1. The American Movie Classics series Mad Men is set in 1960s New York and follows the lives of the men and women of Madison Avenue, the U.S. center of advertising. Created by Matthew Weiner, a writer and producer on The Sopranos, the series opens in 1960 and centers on Don Draper, the Creative Director of the fictional advertising agency, Sterling Cooper. The program, which finished its second season in the fall of 2008, has won three Golden Globe Awards and six Emmys. The series stars Jon Hamm, Elizabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, January Jones and John Slattery. [return to page 1 of essay]
2. Karl Marx, "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844," The Marx-Engels Reader (New York: W.W. Norton & Company), 74.
3. Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1995), 23.
4. Appears as a title card at the start of Mad Men, Season 1, Episode 1 (Smoke Gets In Your Eyes).
5. Each week Mad Men begins with a silhouetted figure of a man stepping into an office and putting down his briefcase to the sound of slowly descending violins. As he contemplates the far wall, the office dissolves and the man begins to fall through a cityscape of gleaming skyscrapers. Updated lounge music tinkles along with the descent, offering a jaunty counterpoint to the melancholia of the violins. Animated billboards dominate the landscape, featuring mostly images of women, or various parts of women. The man is reflected in them as he falls. The buildings dissipate, leaving a sea of floating advertisements that rush forward. The figure continues his fall, his jacket flapping in the wind. One expects the character to land broken on the street, but instead he dissolves and is found again, sitting comfortably, his arm slung over the back of a couch, a cigarette dangling between his fingers. It is a representation of Debord's world of the spectacle, "the commodity contemplating itself in a world of its own making."
Is this the silhouette of Don Draper? Is it the expression of Draper's worldview, the imagined dream world of an alienated image worker who creates and consumes his own dreams? Are we witnessing his world crumbling? Or does the sequence represent the character's fear, that the illusion he has created will be shattered and he will be discovered as a fraud? Is it a representation of a splintered reality dominated by images, a world which briefly dissolves into just advertising and nothing more, no character, no landscape, just image? Or is it our own experience of a fracturing world? Seen weekly, from the vantage point of early 2009, it is so easy to read this sequence as a comment on recent events, on towers crumbling, banks failing, a society unraveling.
Ultimately, the sequence is destabilizing, it removes the floor, cracks the landscape and, like a trip through a time tunnel, lands in a more stable place, the world of the past, where everything has already happened. But it's only a dream of stability, one that shows us what dreams are made of, or at least where our current information-economy dreams were born.
6. Theodor Adorno, "Tough baby," Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life (London: Verso), 45.
7. Michel Foucault, "Afterword: The Subject and Power," Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press), 225.
8. Michel Foucault, "Space, Knowledge, and Power," The Foucault Reader (New York: Pantheon Books), 24.[return to page 2 of essay]
Adorno, Theodor, "Tough baby," Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life (London: Verso)
Debord, Guy, The Society of the Spectacle (New York: Zone Books, 1995)
Foucault, Michel, "Afterword: The Subject and Power," Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press)
Michel Foucault, "Space, Knowledge, and Power," The Foucault Reader (New York: Pantheon Books)
Marx, Karl, "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844," The Marx-Engels Reader (New York: W.W. Norton & Company)
Packard, Vance, The Hidden Persuaders (New York: Random House, 1957)
Riesman, David, The Lonely Crowd: Revised edition, A Study of the Changing American Character (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001)
Wilson, Sloan, The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (New York, Da Capo Press, 2002)