also, the silhouettes of those clothes have never really gone out of style.”

Monique Valle, customer experience leader at Banana Republic in Mission Viejo, also attributes the Mad Men line’s popularity to a general pull toward the 1960s apparel in the fashion world right now.

“In the fashion world right now, the ‘60s fashion has become so popular,” said Valle. “These are classic looks that you can wear over and over again.”
Whether it is just plain nostalgia or an affinity for 1960s fashion that attracts audiences to the time, it is hard to say.

Pan Am takes off Sunday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m., while The Playboy Club premieres Monday at 9 p.m.

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