Saturday, December 4, 2010

Simpler Times

Things were once simpler. Rap music was still in its incipient stages, refrains from cigarette ads its elemental precursors:



Children were given to fits of laughter, as were their monstrous dolls:



"Men of medicine" had a clear preference for brand of cigarette:



There was more than enough polar ice for all the cartoon penguins, and they loved their cigarettes. What's more, lip-synching was sloppily done and quietly ignored, much like presidential philandering:



Permit me to state the obvious: the brilliance of Mad Men is in how thoroughly it dramatizes the life and times of the people behind such advertising campaigns as these, and by dramatizing them, explodes their simplicity. It's a Nixon-goes-to-China applied to the USA's idealized post-war self-conception: if there is so much turbulence, uncertainty, and pain within and among the very Madison Avenue operators who gave us such ad campaigns as those seen here, surely the rot -- the rot of complexity, ambiguity, and fear -- was always and everywhere present, and it was only through massive feats of will, self-delusion, and ideology that anyone ever believed otherwise.

Through all the bold, confident declarations and broad, unstinting smiles, life in those days was much like life today. Mad Men shows it was something like this:



Only a few hours later -- as it might go in a reality we would recognize from our day-to-day but not typically from television, certainly not from advertisements -- the tone changed markedly. We would recognize, in kind if not in particulars, the added complexity that these two characters are, and know themselves to be, soul-mates of a kind, each the mirror of the other. When Don berates Peggy, he is very directly addressing an important part of himself and his own failings; and when Peggy consoles Don, and decides to grant him concessions she would not grant to others, she is bestowing these affections on aspects of herself.

Even in 1965 -- yes, even in 1965! -- times were far from simple.

It is also obvious to say that dolls should never be allowed to mimic a human laugh. There ought to be a law.

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