The TV series Mad Men did a great job of reminding the viewer all the ways things have changed since the ’60s. The kids riding––and crashing––around in the car with no seatbelts. The Drapers leaving both their picnic and all their garbage behind without even a second thought.

The Young People Don’t Know Anything scene is particularly cathartic for any person who has worked their way up through the ranks, gaining experience and expertise, only to find themselves replaced by a younger, cheaper employee.

The dismissal of youth culture hits its high point with Draper’s “It’s a fad!” line; which of course, couldn’t be further from the impending truth that Draper himself will (perhaps cynically) embrace by the show’s end.

Of course, the deference of youth culture has made a lot of people a lot of money. And it’s become a time-honoured way of keeping employee costs down by management who can’t tell the difference between the work of experienced professionals and that of earnest newbies.

In any case, there is so much more to Mad Men than just anachronisms. In this scene from s2e1 “For Those Who Think Young”, writer Matt Weiner shows he knows a thing or two about advertising, by having Draper deftly sum up the whole point of advertising. The client wants to be the needle in the haystack, not the haystack.

It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-the-profundity moment that had veteran copywriters applauding. At least this one did.

Miscellaneous notes about Mad Men

I’ll just jot down a couple of separate placeholder notes before I get around to posting a more complete discussion about storytelling themes.

1/. There are many movies and TV shows whose whole reason for being is to provide catharsis for the viewers. (even Mad Men itself briefly touches on this point). Movies like Zero Dark Thirty and American Sniper appear to offer viewers the feeling of closure in a bewildering post 9/11 world. Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing & The Newsroom construct synthetic surrogates of worlds where organisations still operate ethically in spite of the reality. More recently Netflix’ Designated Survivor offers the complete blue-pill haven of a functional and competent government for people unable to come to terms with the Trump presidency.

I am in the habit of watching shows mindfully. And I couldn’t help but notice the alluring pull of Mad Men’s fantasy world–– a time when advertising used to be done right. When clients didn’t have the first clue about advertising, and relied on experts to provide it for them. Did that time ever really exist?

2/. One way to interpret Mad Men is that Don Draper is America. A handsome, talented prodigy whose success is built on a lie; and who seems determined to squander his gifts on a life of excess and self destruction. Constantly presented with opportunities for redemption and authenticity; instead choosing to re-invent as a more sophisticated con-man willing to peddle dreams to the next generation.

Posted by Charley Holland

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