Mad Men just concluded the first half of its final season. With a complex group of characters and more importantly, human beings, will history repeat itself?
Mad Men tells the story of a group of people struggling with one of the most transitional periods in our country’s history. Within the cast of characters, some were born at the right time to enact change, like Peggy Olsen, who blazed the way for women in the work place. A woman who garnered respect and awe from her colleagues with every tagline she has mustered up over a 6 season arc. Others were born too late, with men like Don Draper (aka Dick Whitman) watching the world pass them by through unfamiliar settings and the people behind them behaving in a way that they cannot understand. All of this, while still being too young to truly experience what it means to be a fully-cynical adult that his peers like Roger Sterling and Bertram Cooper are capable of.
Then there is Pete Campbell. Pete Campbell is a man stuck between two generations. He believes he has an understanding of what a man is, and what his role is in the world. Belittling women, assuming a dominant, gentleman’s club outlook on life, while being forced to adapt to a wife, children, and the struggles that came with slowly eradicating stereotypes in the late 1960’s. His role as an account man has forced him to play into all of these “strengths” that the generation before him, the generation who’s business he is trying to capture, has been saddled with for most of their lives. We left Pete at the end of season 7 part 1 as a man without his classical, proper wife (Trudy), a man without his new, more forward-thinking girlfriend, and a man just looking to preserve a role, a team, and a world where he knows what he is best at, and how he should be best at it. His childish charm can pain viewers and peers alike, while his elder cynicism takes its toll on the relationships he cares most about.
While someone of my age can merely opine at the times that these characters were adjusting to, I can truly understand today’s world and how it could be affected moving forward. This leads me to ask the question: Are we headed for another transitionary period? And if so, how will my generation and future generations be affected by it?
Right now we are connecting, networking, and learning from the devices around us more than ever. Much to the dismay of Ginsberg, computers are in nearly everything we interact with on a daily basis. While those of us born in the late 80’s/early 90’s fancy ourselves technology-forward, the generation after mine is already being heavily campaigned for. Educational systems and governments are facing scrutiny from a wide range of communities about the necessity to learn to program and be “technology-first” more than my current generation ever has been. People want to embrace education from all realms, ranging from open sourcing it through platforms like Coursera, to creating niche academies like General Assembly has attempted to do in recent years. This causes real concern about whether or not my generation could be filled with the next Pete Campbell, the next Don Draper, or if we will luck out and last long enough to sit with a smile and say “bravo” to the technology generation that ushers in a new wave of educated people, a new kind of human being.
Immediately we can discount the hope or idea that my generation is going to be the Peggy Olsens of the future. They are too late, and too far behind to ever learn to be technology-first and have mass adoption for a skill that most people should know going forward to avoid eventual obsolescence. My generation was born in a much larger world. A world that was pre-mobile, pre-high speed internet, and pre-technology first. An un-connected world of sorts. Despite the near proximity of this past world my generation was born into, today’s world is so vastly different that change would have to happen at a much earlier age, and a much faster rate.
There is a high likelihood my generation is going to be the Pete Campbells of the future. A group of people with an understanding for what needs to be done and what should be understood, but a mindset just a few years too far back in the past to execute upon it and save ourselves from our own destruction. While some live in an ironic bliss and only catch glimpses of their impending hurdles, Pete Campbell is fully aware in the world he is living in, and stuck, thus far unsuccessfully, trying to figure out where he fits within it.
Despite all of this, the greatest likelihood is my generation is going to be the Don Drapers, and not in the way that so many today hope to be. People will find themselves divorced from what they once knew as young adults (Betty) and grasping for something, anything, that they think could keep them relevant and happy (Megan).
Once this false sense of relevance is obtained, it will only be a matter of time before being forced to face the reality that they are not living the same lifestyle of those further ahead of the curve. My generation will be standing in the corner while the next generation is building. They will not be searching out forward-thinking individuals at the party in LA, but instead will go sit in a dark bar and try not think about what it is they can’t do, only to be told of their eventual demise.
We see this being set in motion today in the craze that has become early-career startup employment. With every recent college grad opting to work in ubiquitous roles at startups instead of choosing to do something with a more defined and proprietary skill-set. In the end, the black curtain must close on all sorts of relationships, and this inability to accept reality until it is too late is what will make this undetermined future decade so damn difficult for so many people.
In this same future, will our Apollo 11 launch be the discovery of Aliens in a far off planet? The announcement of a cure for cancer? it’s possible. But is it more likely that globalization has pushed our world to a point of cause and effect, where no single act can be considered good for mankind any longer? Probably.
Maybe we are relinquished to sharing bad moments huddled around a tv with loved ones. Moments like September 11th, World War 3, or cyber crimes that cripple entire countries. There will no longer be time for small steps for man to be appreciated. Because of that, the giant leaps for mankind no longer will exist in the way that landing on the moon once did.
Regardless of what place in time my generation is forced to fall into, or what transitionary period we will be forced to tackle, the overwhelming majority of this transitional time will want the same thing: “to just write copy, fight clients, and not worry about partnership votes and stock prices” or, you know, technology.