“Mad Men,” one of the few television shows that still qualifies as authentic water-cooler fodder, has always had a political bent. In Season 1, we’re introduced to the ad industry view of the 1960 presidential contest between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, with Sterling Cooper helping fashion Nixon’s campaign ads.
And now this season, as it winds down to its finale on June 23, has had to find a way to distill one of the most tumultuous years in American history, 1968, into its mix. The assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, as well as the raging of the Vietnam War, serve as the background noise for Season 6.
But even as politics surrounds the characters, the political process has left behind Don Draper and his agency. In Sunday’s episode, Don stays home from work with a doozy of a hangover, and as he’s watching television, Nixon’s campaign ad, “Crime,” comes on the tube.
The scene shows how outside the political season Draper and company are as Nixon, who lost the presidential race in 1960, zeros in on the prize in 1968 without their help. Polarizing ads like “Crime,” and even more inflammatory ones like “Failure,” seem more gauche than Don would stomach in his own firm.
The Museum of the Moving Image has a great feature, “The Living Room Candidate,” that has the full selection of presidential television campaign ads dating back to 1952, including all the ugliness that showed up in 1968.