Mad Men Musings: Secrets and Lies

Posted by Rob Walker on August 20, 2007
Posted Under: Advertising,Entertainment,Mad Men musings,Reviews

The not-very-subtle theme of the most recent episode of Mad Men was secrets & lies — or, to say it more politely, “privacy.” Our (non)hero Don is not only juggling his boho girlfriend, suburban wife, and at least two other potential love interests, he also turns out to be living a plot-line right out of General Hospital: Secret identity, suddenly-appearing sibling, endless staring into space for dramatic effect, etc. No surprise, given all this, that he barely needs to bother brainstorming ideas for a banking client, suggesting that what the modern man of 1960 really needs is a “private” account. That is, a second set of books that he can conceal from the family, to fund his double life. All the fellow ad-men see the wisdom of this immediately.

The client does too — and in fact laughs with glee. Why? Because, he tells Don: Plenty of his customers are already doing this, “we just hadn’t figured out a way to charge them for it. “

Damn! Could this show be any more cynical? (I’m not even mentioning the sub-plot in which the junior exec is pimping out his wife so he can publish a short story — which he wants to do for reasons of office rivalry, not literary ambition.) Don’s skill seems to come from his hard-wired instincts for manipulating a consumer nation motivated largely by a desire to keep its tissue of lies together. Meanwhile, his corporate clients just want to monetize the delusions and duplicity of the masses, and find it hi-lar-ee-us when they succeed.

As always, this can all be (reassuringly) read as comment on the phony conformity of the 1950s and the soul-rot it concealed, soon to be washed away by that whole 1960s hoo-ha that I’ve read all about. Usually I’m skeptical of this line of thinking, since it’s often pretty easy to draw parallels between the persuasion industry depicted in the show, and the real one of today. But this time, I admit, I’m going to hide behind the hope that this was an episode about an America that doesn’t exist anymore. The only alternative would be to conclude that our era of Botox, premium denim, no-money-down jumbo mortgages, and self-promotional Web presences isn’t based on authentic self-expression, but on delusions that, like Don, we defend by hurling wads of cash at any threatening reality-based counter-evidence. Even I’m not that cynical.

[Complete Mad Men musings archive here.]

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

Is this week’s the last Mad Men episode of the season? Have you heard of anything beyond the first six? I’m not sure I’m into it enough to hang around for another season. But who knows? In the meantime, here’s this week’s Attention Deficit Theatre recap. They get better and better. Maybe I’ll just read these instead of watch the show.

Written By kelly on August 20th, 2007 @ 4:53 pm
Previous Post: