Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mad men

Well it looks like it's time to bitch about Mad Men again. You can't escape the advertising in papers and magazines, radio, tv or cable.

When The Office traveled to America it had to be sweetened for our hayseed audiences. The UK Office was a dark comedy-drama about the grief of the working place and the desperate ways people fought to find at least some dignity and meaning in the grind of their meaningless jobs. And nobody was more desperate than the buffoonish boss played by Gervais. There were moments in that show when you were paralyzed by embarrassment for him. There were glimpses of his grief that made you want to look away.

I like the American Office. it's a lot of fun. But it has no real point of view. Even the worst of the characters are cuddly and funny. Even the worst of the situations can be answered with a gentle laugh or sigh of exasperation. This is sit-com land after all.

There are few more insidious institutions anywhere in the world than advertising and its bunk mate public relations. Cigarettes, medicines that kill, politicians who would destroy our Constitution, unsafe cars, home products that do permanent damage to children...The express purpose of advertising is to deceive. To make good products even better and to make bad products palatable.

So how does Mad Men deal with all this? By turning it into a sexy soap opera that wraps even its sins in romance.

Many of you are too young to remember when the automobile manufacturers got together with their agencies to create advertising and public relations that warned of "the DANGERS of wearing seat belts." Yes, folks, it's not that the manufacturers didn't want to lay out the extra cash for the seat belts. Oh, no, they were only thinking of you and those scary dangerous seat belts certain Communist factions in this country wanted installed in cars. All this was being done in the same years Mad Men is set. Now THAT would be an interesting storyline.

Mad Men may be good soap opera. I've only watched it twice and thought it was stagy and arch but that's just my opinion. I could well be wrong.

But what I'm not wrong about is how gutless a show it is. Just as the Americans turned The Office into sit-com we turned advertising into a cool biz where you get to wear nifty clothes and have people kiss your ass all day. After all a good share of George W. Bush's people came for advertising, didn't they? How could you go wrong with folks like that?


Christopher said...

I have to be honest I don't really get that out of Mad Men. I think that all of the characters come off as desperate and small.

They are one step away from oblivion. I also don't feel any great affinity towards the ad agency. It starts off sort of noble but slowly becomes everything we hate about advertising.

Just my take.

Anonymous said...

I watched a couple episodes. Disappointment. The "ad men" always seemed to be jumping into bed with another man's wife or snaking the secretaries.

Ed Lynskey

Darren Mitchell said...

H.R. Haldeman and Ron Ziegler also came from advertising.

Anonymous said...

there's a great interview with Bryan Batt in nymag this week about the upcoming season: