Still, the confluence of nostalgia, beauty and desire at the core of “Mad Men” always made me uncomfortable. With the show’s end, I have to ask, Did people watch “Mad Men” because it so profoundly challenged the self-absorbed world of advertising executives? Or did people watch “Mad Men” because they were nostalgic for a time when it was guilt-free, seductive and glamorous to be an affluent white person?
Nostalgia is complicated. Conservatives often wax poetic about a time when things were “easier,” by which they usually mean (even if they don’t explicitly say it) that women were at home taking care of the children and people of color knew their place in the social hierarchy. Nostalgia is rooted in a politics shared by anti-choice legislation and discriminatory policy — and in this sense, it is decidedly out of fashion and unsexy.
But the overt racism of social conservatives isn’t what makes nostalgia uncomfortable to me. It’s the peddling of nostalgia through high-culture, hipster remakes of certain eras. The so-called high-art subcultural obsession with the style of the 1950s and ’60s, no matter how ironic, always made me wonder if people actually knew what life was like then, specifically for women and people of color. Through that lens, it always felt tone deaf and slightly offensive.”