Eight Miles High with Roger Sterling

by Michael Potemra


MAD MEN SPOILERS AHEAD: There is something sweetly poignant about the Mad Men character’s uncomplicatedly romantic embrace of LSD: We know, with our benefit of hindsight, that this cultural development did not end well for many people who participated in it. But Roger’s experience so far rings true to the period, and he is indeed not even the most famous conservative to become an LSD enthusiast: The prominent conservative writer and socialite (and friend of WFB) Clare Boothe Luce was quite devoted to it.


Also, it’s interesting that, in this episode, a single solitary LSD experience led directly, causally, to the breakup of a family. If a social scientist at a conservative think tank had outlined a similar scenario in a nonfiction work, he would have been accused of peddling hysteria. But the writers of Mad Men have earned the right to do things denied to ordinary mortals — even to write storylines that would be dismissed as reactionary alarmism if they came from conservative intellectuals. (As WFB would have said, Quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi.) In any case, the underlying truth is generally acknowledged: Various forms of behavior are in fact correlated. What we disagree about is the value judgments about the various behaviors. (Behavior X may be correlated with bad behavior Y, but that does not settle the question of whether behavior X is entirely bad and to be discouraged. Its correlation with Y does not exhaust its moral and social significance.)

NOTE: This post has been revised and expanded since original posting, to make clearer the point about how art can address uncomfortable truths in a way that encounters less resistance than when social science talks about the same issues.