New York City has always been the essence of straight shootin’ and big drinkin’, but what was going on behind the bright lights and loud streets that are portrayed on Mad Men? New York City in the 1960's was a fast paced place, evident by it being the backdrop to an advertising firm in Mad Men. While it is said that New York is the city that never sleeps, New York City in the 1960's was slowing down, socially and economically.
As a result of a gradual population shift to the suburbs, much of NYC’s manufacturing industry migrated out of the city. The areas that once housed these manufacturing businesses became sources of crime and low-income settlement. Strikes became the most common form of garnering attention for a cause, like with the Transport Union Workers of America transit strike (1966) and the United Federation of Teachers strike over firings (1968). Socially, new issues were being brought to the forefront, like the gay rights movement. The Stonewall Riots (1969) were some demonstrations by the gay community against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, which catered to a gay clientele.
Great economic stress called for desperate means to obtain money for residents. In 1967, the city council of New York removed licensing requirements for its massage parlors, which led to an underground prostitution scene. Landlords in middle-class areas of Manhattan would lease their residences to pimps that would run prostitution rings in the buildings disguised as massage parlors. In a time of social change and economic depression, it seems that the long-lived institution of prostitution reverted people back to older, happier times.
Although many of the rising issues in New York City took place towards the later ‘60s and Mad Men focused on the early ‘60s, it is reasonable to say that Mad Men planted the seed for future portrayal of these issues. Many aspects of these social and economic issues can be seen in subtle ways in Mad Men. The population shift out of the city is depicted by every main character (besides Pete) since no one on the show actually lived in Manhattan. The constant asking of a bonus from multiple characters pulls into question if the staff was underpaid at the time. Salvatore’s abrupt departure from the show due to his refusal to admit his homosexuality and engage in a gay affair touches on the rising gay rights movement. Prostitution is a recurring theme on the show, but becomes obvious when Don and Roger are seen paying for women to sleep with them. Although Mad Men touches upon aspects of the changing city around the show, it never fully delves into the social and economic decay that clouded over New York City in the 1960's.