“Mad Men”, Seconal, and drug ads in the 1960s

April 9, 2012, 10:11 pm

Last night’s dark and disturbing “Mystery Date” episode of the the AMC series Mad Men suggests that this season’s plot may  touch on the role of recreational and life-style drugs — essentially uppers and downers — in the mid-1960s. A leitmotif that plays throughout the episode is the characters’ fascination about and dread of the at the time still-unsolved murder of 8 student nurses in Chicago on July 14, 1966. Especially frightened is Don Draper’s adolescent daughter Sally, whose step-grandmother Pauline gives her half a Seconal that renders her essentially comatose.

In an earlier episode this season there was a reference to the use of methamphetamine — still a legal prescription medication in the mid-1960s — as a diet drug. During this time, the marketing of amphetamines — as cures for depression, fatigue, and obesity — as well as barbiturates for sedation was rampant. An absolutely amazing sample of drug ads from this — and earlier — eras is available at the blog Pill Talk. Will Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce get involved with ad campaigns for prescription drugs?

To read my Emergency Medicine News column about the culture of amphetamine, click here.

Incidentally, “Mystery Date” — and episode obsessed with sex and violence — ended perfectly with The Crystals’ 1962 song “He Hit Me, (It Felt Like a Kiss)“. As other bloggers have pointed out, that song was produced by the now-convicted-woman-killer Phil Spector.

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