A Brief Guide to Pop Culture in 1968

The sixth season of Mad Men premieres April 7. Mod styles and Jon Hamm’s (controversial) slim-fitting suit reflect the late 1960’s period the show is entering, estimated to be 1968. “[There is] anxiety that is created by all of these characters wondering why they are the way they are,” creator Matthew Weiner said of the upcoming episodes. “Maybe you’re a fraud. Maybe you’re facing all the bad things you’ve ever done in your life. But you are back in a place where you are the issue. In the first episode when someone says, ‘People will do anything to alleviate their anxiety,’ that’s what this season is about.” The theme is befitting of the buzzing time period.

This was the year of an idealistic generation marching in protest while the world’s struggles shaped the sociopolitical changes that would rock the years to come. The assassinations of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., brutal images from the Vietnam War on television, and a startling photo of a police chief general shooting a handcuffed Vietcong prisoner at point-blank range shocked the nation. African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists at the Olympic Games, Yale University admitted women for the first time (while women’s lib groups formed across America), and the summer of love would pave the way for Woodstock the following year. Movements were formed and crumbled as the world caught fire.

We took a look back at the year and all the biggest pop culture moments of 1968. See what clues, literary references, music, and madness awaits us in season six of Mad Men.



The top grossing films in the US in 1968 were:

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2. Funny Girl
3. The Love Bug
4. The Odd Couple
5. Bullitt

The Academy Award for Best Picture went to Carol Reed’s Oliver! — an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel about a an orphaned boy raised in a miserable London workhouse (also turned into a stage musical by Lionel Bart). Reed also won Best Director that year. Meanwhile, the Cannes Film Festival was canceled due to the turbulent student and wildcat strikes in Paris that almost crushed President Charles de Gaulle’s government. Paranoid movie classics Rosemary’s Baby, Planet of the Apes, and Night of the Living Dead hit theaters. The MPAA ratings system was introduced.