“Perpetuating the Lie”

I am not cool. I will never be cool again. Now, I know what you’re thinking: he’s a cool dresser, he watches cool shows, he listens to cool music, how is he not cool? Because advertisers tell me that I’m not. We internalize advertising, became disciples of the arbiters of cool, with this idea of “cool” becoming the most powerful defining element of our culture. We’re manipulated in ways that we may not even realize: from buzz marketers/street snitches, people paid to stir up interest in a movie or artist, the kind who go into chat rooms and on message boards to talk something up and generate word of mouth. All at the hands of Mad Men.

Mad Men refers to the marketing geniuses of Madison Avenue and follows the boardroom and bedroom antics of the Sterling Cooper ad execs. Enter the painstakingly researched world of the late 1950s/early 1960s. A world of chattering typewriters, brylcreem, fedoras, scotch conference meetings, chain-smoking, conical bras, women aspiring mostly to be housewives when not the object of sexist/be seen and not heard behavior, black people present mostly as elevator operators. It’s an exploration of an America that was, filled with prosperity and hope for some, and glass ceilings and the impetus of change for others.

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And you know what happiness is? … it’s freedom from fear.” –Don Draper (Jon Hamm)

The show features a sprawling cast but revolves around the machinations of debonair executive, Don Draper. His worldview is a simple one: “You’re born and you die alone and this world just drops a lot of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts … I’m living like there’s no tomorrow because there isn’t one.” He is the perfect Ayn Randian hero: self-interested, without sentiment to those who depend on his hard work, strong, productive, and reasonable. And ultimately … empty. He’s a man of secrets and false identities who is so independent, he doesn’t realize the importance of relationships.

“So we’re supposed to believe that people are living one way and secretly thinking the exact opposite? That’s ridiculous.” –Salvatore Romano (Bryan Batt)

Mad Men “perpetuate the lie”. They invent want, playing on a lust of the eyes, the things of the world to be desired and possessed. Always the newest, the shiniest, the latest. Endless demand, never satiated, always searching for something to fill the hole in their lives. Ultimately … vain.

The advertising media is like an empire in constant search for kingdoms to colonize. The indoctrination into consumerism begins young, ideally creating lifelong consumers (targeting potential as early as the age of four, to get them while their minds are still unformed commercially) in an attempt to make them brand sensitive. The corporate machine processes pop culture and spits it out, with commercialism feeding the popular diet: reflecting culture, exaggerating it, raising the bar in the name of relevance, then regurgitating it for easy digestion. Creating a need for further reflection, continuing a downward cycle of reflecting and reinforcing culture. Raising cogs in the capitalist machine, addicts to consumerism. It’s systematic exploitation for the sake of profit.

Slick, sexy, smart, stylized, the show demands the viewer’s patient attention.The characters are suitably complex and the episodes quite literate. In other words, our intelligence is respected, the storylines character driven in their complexity: it’s The Sopranos set in an office rather than the mob (no coincidence with show creator, Matthew Weiner, having once been a writer for The Sopranos).

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