Monday, May 18, 2015

The Ad Man. Behind blue eyes.

“Mad Men” could easily have been forgettable, derivative, nostalgic, exploitive, superficial. Instead, it’s a great American novel that just happens to be a TV show. More specifically: it’s the great American novel about the 1960s that nobody ever wrote.

I used to wonder about that, back in the 1960s and ’70s. Why doesn’t anybody write a novel that really captures the 1960s? Well, gee. Great novels were written in the 1960s. Great novels about the 1960s, not so much.

With the advantage of hindsight and incipient decrepitude, I see the problem.

A 1960s novel doesn’t work from the perspective of a hippy, flower child, rock and roller or other mutant. It works from the perspective of the generation being replaced. It works from the perspective of Don Draper,  in other words. The adman, behind blue eyes.

And, yes, as we all know, ad men were excoriated back then.

Yeah, man. The Madison Avenue mentality, man. Like, first they alienate you, then they sell you stuff, you know? They brainwash you so, like, if you’re a man, you have to use Right Guard to be a man. Or wear a Maidenform bra to be a woman, or whatever. Like, the products you buy define your identity.

OK, let’s follow this logic …

As it is written in the unwritten hipster Bible, the consumer mentality is the root of all evil. Ad men created that mentality!

They’re the root of the root of all evil!

To a hipster, selling out is the unforgiveable sin.

But it’s one thing to sign the devil’s contract. It’s another thing to be the devil who wrote the fine print.

Which is exactly what the devils in the advertising profession do.

This idea crops up in untold satires. It’s the root of comedian Bill Hicks’ admonition that anyone ever involved with advertising or marketing should kill themselves. If you’re avant garde, a hatred of advertising comes with the territory.

Creator Matthew Weiner acted like none of that ever existed. He made his adman hero a freaking poet. And created a complex meditation on authenticity that I’ve written about at length before.
Which just so happens to be the great American novel about the 1960s that nobody ever wrote.
Which is not to say he was unaware of the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the hipster community. Just that he was able to put it out of his mind …

Until the end. The final episode.

When Weiner jumped feet first into the final contradiction.

The bohemian/hipster ethos defines self outside society as an atomized, non-conformist free spirit living in absolute existential authenticity as evidenced by fearless self-expression and no cop-outs, bullshit, false fronts or repression whatsoever. This free spirit doesn’t need to buy stuff to prove it exists. It doesn’t need to join the Army or the men in the grey flannel suits or any other mindless herd.

Sure, Mr. or Ms. Freespirit doesn’t need to. Right on.

Ah, but they can be part of a Woodstock-type tribe—free people can get together, not out of fear or conformity, but a freely chosen participatory koinonia—a genuine community without fascist repression, man.

Sure they can, said Don Draper.

And, along the way, they can buy the rock albums and blue jeans and soft drinks that show they belong to the community of the cool.

Which is why, in an insanely brilliant epiphanic synechdoche …

Weiner would have us believe …

That Don Draper dreamed up the “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” ad.

In which a multicultural family of joy stands on a hilltop singing a song of fellowship and lifting Coca Colas to the sky.

The point is so brilliant I shouldn't have to spell it out. But I will anyway ...

Don Draper invented the 1970s.

It’s so !@# brilliant I want to punch myself in the face.

Or drink a Coca Cola.

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