Tag Archives: Mad Men

Selling stories

Who knew wool mills could be so…exciting?

Picture 1

Advertising is among Meanderings’ side fascinations. Mad Men bullshit aside, good ads tell stories. And this story tells me that horses are fast, and if I want to rope one, elegantly, I better be wearing some Pendelton wool.

The whole campaign is on the Web site for the agency (Leopold Ketel). But my favorite is an outtake – see picture 10.

I see your Don Draper, and raise you anyone else (Updated)

I’ve been thinking about characters lately. What makes a good one? Heck if I know, but like porn and a good slice of margherita pizza, you know it when you see it.

Which brings me to two filmed entertainments, one a TV show and one a movie [Minor Spoilers To Follow For Both].

First, there’s Mad Men, the deliciously sultry paeon to sex and advertising and the fact that – as Don Draper tells it, but doesn’t live it – sex doesn’t really sell. It’s an entertaining hour, and probably the “best” show on television. Here’s the problem: the characters stink. Even Don. Especially Don.

The problem is that Mad Men’s characters are stuck in a perpetual holding pattern, endlessly circling the runway, making a few small passes but never quite given clearance for landing. They have no perceivable goals – can anyone tell me where Mr. Draper is actually going? What he wants? Perhaps this is intentional, but if it is, it’s stupid. Every life altering event (say , a heart attack, induced by having sex with a young girl out of wedlock) is followed by a change in path (renewed faithfulness to one’s wife) and then by a remission to bad behavior (more sex with young minxes). I’m all for characters that struggle with their flaws. A character without flaws is just the latest John Wayne vehicle. But characters in Mad Men struggle for no perceivable reason – they are flawed simply because Smart Television Viewers demand that our characters be flawed.

This brings me to 500 Days of Summer, a delightful film I’d recommend to anyone – except girls. A straw poll I’ve conducted has suggested that men enjoy the movie significantly more than women. This would be the point to mention we are talking about a romantic comedy.

The reason for this is, I think, quite clear. Tom, the male lead, is a fully formed character, hopelessly naive, yet pessimistic; stuck in a terrible job, but ambitious; talented, yet stifled; in love, yet not; aware, yet oblivious. There is an arc to his story. We begin with youthful hopefulness, and end with hopefulness of a mature kind.

Summer – that’s the girl – is as one-dimensional as any character Jennifer Aniston has played since Rachel. She doesn’t believe in love, and…that’s about it. She has no perceivable ambition, even an ambition for nothingness. She exists in a world for the purposes of Tom’s characterization. One wishes she had a long-held dream of being a pastry chef or toy store owner, or a passion for anything beyond Tom and foiling Tom. Whether or not she actually fulfilled her dream, she must have one.

So that’s that. Go see 500 Days of Summer, if you’re a dude, and all should just start watching Season 3 of Mad Men – you won’t have missed any progression in the first two.

Update: Two things have made me adjust my thinking slightly on Mad Men. First, the second half of Season Two happened (to me, a year late). It’s great. Second, I was told by loyal Meanderings reader KS to think of the lack of change as Mad Men’s genius – that the unspoken, and therefore un-acted-upon, feelings and desires of its characters are what give the show its most emotional heft.

That seems to be about right to me. But The Wire is still better.

I Believe In Symmetry

Your song that’s a story this week comes from Bright Eyes, also known as Conor Oberst, also known as a member of the most anticipated super group since, at least, Cream.

It’s “I Believe In Symmetry.” It starts out describing a wedding and, well, ends up at this line later on: “The arc of time, the stench of sex.” So it’s basically Mad Men, in a 5:24. But better.

Song here.

Lyrics below.

Some plans were made and rice was thrown
A house was built, a baby born
How time can move both fast and slow
Amazes me

And so I raise my glass to symmetry
To the second hand and its accuracy
To the actual size of everything
The desert is the sand
You can’t hold it in your hand
It won’t bow to your demands
There’s no difference you can make
There’s no difference you can make
And if it seems like an accident
A collage of senselessness
You aren’t looking hard enough
I wasn’t looking hard enough

An argument for consciousness
The instinct of the blind insect
Who makes love to the flower bed
And dies in the first freeze
Oh I want to learn such simple things
No politics, no history
Till what I want and what I need
Can finally be the same

I just got myself to blame
Leave everything up to fate
When there’s choices I could make
When there’s choices I could make
Yeah, my heart needs a polygraph
Always so eager to pack my bags
When I really wanna stay
When I really wanna stay

When I wanna stay (x4)

The arc of time, the stench of sex
The innocence you can’t protect
Each quarter note, each marble step
Walk up and down that lonely treble clef
Each wanting the next one
Each wanting the next one to arrive
Each wanting the next one
Each wanting the next one to arrive

An argument for consciousness
The instinct of the blind insect
Who never thinks not to accept its fate
That’s faith, there’s happiness in death
You give to the next one
You give to the next on down the line
You give to the next one
You give to the next on down the line

The levity of longing that
Distills each dream inside my head
By morning watered down forget
On silver stars I wish and wish and wish

From one to the next one
From one to the next right down the line
From one to the next one
From one to the next right down the line

You give to the next one
You give to the next on down the line
You give to the next one
You give to the next on down the line