AMC’s Mad Men ended its third season a couple of weeks ago. For those who don’t know the show, it’s a peek inside a 1960’s advertising agency. It’s also an incredibly faithful depiction of a specific time and place, getting all the little details right, from period salt shakers to desk lamps and photocopiers. In addition to getting the physical details right, the show also gives us insight into the behaviors of the characters as they truly inhabit a different time, but a time not that long ago.
It’s those behaviors that evoke the greatest discussion, as viewers are able to assess actions that today we find shocking but, at the time, individuals don’t give a second thought to. Parents allow their children to play inside plastic dry cleaning bags. A family has a picnic in a park, then leaves their trash on the ground as they drive away. Perhaps more than the suits or hats or typewriters, it’s our differing view of the behavior that points out how far away those times are from today, despite only being 40 years distant.
It makes me wonder what behavior we indulge in today without a second thought that, in 30 or 40 years time, others will look at with shock and disgust: “How could they have done that?” Perhaps it’s cutting down virgin forests for extra-soft toilet paper. Maybe it’s airline travel without considering the carbon footprint. Or roses flown in from Peru.
Cultural norms can change over a generation. As new information, technologies, behaviors emerge what was once normal behavior eventually becomes marginalized, then fringe, then oddity. For a certain generation today, explaining that it was once part of a woman’s job to light men’s cigarettes on airline flights seems impossible to believe. Surely there are so many things wrong with that thought one must be making it up. But all you have to do is search Yahoo! Images to find the proof. And sometime in the very near future, folks will look back on us today and essentially say, “How could they?” Personally, I think they’ll be shocked by our flying produce across the world ensuring beautiful strawberries in New York in February. But I’d love to hear from you – what behavior of our present selves do you think future generations will be most shocked by?