Action of classic soap operas, at least those with which I was familiar in the UK (Coronation Street, everyday story of working class folk in the north of England; Eastenders, everyday story of working class folk in London's East End; Emmerdale Farm an everyday story of country folk in Yorkshire for example) took place in the present day. Real world disasters and dramatic events had to be factored in in retrospect, if at all. Mad Men, an everyday story of advertising folk in New York is set in the 1960s. In Season 6, now showing, the year is 1968.....yes THAT dark and dreadful year for the USA! Matthew Wiener and his writers have the luxury of hindsight - long distance hindsight at that. They now are aware of how those dramas and tragedies of 1968 fit in to the pattern of action in ensuing years and decades. That fact is a good thing in some ways because, after all we're watching fiction, not fact; in other ways though, treatment of such events as the murder of Martin Luther King is necessarily going to be affected by "what we know now". It's something akin to revisionist history, I guess. Revisionist historians know how the story ended, those playing their parts during events in question didn't. Key factor!
Sunday's episode of Mad Men had MLK's murder as its set piece. I cannot say how true to life or how skewed the depiction of reactions of the Mad Men gang were. I was living in the UK at the time, in a small apartment, no TV, only a portable radio whose batteries blacked out regularly, and I seldom bought newspapers. My only source of news from the USA was from chat at the office with my boss or visitors from other departments. I have no memory at all of the reporting of MLK's murder, whereas I do still recall where I was when JFK was shot around five years earlier. I asked my husband if he could recall where he was when MLK was shot - he couldn't, but like me he had clear memories of where he was when JFK died.
Now, and for many years, Dr King's death has become such a key event in our consciousness, everyone, not only African Americans have seen and appreciated the full weight and worth of his teachings and speeches. So, if Mad Men did portray its characters' reactions differently from how they would truly have been, or if the writers felt uncertain, then it's easily understandable. In this episode there was hushed shock at a radio announcement during an advertising executives' gala dinner. There were people wondering next day whether offices should be closed as a mark of respect. The couple of fairly newly added African American cast members were shown, accurately I'm sure, in states of numb shock and despair. One secretary responded warmly to her female boss's hug, while another seemed coldly unable to respond to a similar show of condolence. In another scene lead character, Don Draper, took his son to the cinema to see Planet of the Apes as a distraction from the sadness of events that day. The now almost iconic final scene of that movie (y'all know it) added even more pathos for we viewers in 2013 than it would have in 1968: All the time it was... we finally really did it. [screaming] YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! OH, DAMN YOU! GODDAMN YOU ALL TO HELL! (camera pans to reveal the half-destroyed Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand).
What I craved immediately the episode drew to a close was to see Across the Universe again. I remembered the very same day in 1968 being a part of that movie too, but in a different context, and using songs written by those (Lennon, McCartney, Harrison) with personal knowledge of the dramatic 1960s years. So, as husband never refuses a chance to hear Beatles music, we watched our DVD once more. This is one scene from the film and aftermath of that fateful day in 1968:
Actors: Martin Luther (singing) and Jim Sturgess
Today, 30 April = 9th anniversary of the day Himself and I married in 2004, back in the UK. The civil ceremony was held in a room at the Town Hall of the coastal town where I then lived, and was streamed over the internet. My husband's family members, in the USA, were able to watch the proceedings over breakfast at 8am, in the UK it was 2pm. Just him, me, car driver and photographer who acted as our witnesses, that was the cast. No grand wedding, none of the usual fal-de-ral (never did go for any of that, even in my youth). The music I chose made up for other lack of grandeur:
Thanks for 9 lovely years....and counting, Anyjazz!