I get a kind of childhood nostalgia from watching AMC’s hit show Mad Men. It reminds me of growing up in the business, and the of vacuous bankrupt kind of worldviews that are so painstakingly reproduced every single day in these kinds of environments. I had a good recollection of this feeling when I was on my last job. I was standing at a cocktail party and people were praising the IDF. I had this amazing reflex where I was able to successfully crush any meaningful emotional reaction I would usually have to such conversation with the help of alcohol and smiling. What takes considerable physical effort on a day-to-day happened automatically and without much thought. Welcome to the business.
So I like Mad Men for personal reasons. Sure, they have good writers and an attractive cast, but I really feel like integral parts of my upbringing are reflected in the story lines. There’s something so familiar about the touches of despair hinted at by the characters. At the end of the day you’re staying up late and putting in your heart and soul for laxatives or car models. It’s worth noting how much of the first world’s best creative talent is funneled into the business. Ralph Waldo Emmersons and Picassos are regularly consumed by the long hours, ridiculous expense accounts, and substance abuse. The list of things to discuss in the business is very short: no politics, no religion, no feelings, no critical thought whatsoever. Why aren’t you using those brain cells thinking up a new jingle for Gillette? Get back in the office, you! And then someone swats your ass.
Mad Men is great for documenting the birth pangs of a new sort of Americana to us as well. Yeah sure there's the bit about women in the workplace and racial tensions. It's worth noting how little issues like Vietnam and the civil rights movement seem to reach the twenty-somethingth story of the Time-Life Building. Yet, it's a quintessentially American show because, like some male philosopher once posited, "the truth .. is delivered in and through the very act of lying." Here we not only get to see the story of how these lies were developed and sold to the rest of the Free World, but indeed even the story of Mad Men itself is a lie through which the truth is ultimately made apparent, if you have the ears to hear.
Anyway I’ve been enjoying Mad Men more this season than I have any other season. Finally, the house of cards is trembling. I think people watch this show and get a feel of glamor out of it or something, like days spent kissing ass and getting drunk are amazing ways to live your professional life. But as a Marxist, I believe that humans are only truly happy when they have some work to put their hands to, when they can see the manifestation of their labor in a concrete and worthwhile endeavor. Nothing in the business is connected to that kind of aspiration whatsoever. Television, like all forms of media, is made primarily to sell things. Advertising is made to penetrate you on levels you can’t even be aware of and change your personality and behavior at a fundamental, subconscious level. It’s dirty work. So I don’t know why all the reviewers are up in a huff about the plot developments in the last two episodes.
One of the main female characters is prostituted out by the men in the company to a prospective client and another main character hangs himself in his office. Viewers were shocked and dismayed. I was completely unsurprised. Reviewers claimed the whole thing was out of character and completely sudden, and I laughed it up. It sort of shows to me how few people properly chew their food nowadays. The entirety of this series has been about emptiness and despair brought on by existing so close to the beating heart of consumer capitalism. The further you are from the core, the happier you have a chance to become. Yet the closer you get, the more it pays, and it pays better precisely because you are expected to forfeit your dignity and humanity on demand. You are an abject slave to the whims of Moloch. Drink up and enjoy the perks while you can stomach it.
I don’t really need to get into how many of the characters remind me of people I’ve known personally, but it’s quite amusing how even these stereotypes of people in the business are replicated within the show. Really, you’re not considered “in the biz” until you know someone who has offed themselves in the line of duty, and unless you come from money you are totally expected to put out for the client or your boss if you are a woman between the ages of 17-40. Anyway, I think I’m properly enjoying the show at this level for the first time because of the reaction from the viewership and the reviewers. It’s a show about Madison Avenue, you idiots. What did you think, they were healthy and well-adjusted people with “normal” reactions to moral challenges? Get a grip sweetheart. Suck it up and get back in there.