In class last week, we talked about the prevalent idea that the Stonewall riots brought an almost dormant gay culture “out of the closet,” so to speak, and how George Chauncey’s Gay New York counters by saying that this culture existed all along. Mad Men‘s portrayal of homosexuality in 1960s New York City agrees with Chauncey.
Kurt’s open sexuality acts a foil to the repressed Sal. Neither man’s homosexuality is assumed by the other ad men, and they react in shock and disgust when they learn about Kurt, showing Sal the reaction he might receive if he admitted his. Sal’s flamboyant character is attributed not to his sexuality but instead to his creative and artistic background – an interesting contrast to our interpretations of flamboyancy today.
Both characters are distinctly European. Kurt is Eastern European, and as his friend Smitty defends him later in the scene, saying sexuality is “different in Europe.” Sal is Italian (his full name is Salvatore Romano).
Their generational differences do provide a stark contrast, as Sal is older and perhaps responding to the homophobia of McCarthyism and the American dream of a house in the suburbs with a perfect family, while Kurt is younger and more liberated. Their social differences also define them: Sal is newly married and entrenched in the womanizing and materialism of corporate America culture, while Kurt attends Bob Dylan concerts. As one blog says, Kurt’s “openness about his sexuality marks an enormous gap between his and Sal’s generations, and serves to further accentuate the chasm between Sal’s internal reality and one he has constructed and projected externally.”