5 months since posting! Where has the broad been? Fortunately, for my sake, there are not enough followers that it matters! Phew! Yet another bullet dodged.
While I could definitely post at length about the perils of creative ennui, I shan’t trouble at the moment. Why? Because a bandwagon rattles by, and I feel compelled, nay, driven, to alight upon it. My facebook icon says it all: like absolutely every single other person who’s ever worked in anything remotely like advertising, I am on the Mad Men Love Train.
Admitting the above is something akin to liking Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight. Does that stop me from writing a lengthy exegesis of the show? Are you kidding? I’m in advertising! Bloviating is a muscle.
To my credit, I did manage to avoid this gorgeously-executed soap opera throughout the first two seasons. Logically, the last thing anyone in advertising would want to see is a show that glorifies the profession. It sounded like a retro-cool version of late season Thirty Something, something I feel one should avoid at all costs, partly because everybody on it is so damn smug and partly because I just fucking hate that show. Hey, I’m just like those people who boycott movies without seeing them! Being a reactionary is fun.
It was the Don Draper’s Guide to Women parody that turned the corner for me.
I would so love to embed this in the page, but for some reason it’s not working, so here’s the link
Since the show could make fun of itself – something I had never heard anyone do, what with fans routinely discussing it in the same hushed tones reserved for That Obama Speech – I decided I could deign it with my presence. O lucky show! And of course the fact that Jon Hamm should be named Jon Catnip or perhaps Jon I. Candy sealed the deal. Because that guy is hot.
The show has, of course, not disappointed. The obvious and constant Message – gee, the early 60s kind of sucked in a lot of ways what with all the repression and misogyny and weird ideas about kids and life-threatening habits like 12 cocktails before getting behind the wheel of a gaz guzzling beast – is served up as dry as those martinis that everyone keeps sucking down. (Show, you make it SO easy to avail oneself of the witty and oh-so-appropriate cliche. No wonder creatives love you.) The general spirit of self-loathing that permeates pretty much every episode is bracing and grown-up, way beyond the adolescent self-important suffering and whingeing that permeate pretty much every aspect of contemporary culture at large.
One of the brilliant things that the writers do is show that, while Don’s take on The Way Things Work is filled with uncanny awesomeness, the ads that Sterling Cooper routinely whips out epitomize banality, a sort of graphic Teflon that slides right past your eyes and brain and into consumer oblivion. Peggy’s line for Belle Jolie lipstick was cute – “Mark Your Man” – but it’s clear every time a fabulous New SC Campaign is unveiled that it would fit nicely, seamlessly into any of those giant 11 x 14 magazines of the time – and that absolutely no one would remember it. In the season 1 finale, Don’s insanely beautiful pitch for the Kodak slide carousel brings you to tears – and then the ad is revealed, with one of those generic, bland, barely post-50s illustrations and way too much copy.
One could argue that consumers read more 50 years ago (they did) and that ideas and stories were more important (maybe, though the show wittily points out that Irving Stone was the J.K. Rowling of his day; so much for an elevated culture). But it’s no accident that Don Draper and the other Powers on the SC Throne are so flummoxed by the iconic VW ads of Doyle Dane Bernbach. Those ads were the game-changing ones, and you can bet that when the show moves to late 1964, DDB’s “Daisy” will come in and deliver a can of whupass. Watch it here.
What the SNL parody points to, and what seems to be missed by a lot of the Season 3 hype, what with Drink Like You’re Don/Cut Your Bangs Like Peggy contests sprouting up around Manhattan, is that the days of Sterling Cooper are gone and That Is Darn Good. Everyone on the show lives a lie, as is only right given the line of work. There’s a wonderful tension between dreams and lies that fuels the series, and the writers do a spectacular job of keeping the audience off balance. Just when you like Joan for being tough, she reveals herself to be Bull Connor in a cantilevered bra. Just when Roger has completely grossed you out by either riding a girl in her underwear like she’s a horse or puking up oysters or just general creepiness, he calls Pete “Paul” on purpose and you have to love him. After 2 seasons of Pete winning the Character You Want to Punch More than Any Character in History title hands down, you start to think maybe he’s not such a complete hemorrhoid after all. Just when you love Don for being the awesomeness that is Don, he acts like a complete dick (though of course, you still want to make out with him). These folks are real, and the show’s thesis is ballsy: that brilliant minds still produce mediocre work, that lies ruin lives even as they make certain lives, maybe most of them, possible.
Fast forward to 2055 and no doubt someone will make a dead-on satire about the madcap ad world of the early 21st century. Given 50 years and an equally brutal filter, it might be worth watching.
Especially if Jon Hamm reproduces. Because that guy is hot.