The wrong fantasy still sells

John Taylor: August 13, 20070 Comments

Everyone smokes -- dawn till dusk -- around kids, while pregnant, even the gynecologist smokes while performing internals.

And, when the man of the house gets home late from drinking too many Manhattans in a dark-paneled steakhouse, the little woman chirps: There's a bacon and egg sandwich on the range.

Such period atmospherics are part and parcel of the 13-episode AMC TV series "Mad Men," named after the Madison Avenue ad executives, who treated ethics, health and women as doormats.

I don't watch much TV, but I make time for this. In part, because I worked briefly as one of the Mad Men, but in 1972, as the three martooni-lunches were starting to fade. But I also watch it because the health problems of that era -- enjoyable personal habits as they were known then -- are coming to roost in 2007.

The Commonwealth Fund said the United States, compared to eight other countries, loses more years of potential life to circulatory diseases, respiratory diseases and diabetes, and has the second highest death rate from bronchitis, asthma and emphysema. Heck, a baby born in the United States in 2004 will live an average of 77.9 years. Compare that to the tiny European nation of Andorra, which has the world's longest life expectancy at 83.5 years.

As one Emory University researcher told the Associated Press: "The U.S. has the resources that allow people to get fat and lazy."

So, if you tune into "Mad Men," apart from the lust and growing white, suburban dissatisfaction of the time, you'll see drunken driving, adults smacking the kids of other adults and a kid with polio being assured he'll play sports.  

Times have changed -- plush, piano-bar air travel and unlimited expense accounts of the for-profit world are largely history.  But one character's comment has a self-destructive Pied Piper ring that sounds very current: "Advertising is based on one thing --- happiness. It's a billboard on the side of the road that screams the reassurance that whatever you're doing, it's OK. It's OK."