Last night’s episode of Mad Men continued the season’s drama, the highlight of which is that Mr. Draper has now gone three full hours without an extramarital affair.
In other news, the show introduced a new character: a copywriter named Michael Ginsburg. He’s an eccentric smart-aleck that is sure to shake things up. He’s also Jewish. In his first episode the show used this fact to great effect, both for the prejudices his hire reveals and the segment of the NYC population he represents. Going home after his hiring and sharing the good news elicits a Hebrew prayer his father is all too happy to give. Though Michael seems a fairly secularized Jew, his presence at SCDP and father’s practices may well mark the beginning of a small subplot involving religious Judaism in the 1960s. I look forward to seeing what will happen.
Mad Men previously included a Jewish side character in the first season. It also investigated Peggy’s Catholicism and culture in Season Two. What is missing, at least to my knowledge, is any real discussion of Protestantism in the series. Certainly the Protestant establishment was not absent in the 1960s–even in a place like New York City. Indeed, sociologist Will Herberg wrote his well-known book Protestant, Catholic, Jew in 1955 positing that these three religious cultures (and the immigrants behind them) formed the basic trinity of American society. Though the mid-1960s was when mainline Protestantism began its decline in societal influence and numerical strength, it was far from absent.
There are at least two directions the show could take with this. First, they could spend some time looking at the American move away from traditional religion and mainline Protestantism through the eyes of one of its main characters. The 1960s would be an illustrative time to do so. The writers might also try to hint at why and how the “mainline” begins to lose its hold on the majority. This season does seem to be one of change and disjuncture with the past, after all.
Second, they could alternately introduce a character from one of the more conservative and/or revivalistic brands of Christianity then rising in American society. Perhaps one of the show’s main characters might have or consider having a religious experience in one of these contexts. Heaven knows the show is rife with opportunities for soul searching! Such a storyline would make for compelling viewing even as it would cast an eye on an evangelicalism that looks similar yet–mostly because it is before today’s politicization of the movement–somewhat different from today’s Christians who carry the same name.
With so many interesting things happening in the religious world of the 1960s (trust me: my dissertation was on religion during this period), Mad Men has a real opportunity here if they are willing to move beyond assuming that the only people with religious connections had them because of their culture or ethnicity.