02 September 2010

Mad Men: Some Thoughts

I've been watching Mad Men lately. Cicily and I, neither slaves to timeliness, have been working our way through the first season, which first aired in 2007-08.

So here are some comments about those early episodes.

The very first episode showed our protagonist, Don Drapper, trying to come up with a new advertising slogan for Lucky Stripes, which is under attack (along with the rest of the industry) as consciousness begins to dawn in some quarters that the product might not be entirely healthy.

This episode had some amusing scenes with a severe looking woman whose accent is, I think, supposed to be Viennese. She represents the Research department of the agency, and she believes in Thanatos. The fact that cigarettes could kill you might make them more appealing in a Freudian way, and the ads should play to that, she thinks. Don shoots this down, though an underling pitches it to the clients anyway, and they shoot it down.

Don finally comes up with "It's toasted!" as the slogan. This, in fact, was a historic Lucky Stripe slogan. "It's toasted to taste even better." I think in reality Larry Tate got started that way.

A few episodes later, Don is supposed to come up with a campaign to get American Jews to vacation in Israel. The prospective tour promoters came to him because they understood he had come up with a killer campaign to get tourists to Rio de Janiero. He asks, "Do you have a mountain with a statue of Jesus on top? That helped us with Rio."

Anyway, since there don't seem to be a lot of Jews in Don's social circles, he calls the one Jew he does know and pumps her for ideas. She is understandably put off by being taken as a token of the Chosen here.

All the pitching and strategizing generates dialog that firmly locates us in 1960. This was, after all, the year that Israeli operatives captured Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, as Draper's poorly-chosen confidante mentions.

Some of the efforts to allude to 1960 are confusing. Drapper's philandering boss invites his hot secretary to take a Caribbean jaunt with him for the weekend. She turns him down, saying "I don't care if it's Cuba. I can't go." Of course, there had just been a revolution in Cuba, but I'm not sure how that fact fits into this context. And I speak as an expert -- I've seen Godfather II about 20 times.

Some allusions are just plain wrong. One character says to another, "You know what they say? the medium is the message." 'They' weren't saying this yet. That phrase was popularized by Marshall McLuhan in the book Understanding Media, published in 1964. I suppose maybe this is all taking place in an alternative universe where McLuhan wrote that book sooner.

Still: the show is a lot of fun.

No comments:

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.