A Decade Most Turbulent

In its first episode on AMC, the hit series "Mad Men" was set in early 1960; now, as the show nears an end, Don Draper and his pals are in 1969. That was a decade during which America went from Ike to Nixon, from chimps in space to men on the moon, from The Andy Griffith Show to The Mod Squad, from bow ties to bellbottoms. So much more happened in American culture, for better and worse, and we are still living with the consequences today.

In the early 1960s, the United States was of course a much more conservative place. Even though the civil rights movement had won some hard-fought victories down south, and Vietnam dissension was heating up, most Americans were still tied to the traditional values of their parents. So if an unmarried girl got pregnant it was downright scandalous. Abortion was fully legal only in New York, Hawaii, Washington, and Alaska, so a pregnant young girl usually got married to the father quickly and quietly.

Drugs were not acceptable, addicts were shunned, and even marijuana was generally considered out of bounds. But things changed dramatically in 1967 with the "summer of love" in San Francisco. Young people streamed into that city, where they were introduced to pot and hallucinogenic drugs by local dealers. It led to an epidemic of overdoses and social diseases.

The press, however, did not concentrate on those negatives. Instead, the media exalted the era of "flower power," creating a glamorous subculture. The glorification and marketing of that subculture forty years ago swept the nation and remains with us today. Most stories about now-legal marijuana in Washington and Colorado portray happy weedsters getting high and loving it. The media ignores the elementary school kids selling pot, or the sudden rash of home explosions in Colorado. That state's main burn center has been busy lately, treating people who have been maimed while cooking up hash oil. You may have missed that in the New York Times.

The music industry hopped on the 60s bandwagon and rebellious, drug-addled pop stars soared up the charts. No question, the summer of love changed America's attitudes towards drugs, sex, and rock 'n roll. But the unintended consequences were staggering. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison all died at age 27 from drug and/or alcohol abuse. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead made it into his early 40s, but his heroin intake ultimately did him in. All told, the damage the drug scourge has done to America is incalculable.

Again, you'd never know that from the media, which continues to glorify our permissive culture. There's little mention that 72% of black babies are now born out-of-wedlock, while the overall birth rate outside of marriage has gone from 8% percent in the mid-60s to 41% today. And if you only consider babies born to women under the age of 30, an astounding 53% come into the world without a dad in the house. Single mother homes, of course, are the major driver of poverty in America.

So even if you enjoyed the music and the clothing, maybe even an occasional toke, you can understand why not everyone is terribly nostalgic about the Mad Men era. Let's put it this way: Men are far less valued, much less responsible than back then, while the entire culture is a whole lot more Mad.