Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mad Men: A Television Program About Advertising

As usual, Amanda Marcotte has a number of insightful comments on the latest developments on Mad Men, but I think she gets a little ahead of the known facts and unduly narrows the focus with some of this:

At the end of the episode, you get the impression that the biggest losses are his ability to control his situation and his mental capacities. We discover that, since he’s really been hitting the sauce, he’s basically not had a really good idea since they started SCDP. On the contrary, his big Clio-winning coup was actually created by Peggy, who gets no credit for her work. And worse, Don gets wasted and steals a crap idea from a crap applicant that he then has to hire ... This is all coming to a head. Peggy is the creative force holding the agency together, and Don is taking all the credit. There is much love and respect between them, but this cannot last. I predict that eventually, Peggy will have to suck up all her love for Don and push him out of his job so she can take it. [emphasis mine]
These rumors of the death of Don Draper's creativity have been exaggerated. Just a week ago Don conceived and executed the ersatz ad caper that brilliantly succeeded in dragging down a competitor and winning the favor of Honda. That was not Peggy's idea, though she saw its value and contributed to its success.

As for the Clio-winning campaign, we have only Peggy's assertion that it was her idea; we do not know this to be true since we were not shown its inception. As she made this assertion outside the presence of Don, Pete Campbell, or anyone else within the firm's inner circle of decision-makers, it struck me as little more than overblown grousing. Even the most intelligent and grounded of us -- surely this fits Peggy -- will vent now and then, and even succumb to envy.

The drama is wider than a power struggle between Don and Peggy, though that is part of the dynamic. In an office filled with creative and headstrong personalities, we see conflicts over the origination of ideas, especially ideas that come to be widely acclaimed in public. This is among the basic, everyday hazards of the advertising field -- and by extension, all creative fields -- and Mad Men is very much about the business of highlighting and dramatizing these hazards.

Marcotte's comments about the "crap idea" miss another irony endemic to doing business in a creative field. Yes, within SCDP, everyone seems to agree that the idea Don blurted out after having borrowed it from the hack applicant is "crap." And yet, in business terms, a crap idea is a great idea if the client loves it and wants to pay money for it, and in this instance, Life cereal is smitten and ready to throw money at "cure for the common breakfast." We have seen this tension before, most vividly dramatized earlier in the season when Don fired Jantzen Swimwear as clients for being unimaginative prudes who were afraid of their own customers. The fact is, creative people conceive and develop advertising campaigns for people who are not creative, so part of the job -- or at minimum, a common occupational hazard -- is the need to swallow one's high-minded disdain and deposit the check. Don has evidently learned that lesson. 

Don and Peggy are bound for more conflict, but it's too early to declare their relationship zero-sum or otherwise hopeless. Throughout the series, Don and Peggy have seen mirrors of themselves in one another -- their pasts, their aspirations, their talents -- and that has forged a bond that will not break easily. As I see it, they still share far more in common as brilliant, creative, forward-thinking minds trapped, in varying ways, in the constraints of work -- not to mention those of the social and the personal -- that demand painful compromises. These compromises remain, if nothing else, a common enemy against which they align.

1 comment:

Shane said...