FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Mad Men: Not the Real Thing

Wow. I’m kind of devastated. I have been wrong about Mad Men all along. Well, since I started actually watching it, that is.

Turns out the show ISN’T essentially a critique of the conformist, sexist, and, (most essentially) deceitful (viz. the lie of Don Draper’s identity at the genetic center of the story) world of advertising and the commercial culture it generates. It’s an appreciation.

I’m sure many reading this might be saying “duh” about now. And maybe with good cause. That’s what I assumed it was when it started, and that’s why I didn’t watch the first two seasons. But, there was SO much hoopla about it, and much of it coming from good friends and others I respected, I gave it a try.

And I was really impressed. Not just by the quality of craft across the board—that stuff seldom wins me over when it’s in the service of bad content– but by the chillingly insightful critical, damning view of that world and the society it epitomized that was compelling in almost every scene.

OK, I had, from the start, no doubt that many, maybe most, maybe nearly all, of the people watching think Don Draper, though a lying, cheating scumbag in so many ways, is really COOL, since he’s such a sharp dressing hunk and especially since he’s so talented at what he does. But it was obvious to me, crystal clear that the show was really about the corruption and hollowness at the center of his soul, and, ultimately, about the evil at the heart of the enterprise of advertising. Wrong.

But in a recent Hollywood Reporter interview, creator of the show, Matt Weiner makes it unmistakably clear that I understood the show better before I had watched it.

In it, he tells us the famous “I’d like to buy the world a coke” ad that closes the series, the ad that appropriated (back in the day, the term we used was “co-opted”) the generational struggle for human dignity, internationalism, and human connection in order to enhance the image of a company that privatizes water around the globe, poisoning children and adults with sugar, caffeine, and chemical additives in order to transfer massive wealth from the poor around the world to the few rich in the metropolitan centers is “the greatest ad of all time.” (that’s a good thing, to him). And the only criticism he’s heard of it is that its CORN, a charge he finds despicable. After all, he tells us, “snark” is what’s wrong with the world today.

When I saw that ad at the end of this series I was chilled to the bone. I thought it was absolutely brilliant. I thought this really brings home the enduring evil power of advertising. This man (Draper) hits absolute bottom, finds the deepest truth in the utter emptiness of the lie he has been living and, finally finds, through the flakey “human potential movement,” of all things, emotional connection and empathy. And this astounding breakthrough enables him to… what? Change his life, we wonder? Turn away, finally, from the life and the lie he has been living? In that moment I hoped, “NO! That would be false, saccharine.”

But just when I thought the show would lose it’s ruthlessly clearheaded honesty, it comes up with a masterstroke of genius: He employs the “insight of self-actualization” (what was, after all, the most privileged, self regarding and self-serving tendency in the 60’s counterculture),   to create one of the most monstrous lies ever concocted by the poisonous corporate culture that exerts such a powerfully negative influence over the collective mind of humanity. “What a glorious, powerful insight and indictment!” I thought. One of the darkest, bravest conclusions ever.

Pure projection, it turns out. It’s uplifting, it turns out. The lie is the truth, it turns out. It doesn’t matter what crimes we commit, if we FEEL like we are motivated by love and connection, that’s …the Real Thing, it turns out.

The final scene, the final show, and one must conclude the entire series has always been a glorification and appreciation of all the lies, the sexism (we can discuss the great feminist triumph of the story arcs of Peggy and Joan as they heroically reach the heights of empowered corporate liberation at another time, perhaps), the venality, the avarice and greed. We lay these “imperfections” bare with such stunning insight and artistry only to better perversely savor their fetid pleasures. Suddenly, Katherine Bigelow and Mark Boal don’t look so bad. Well, OK, they’re still awful.

I supposes I could take the post modern academic approach and say it’s meaning is only in the text and what I took it to mean is just as valid as the creator’s intention, but… frankly, my dear, I feel like an idiot.

Jeremy Pikser is a screenwriter (“Bulworth” “War, Inc.”) living in New York City.

More articles by:
September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail