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Could TV's 'Mad Men' heal America's culture wars?

The popular TV series 'Mad Men' portrays the 'Young '60s' – an era between the conformism of the '50s and the rebellion of the '60s. Its broad appeal hints that Americans might be ready for middle ground in the red-blue wars, too.

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The extraordinary popularity of the television series "Mad Men," which recently won its third consecutive Emmy for Best Drama, suggests an interesting and important shift in Americans’ attitudes toward our culture and history. That shift may have profound, if so far subtle, political implications.

For the past four decades, the divide in America – call it the culture wars, red-blue or whatever – has been based on clashing views of the 1960s. Republicans have blamed The '60s for changing America for the worse. Others herald the decade as a liberation from the 1950s. But there was an era in between. "Mad Men" is set in that middle ground of the "Young '60s," and its broad appeal points to the possibility of cultural compromise.

In fact, what people usually think of as the '60s, is not the entire decade, but its second half. Between the supposed "Happy Days" of the '50s and the overstated "Purple Haze" of the later '60s there was a very significant period that has tended to be overlooked both by those who celebrate the '50s and castigate the later '60s and those who do the reverse.

The good old days

For 40 years, from 1968 to 2008, Republicans ran against things associated in the popular mind with the the '60s. Most have found it politically expedient to vilify the decade as a time of extremism, drug addiction, "free love," and excess of all sorts. Those who disparage the '60s as the source of most of our problems in recent decades often indicate that things were much better before the '60s. To be anti-'60s is to be ante-'60s and so pro-'50s.


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