"I Like Ike"?
Okay. But I like icons even better — and that's why I'm mad about "Mad Men."
The AMC series, set at the tail end of the Eisenhower Era and shadowing the CREEPing importance of Nixon's beard shadow in the Big Debate and whether JFK had catholic appeal to win the election, has been a summer of love for nostalgia nerds who recall a time when watching a woman get her tush pinched on a TV series was considered cute and would not get the perpetrator pinched — and pummeled in court — as it would today.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Well, hell, yes, there was something wrong with that.
Which is why "Mad Men" — a vituperous valentine shot by an over-Scotched Cupid in a wrinkled Arrow shirt — is history filtered not through hysteria but informed hindsight. As it depicts the advertising giants of Madison Avenue and their street scents — always smelling out the next big deal, if not nosing about the buxom babes at the water cooler — it also is a pulsating playback on the platitudes and prejudices that passed for "personality."
The jester of the early '60s who could get a rise out a co-worker's tight dress is the jerk today who gets a dressing down and a wrung neck from the boss … if he's lucky.
But what the Thursday-night series — concluding tonight but renewed for a second season — does best is take a billboard out on bias, showing, with religious fervor, how "Auntie Semitism" was kissin' kin to those never willing to cry uncle when it came to giving up their homegrown hatred of Jews.
It is with a clarity and conscience rarely seen on today's TV –one mastered by creator Matthew Weiner — that Jew-baiting and hating is so openly discussed in the close confines of the Mad Men's master class of classic cunning, where the stabs in the back show that Jews do bleed like everyone else, after all.
Of course, Shylock would never be given the key to the kingdom of cutthroat Mad Men, whose pound of flash is worth its weight in gall. Shylock would be locked out — unless, of course, he shaved, took a bath and made the sign of the cross so he wouldn't be double-crossed by his new Christian brethren.
But looking back, one is bemused how the characters — how dapper partner Don Draper curtains off his own scenario of stereotypes when falling for a prospective Jewish client whom his co-workers feel would be better served at a Jewish "shop" — have created their own shop of horrors without realizing it. It all makes you wonder: Are these the real Wonder Years little Kevin never knew about?
From ash to ash — as cigarettes are lit up with abandon and then abandoned — these ad- men add up what is important in life: The Bottom Line, whether from a cigarette account or the silky silhouette of Peggy's plump walk-away view.
And as far as those Jews are concerned … well, getting that Israeli tourism account would account for big bucks. But are "real" people really crying out to visit the Wailing Wall?
Surely, they'll all get their comeuppance come the second season. But for now, it eerily etches a past in which father didn't necessarily know best, but may have been a bigot instead.
And his little princess was the one gabbing about those spoiled Jewish American Princesses she was competing with for grades.
A close friend of mine, to whom I introduced the show, and with whom I shared 1960s' minutes of gossip and girl-gaping at the time, is carried back to the feeling he once had that Jews were far from being in the driver's seat at the time; indeed, they were lucky to ride the bumper cars.
He remembered getting into a minor fender-bender in his father's decade-old Dodge on City Avenue as the other car's driver jumped out of his new Cadillac to see the damage.
This was no limo liberal he came across; the damage was minor, the WASP's sting — a deigning response — ran deeper. If Matthew Weiner had been on hand at that moment, he could have captured it for his series 40 years later to best illustrate the condescension of religious classicism, in which the bimah and the pew were never meant to share a segment on MySpace.
The beauty and the bane of this terrific TV show on AMC is that this shows the actual truth and consequences of the time, a real look at real emotions schooled in savagery, not civility, where hurt was part of the herd mentality — when people were thinking at all.
"Jews" was something the Mad Men mixed in with their whiskey cocktails, but would never mix with at cocktail parties. It was part and parcel of the parsimony — the stinginess of concern one held for another's feelings, especially those FOB — fresh off the bimah.
That "great piece" the Mad Men menacingly chatter about, like boys playing with their first copy of Playboy, eventually gave way to relative peace among the sexes. At the intersection of lust and libido cornered by such hits as "Sex and the City," they at last have learned the meaning and importance of stop signs from the opposite sex.
As for anti-Semitism … swastikas still stick out as close as the nearest cornfield, proving that uprooting prejudice is more problematic than planting it.
So craftily creating an arena for unctuous admen and their anxiety-addled ambitions, "Mad Men" has been a dream critical success — and rightfully so — for AMC, all the while serving as a reminder of how the era of dark and dirty digs was one noisome nightmare for the ADL.