Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mad Men

There is a great show on AMC called "Mad Men". The show's title is a reference to the advertising geniuses who, from their offices on Madison Avenue in New York City, built the industry that raised selling to an art form. Set in an ad agency during the 1960s, Mad Men captures perfectly how different life was like back then, not only in business, but in general. Attitudes toward family, smoking, drinking, gender roles, and the workplace were so far removed from how we think about these subjects today. Younger viewers laugh at the show thinking the writers have exaggerated the plot lines for effect, but that's really how it was.

Women were just entering the workplace in numbers during the 1960s. Their place was primarily in the clerical and secretarial ranks. Female managers, much less executives, were rare, as were women in non-traditional jobs such as police officers, fire fighters, and construction workers. Secretaries were expected to make their male bosses coffee, do their shopping and run their errands. Today, if you tell a woman in the workplace she looks beautiful, ten suits from the office of EEO pounce on you for sexual harassment. Back then, the woman simply said: "Thank you" and went on with her day feeling a little uplifted.

Virtually all modern-day businesses have a policy against drinking on the job. As seen on Mad Men, drinking was not only permitted, but encouraged as a way of relaxing clients or just winding down at the end of a rough day. The three-Martini lunch was commonplace, and businessmen were crushed when the IRS clamped down on writing off this perk as a legitimate expense. Office Christmas parties were out of control, with hard liquor flowing freely by 10 am. Not much business got done on those days, as workers unaccustomed to drinking and unable to handle their booze were too busy trying to Xerox their bare asses to the accompaniment of much hilarity.

Everybody smoked. Offices and conference rooms had ashtrays and matches on every table. Cigarette vending machines were in every lobby. Smoking was considered sophisticated in those days, a notion perpetuated by the boys on Madison Avenue. Movie stars, athletes, even doctors were featured in cigarette ads extolling the virtues of smoking cigarettes. A haze of smoke hung over every meeting, and no morning could begin without that hot cup of coffee and the first cigarette of the day. Ahhhh. In today's "smoke free" business environment, smokers are treated like criminals. You see them huddled together, freezing in the cold outside offices all over the city, sucking down those Marlboros like haunted junkies.

The manner of dress was another story. In offices, women wore modest dresses or blouses and skirts. Nylon stockings, sensible shoes and minimal jewelry were mandatory. Makeup was lightly and tastefully applied. If you showed up looking like Elvira, you were simply sent home. In offices, men wore suits and ties, period. In some companies, like the anal IBM before they collapsed, men were required to wear certain colors of suits, and only white shirts and conservative ties. Snap-brim fedora hats, shined wing tip shoes and black dress socks completed the uniform. They never heard of "Casual Friday" but if they did, it would mean men were free to go wild and wear striped neckties!

The workplace of today may be safe, sober and offer equal opportunity for all, it just doesn't look like much fun.


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4 comments:

The Whiner said...

I agree...I think I would have had way more fun in the old days. I think I would have enjoyed slinking around the office like Joan. Funny, when I had my first full-time job, people were still allowed to smoke in their offices. Now I feel old.

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Having entered the work force as a professional back in the early seventies, that mind set that is evident on MADMAN is real! Without a doubt, the show depicts the way it was. I'll tell you one thing, it was a greta time in my life, I really enjoyed the industry then!

Nice blog

Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Post P.S. What's a greta?

Jim Pantaleno said...

"Greta" is from the old Italian fairy tale: "Hansel and Greta".