fantasy or real life?
about modern women’s fondness for 1960s ad-man Don Draper of TV’s “Mad Men.” The sangfroid! The urbanity! The well-tailored suits!
But long before actor Jon Hamm first slapped a fedora on his slicked-back hair, I’d begun my long-running love affair with the whole postwar vibe. So great is my fascination with Dior cocktail dresses, martini shakers and jazz standards that I’d be tempted to say I was a suburban Levittown housewife in a past life, if I believed in past lives.
I’m far from alone in my love of all things 1950s and 1960s, if Ottawa’s shopping scene is any indication. A stone’s throw from our house in Old Ottawa South, I could pick up groovy Eames chairs at Found Design, a reproduction jet-age lighting fixture at Mikaza Home and vintage Frank Sinatra LPs at Planet of Sound, if I felt so inclined. Further afield, the folks at Young Jane’s in the Byward Market or Ragtime in Centretown would happily sell me a vintage frock worthy of Grace Kelly. If I looked hard enough, I could probably find a lovingly restored 1959 Cadillac Eldorado convertible for sale—just the thing to drive around town while wearing a silk scarf over my bouffant ‘do.
Just thinking about it, I’m drifting away on a sea of nostalgia for times I never lived in. I can picture it now: days spent baking cookies in my pearls and high heels, weekends dancing the night away at Ricky Ricardo’s Tropicana Club, all the while madly swilling cocktails and smoking endless cigarettes…
And that’s where the fantasy comes screeching to a halt. I loathe the smell of cigarettes. High heels make my feet hurt. And while I love my pearls, I have no desire to wear them every day.
As Stephanie Coontz points out in her eye-opening book, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, studies have shown that human beings remember mainly the good things about the past as time goes by, and conveniently forget the unpleasant stuff. Sure, life looked swell for traditional, white-bread Ozzie and Harriet, but it wasn’t quite so easy in the real world for anyone who was gay, or black, or divorced. And, in fact, 25 percent of Americans lived in poverty in the 1950s. As Coontz drily points out, “Contrary to popular opinion, ‘Leave it to Beaver’ was not a documentary.”
And think about all the great things we have today that the Cleavers and the Drapers never dreamed existed: Thai takeout; yoga studios; independent women; civil rights of all descriptions; the Internet; high-definition television…
Ah, yes, HD TV. Now that I think of it, I’d much rather encounter Don Draper and his sexist cronies within the confines of our flat-screen television than in real life. When I’ve had it with his drunken womanizing, I can just switch it off and return to 2010. Which, of course, I’ll be waxing nostalgic about in 2050.