‘Mad Men’ Dreams a Dream for Coke

19 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Mad Men’ books show Don’s descent from cool, calm and collected.

For a group of people who seemed to genuinely enjoy making a decade of brilliant television together, the creators, cast and crew of Mad Men sure were giddy to watch it all come to an end. As “Mad Men” closes its accounts for the last time, AMC and Film Independent found a unique way to celebrate the Madison Avenue period drama that fans have loved (and sometimes mocked) for seven seasons: Invite Jason Reitman to direct a stage reading of one of the show’s most iconic episodes.It’s a breathless moment of confession, one that confounds (and concerns) Peggy and leaves the rest of us waiting for some sign of personal redemption, however fleeting or thin.Six years ago, as Mad Men was preparing to enter into its third season, the Wall Street Journal ran a feature about the series’ female writing staff. “A writing team dominated by women shapes the chauvinistic world of the TV hit,” the article declared, while writer Jennifer Getzinger doubled down, telling the WSJ: “A lot of people think women can only do women shows.” Last night’s series finale wasn’t explicit about the specific trajectory of protagonist Don Draper, but it was crystal clear on one point: AMC’s flagship series ended as much a “women show” as it’s ever been — which is assuming it has, in fact, ever been anything else.

A beloved TV show about the tortured path to glory in the advertising world ended with a nod to a commercial that took its own bizarre path to greatness. AMC threw a major party for its now-departed show on Sunday night — hosting a live-read of the Season 1 finale, a screening of the final episode, and a buzzy afterparty at the gloriously restored Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

I guess it’s true what they say, COKE: IT DOES A BODY GOOD.™ If you, like me and the vast majority of people, didn’t watch the Mad Men finale, I don’t even know what to tell you. Maybe it’s as cynical as the (also real) ad pitch that kicked off the series, Lucky Strike’s “It’s Toasted.” That was pure advertising, spinning up an advantage from a standard operating procedure, pretence and figment as truth; the hilltop singing might be even darker, not whipping up nonsense (which Don thought these therapies were, when he started) but using a personal epiphany, an earned truth, to get people drinking soda. By the end of Person to Person, Mad Men’s final episode, the show’s leading men had all found strength in women: Roger in Quebec with Marie; Pete in Wichita with wife Trudie. AMC Network’s “Mad Men” faded out in its seventh season Sunday night with the familiar sight of a diverse group of hundreds of young people in Italy belting out “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” in Coca-Cola’s 1971 “Hilltop” ad. Everywhere you looked, series creator Matt Weiner, stars Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss — heck, anyone and everyone who’s been associated with the show — snapped photos, flashed huge smiles, hugged, playfully tackled one another (Hamm’s signature move).

At a retreat full of hippies, he resists the suicidal lure of Big Sur’s big cliffs, rises at dawn, chants “om,” and smiles a Mona Lisa yogini smile. That is, after all, Don Draper’s standard procedure: locate the deep yearnings and hidden truths of his life, and sell them to others with a brand name attached. Don’s only interactions, meanwhile, are with women: he phones daughter Sally and ex-wife Betty, visits Anna Draper’s niece Stephanie and calls a tearful goodbye to onetime protege Peggy Olsen.

The commercial, created in real life by fictional Don Draper employer McCann-Erickson, emerged when ad man Bill Backer dreamed up the phrase that helped cement a product’s relationship with the public and ushered in a new era. Mad Men has frequently been a show about creativity, how it coils around and unwinds through people who need to employ it, but it’s always been ambivalent about what its characters actually use it for. These are women who, unable to rely on immutable societal structures to hold them up, have quietly built themselves as pillars; men whose dominance, so long taken for granted, has atrophied. The one-time McCann creative director, who was born in 1926, says his phone hasn’t stopped ringing since the show aired and finds all the attention “flattering.” In a conversation with CMO Today, the 88-year-old addressed why he stopped watching Mad Men, whether he was as successful romantically as Don Draper, and what to make of data’s role in the ad business.

The over-budgeted but legendary commercial that very nearly flopped appears a fitting swan song for a series where creator Matthew Weiner’s imperfect characters forge their own success. The Wonder Years star-turned-director played Pete Campbell — absolutely nailing Vincent Kartheiser’s waspy diction to a degree that was so spot on, the crowd tittered after every line.

Watching Matthew Weiner dole out so much redemption, hope, and love, after all his years convincing us that people are bitter, cruel and self-defeating, that they can never escape their own foibles and sins—well, it was what I said I wanted before the season began. Backer had been flying to London in January 1971 to meet with former Four Tops singer Billy Davis and English songwriter Roger Cook about a new song for the soda company’s “It’s the real thing” campaign, according to a Library of Congress history of the ad. But that shift isn’t just about co-dependence: look at Joan, whose final scene sees her letting go of a potential husband to run her own business out of her kitchen — an immediately powerful, if somewhat obvious, metaphor, supported wholly by her company name: Holloway Harris. The result was a slowly unfolding period melodrama that should have been marginally successful but became a mainstream hit because it told a universally compelling narrative — a story about the tension between our consumeristic American existence and our deep-seated search for identity, meaning and fulfillment. I gotta keep up my skills for the start of the self-driving truck economy, where self-driving trucks will briefly deliver all our goods until the 8.7 million people who just lost their trucking-related jobs can’t afford to buy anything anymore and the self-driving trucks lose their jobs as well, an irony we will all find briefly hilarious as we starve.

That’s when McCann-Erickson art director Harvey Gabor pitched his idea of what he called “the first united chorus of the world” singing together on a hillside. If that sounds generic, it shouldn’t. “Mad Men” transported us to the pivotal decade of the 1960s and dealt deliberately with the advent of Madison Avenue and the heyday of the advertising industry.

Transportation hacking will be a booming industry and I intend to get in on the coach cabin of that, if my other new job as NYT media columnist doesn’t work out. Betty, meanwhile, has ensured that in the aftermath of her death her children are sent to live with her brother and his wife — “they need a woman in their lives,” she tells Don, refusing to concede to the suggestion that, as their father, he deserves custody, or anything at all.

The scandalous paperback about an aristocrat’s affair with her gardner had been banned and then declared “smut” — but this copy boasts it’s “unexpurgated,” meaning all the good parts have made it past the censor. Although more rain washed out the initial idea of filming the spot with British kids crooning in Dover and rendered footage from a later Italian shoot near Rome unworkable, company executives eventually agreed to pony up more than $250,000 to see the project through to the end at Backer’s urging, the company account of the commercial says. This was the time in our nation’s history when our materialistic fates were sealed: We became a people defined by things, things produced in mass quantities to feed an insatiable cultural appetite.

Don’s pitches — for carousels of nostalgia, but even for suicidal plane getaways and Hershey’s that rescued him from life in a whore house — helped him understand himself, and certainly brought things into focus for co-workers and executives and moms mopping floors. Stephanie gave her child to his grandparents to raise, and she tells the hippies at the retreat she feels like people are judging her for abandoning her son. In other news: futurists have been renamed “historians.” If this Tabs seems scattered so far it’s because I took a week off and the world completely lost its mind.

Throughout Mad Men’s entire seven-and-a-half season run, Peggy has been a foil to Don, benefiting from his tough-love tutelage as much as she kicked back against it. Though Mad Men still feels like it’s ending too soon, it went out with a party that Don, Roger, Peggy, Joan and all the good-timing Mad Men characters would’ve loved to have seen. Don Draper, the quintessential ad man, describes advertising early on in the series as “selling happiness.” In the boardroom, Don repeatedly does exactly that — creating scenarios that attach emotional, if not transcendental, value to otherwise common products and services. Maybe that Coke ad was him embracing Peggy’s point of view, accepting the open invitation she offered him in their phone call (and, effectively, again and again throughout the series, Peggy having found purpose and meaning in advertising that would have otherwise been well outside her reach). When Don calls Peggy from a hippie retreat in California, abandoned by Stephanie and bereft of hope, he tells her between tears that he “took another man’s name and made nothing of it.” “That’s not true,” she replies.

True to the message, the company donated its first $80,000 in royalties to the United Nation’s Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, Coke’s history says. “People were humming it,” Gabor recalled in a 2011 Google documentary. “Coke got a hundred thousand letters from people saying they loved it. Back then, Don argued for perpetual motion, for endless reinvention, and now he sings the same tune: “You can put this behind you,” he says, with the fervor of a lifelong escape artist. “It will get easier as you move forward.” “Oh Dick,” Stephanie returns. “I don’t think you’re right about that.” After Stephanie leaves, presumably to engage her responsibilities in some way, Don goes dark at the thought of the responsibilities he’s shirked.

And it’s not: if it is in any way accurate that Don has made little of his personal life, squandering relationships and fleeing adversity, his greatest professional success has not been landing accounts or navigating mergers. In one moment, Weiner has made the obscure poet Frank O’Hara relevant, with The New York Times saying the mere mention of him in the hit AMC drama made sales of his book jump.

It matched their personality perfectly with the brand.” The tech giant worked with Gabor that year to conceive vending machines that allowed people to actually buy the soda for someone on the other side of the world. The news of Betty’s cancer—and the fact that the one thing his first wife and daughter can agree on is that wherever Bobby and Eugene end up when she dies, it certainly won’t be with him—leaves him wrecked. Its accounts men and copywriters disparage it (especially this half-season) but can’t quite get out of it; its main characters find their meaning through it, but never seem to settle on that meaning for long; the show itself fetishizes some of the greatest ads of its era.

Whether he knew it or not, Matt Weiner’s main character, the womanizing, hard-drinking, identity-stealing Don Draper, had spent 11 years building the confidence of a young woman. It’s why her union with Stan is so perfect, too: here’s a man willing to stand behind his woman, literally as well as figuratively, unafraid of her talents and ambitions.

No longer the ingénue, she tells her shrink that sometimes when Don makes love to her it’s what she wants — and sometimes it’s what someone else wants. If we are tempted to admire the style and sophistication of a millionaire executive and his glamorous dalliances, we are soon faced with the destructive results of his pathologically duplicitous personality.

He signed off with the now-traditional TNR catchphrase: “Until next time, please remove me from your masthead!” If you needed a journalism-related chortle today: Judith Miller and James O’Keefe “talk about the state of the media today, and how, in the last several years, the attitude — and, more importantly, the professionalism — of the once noble Fourth Estate has declined…” And in the Times: relationship fails, equality fails, commune fails. The satire about eight Vassar grads — Betty herself a graduate of seven sister school Bryn Mawr — it describes how all the trappings of suburbia do not add up to happiness.

Today in Tabs Canada Correspondent Karen Ho is here to tell us what our neighbor to the north (or northwest or northeast depending where you are, but definitely not south under any circumstances) is celebrating: It’s Victoria Day in Canada today, another moment where we celebrate a member of the British monarchy that somehow still rules this country despite our independence almost 150 years ago. It’s was egalitarian conclusion eleven years in the making, delivered with all the deceptive simplicity of a hilltop choir singing the virtues of Coca-Cola. A new Minute was released, a Drake-themed Twitter feed popped up, and even free, packed showings of them were held in cities around the country where a proud group of nerds did their best Rocky Horror impression of shouting at the screen. What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.” But Don has been looking for some version of love ever since, and he recognizes himself in Leonard’s dream about being on a shelf in a fridge, waiting to be chosen every time the door opens and the light comes on, bereft whenever it goes dark again. (Since this speech came a few moments after a distinctly un-Draper-worthy ad for Heinz’s new mustard, I couldn’t help but imagine Leonard and Don as matching condiments, side by side.) Don embraces Leonard, and sobs. It’s a call to action — living to embrace others in this new reality of belovedness, to find ourselves in serving people, not in consuming things.

I think I made our mobile email version work a lot better, so please reply and let me know if it’s still broken, or if it’s not broken anymore and you are happy. He’s up to the same trysts and deceptions, but there’s something gross about it — the red wine sloshed on the carpet, the diner waitress in an alleyway. “Portnoy’s Complaint” by Philip Roth came out in 1969, immediately sparking debate about its treatment of sex.

The first rule of work husbands is “Don’t fall in love with your work husband.” Because Peggy and Stan have such extraordinary rapport, the scene between them was great fun—and it’s gratifying to see Peggy find personal happiness, not just professional success. Rather than abiding by his dictum of “moving forward” and not looking back, starting over and taking on yet another identity based on a lie, he is headed in the opposite direction.

As we enter the final days of Sterling Cooper & Partners, Slate’s TV Club will celebrate the show’s retorts and rejoinders by highlighting a Mad Men Zinger of the Week for Slate Plus.

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