Thursday, May 09, 2013

"Mad Men": The Left's Hidden Persuader

Lest anyone think that I oppose advertising, I wish to correct that assumption. I can enjoy print and TV advertising when it's innovative and attention-getting. A 2012 Bloomberg Businessweek book review of Jane Maas's Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the '60s and Beyond (conforming to a consensus that it was hastily thrown together to exploit the popularity of "Mad Men") notes that

Advertising has one aim: to pitch a product as something desirable. There are different ways to move the merchandise—this car or that cereal or this beer will make you feel younger, slimmer, sexier. This may be the only thing the Pillsbury Doughboy and David Beckham have in common: They mean to persuade you that dinner rolls and cotton briefs, respectively, are something you need—or better yet, crave.

Well, no, not necessarily "crave," want, or even need. Vance Packard and his thesis in The Hidden Persuaders (published in 1957) to the contrary notwithstanding, I can watch and enjoy a car or cereal or clothing commercial without being hypnotized into "craving" the product. I think I speak for most TV watchers. Advertising is a means of letting you know that a product exists. The keys to good advertising are getting your attention and persuading you of the value of the product. An ad can be entertaining, bland, crude, or a bucket of lead. I have an envelope somewhere at home fat with some of my favorite print ads, mostly from the 60's and 70's. I remember the last Benson & Hedges cigarette TV ads, and also the smarmy Northwest Airlines TV ad in which the captain announces to passengers a plane-wide no-smoking policy, and all the actors cheer.

"Mad Men" is a collectivist effort copasetic with the anti-individualism theme of the series. To date, eighteen directors and counting have directed all the episodes, several many times, including Matthew Weiner, the genius behind the series. Two principal cast members of the series have directed episodes, Jon Hamm and John Slattery. By the end of Season Six, there will have been 78 episodes. There is a bewildering trainload of writers. So many hands in the pot accounts for the rudderless direction of what I call a super-sized soap opera.

In "Villains, Victims, and Lies," I focused on how lies are a crucial element and driving force of the series. They are important from a leftist and naturalist literary perspective, because without the constant evasions, lying, and deceptions – of each of the principal characters to each other, and internally to themselves – there would be no story and no overall plot/theme, which is: Man is a weak creature who must fake reality for others and for himself in pursuit of an illusory happiness promoted by a capitalist society that worships materialism and money.  

In keeping with Marxist dogma, the wealthy men of "Mad Men" just can't help themselves. They are the bourgeoisie pawns of an evolving dialectical materialism, and so their arrogance and duplicity, which cannot be forgiven, come naturally to them. The class these "Mad Men" hucksters represent will be overthrown because their greed, avarice, selfishness, and corruption are internally self-destructive. Ultimately, when the revolution comes, they will be either sent to the guillotine or to reeducation camps to get their minds straight. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Pol Pot, the Castro brothers, Hugo Chavez, Bill Ayers, Obama, oddly named North Korean dictators, and the Clintons all said so. Also, Osama bin Laden and his heirs in terrorism.

That's the slick but unspoken Marxist premise, the "hidden persuader," and schedule of coming events underlying the series. The "exploiters" will be exploited in turn and trounced by "the people." Don Draper, Pete Campbell, and Roger Sterling will all get their dialectical comeuppance.

In "Mad Men" this Hegelian process eventually leads to the depiction of the "natural" intrusion of the civil rights movement and the invasion of the hippy-dippy, pot-smoking "counter culture," of the rise of feminism and gays and lesbians coming out of their closets. Fans not entirely satisfied with the Progressivism of the series are watching it closely to see if Don Draper and his partners and the 60s culture dissolve into their deterministic futures. And soon all the monarchs of mendacity will be shown the door. It's "historical materialism," you see. Resistance is futile.

The dogma is there, ever so skillfully worked into the characters' words, actions, and personas. A correspondent objected to the length of my "Villains, Victims, and Lies" column, saying that Mad Men is just a rubbishy remake of Lover Come Back, the 1961 Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedy that's also set in the advertising world, and in which an advertising man must create a product that's already been advertised.

One question about the creators of "entertainment" such as "Mad Men" which I have never seen asked by other critics is: Why are they stuck in that particular creative rut? Why are stories that are pro-individualism, pro-happiness, and pro-freedom impossible to them to conceive of and develop? Is the world so dark and conspiratorial in their epistemological and moral outlook that baneful tales of deceit and corruption are all they can produce? In the end, it is a rut of their own choosing. But what causes them to choose a rut so often traveled by their predecessors that it is now as deep and muddy and appealing as a World War I frontline trench?

I offer one explanation: An orthodoxy no one dares challenge, the orthodoxy of the Left. It is not necessarily the only one, but it is an important one. Like the typical Islamic terrorist or suicide bomber – and like Marx himself – Marxists and Progressives and socialists of all the varieties of pink as a rule hale from well-to-do families and circumstances. Their penchant for "revolution" reflects a guilt for their "privileged" upbringing and comfort.

Weiner, for example, attended the Park School of Baltimore, an upper-class school modeled on John Dewey's educational philosophy, and then the equally exclusive Harvard School for Boys (now Harvard-Westlake, coeducational) in Los Angeles. Then he went to Wesleyan, and finally to the University of Southern California's Film School.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed Weiner about the impact of "Mad Men" and its cinematic antecedents. Weiner confessed several influences:

"Rod Serling's 'Patterns' [1955] had a deep impact on me," Mr. Weiner recalled. "So did a movie called 'Cash McCall' [1960], with James Garner. When I created Don Draper, in my mind I saw Garner, whose ease I always liked. People describe Don as an antihero, but he is not—at least not to me. Jon Hamm reminded me of Gregory Peck, who starred in 'Mirage' [1965], about a businessman who's lost his memory. That was definitely there when I was writing 'Mad Men.' And I shouldn't leave out 'Dear Heart [1964],' with Glenn Ford and Geraldine Page. Another big one for me is 'The Bachelor Party' [1957], with E.G. Marshall and Jack Warden."

The impact of these pictures, none of which depicts an ad agency, can be felt in various ways on "Mad Men," including its ethos and mise-en-scène. But the show's defining dichotomy originates elsewhere. "It seemed there was this great story to tell of the battle between the creative and the commercial," Mr. Weiner said. "That's why I picked advertising, because it's a great way to ask this big question: Is there a job where you can be creative and also make money?"

Yes, there are jobs in which one can be creative and make money. So Weiner trashes advertising, where one can make money by being creative. His seemingly eclectic cinematic influences, all of which were produced before he was born in1965, are not so eclectic. In all those movies deceit, evasion, and faking reality are contributing themes.

Serling's "Patterns," for example, is a teleplay about the cruel and heartless tactics of a business owner, played by Everett Sloane, to force an executive colleague to resign, instead of firing him. In the end, he causes the man, played by Ed Begley, to die of a heart attack. In the climax, Sloane delivers a brief and nominally correct philosophy of business. Begley's newly-hired replacement, a younger man played by Richard Kiley, expresses disgust with Sloane's tactics, and accuses Sloane of being inhuman and without decency. But, instead of quitting as he had originally intended, he agrees to stay on and swears to exact vengeance on Sloane, and become as "cruel and heartless" as his new enemy.

The politics and corporate ambiance depicted in the one-hour show are recreated in "Mad Men."

I am supposing that creators like Weiner see themselves as modern day moral heirs of Charles Dickens and Jacob Riis, both champions of the poor and the "disenfranchised." The question might be posed: Were Weiner and his co-producers and directors consciously pushing a Marxist worldview of Madison Avenue (and by implication, of the rest of the country)?

I doubt it. Weiner and his cohorts were simply expressing the worldview they were taught all their lives and that it was correct and right. It's the only thing they know. They were prepped from grade school on up through graduate school to reject anything or any idea that conflicted with or contradicted their worldview orthodoxy. They are not on George Orwell's intellectual level of being able to write or produce fiction with explicit political themes (such as Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm). And they are certainly not on Ayn Rand's level. If they were, they would not have used Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged in so brief a throw-away instance of sly agitprop.

That was a shrewdly contrived device, but I doubt that any of the directors, including Weiner, have ever read the novel in its entirety. They had heard that it was about greedy, selfish businessmen going on strike against the welfare state, and because they had been taught that greed and selfishness were evil and certainly had no place in a kinder, caring society where everyone looked out for one another and made sacrifices, that novel and that philosophy had to be dismissed as the playbook of amoral scoundrels, such as those who populate "Mad Men."

Weiner and Company are the products of an ideology they never bothered to question or examine, an ideology that proposes to override an individual's volition and freedom. Instead, as congenital advertisers of statism, they have imbibed the Alinsky tactic of targeting, isolating, and freezing a specific liberty, and escalating a campaign for or against it. They do it without thought. Which means that Hollywood leftists are knee-jerks. The tactic has been used by government and advocacy groups for a very long time, sometimes crudely, often with stealth, long before Don Draper downed his first martini and lit his first Lucky Strike.

For the morally and intellectually defenseless and susceptible, "Mad Men" is indeed "subliminal." For those who are intellectually alert and on guard against the "hidden persuaders" of altruism and collectivism in all its forms, the series is part and parcel of a culture that induces spiritual claustrophobia and an innervating cultural alienation Marx could never have imagined but would have approved nevertheless.


madmax said...

I offer one explanation: An orthodoxy no one dares challenge, the orthodoxy of the Left.

Yes. The orthodoxy of the Left or as I would state it: the ruling paradigm of left-liberalism. We live under THIS order not a Christian or a Conservative one. That died in the 1960s.

I'm curious to see what the reaction to this will be by the Objectivist sphere on the web. Will Ed be called "unhinged" or "too influenced by Conservatism" or "corrupted by rationalism"? This is my main gripe with the Objectivist movement; that it does not explicitly name the Left as our overlords and as the dominant evil we face.

As I've said before, the Objectivist movement will have no motive power until it openly and explicitly states the following:

1) The Left is evil
2) Islam is evil
3) Muslim populations in Western lands are dangerous

Throw in that the Left is waging a war against white heterosexual males as well as capitalism and then you'd really have a movement. But no. Organized Objectivism is still fixated on cheerleading for mass immigration and wasting tons of digital ink on the subjects of gay marriage and abortion.

And Rome burns.

GDW said...

I apologize for posting this same comment in both this thread as well as the thread for the previous article. I meant to only post it here, but lost my concentration and posted it there instead. Moderators, if you think it's necessary, please feel free to delete my duplicate comment in the other thread.


For anyone who's interested, I maintain a blog specifically devoted to analysis (from an Objectivist perspective) of contemporary television commercials. I have analyzed over one hundred commercials within the last three years, and I've discovered that while the artistic creativity of today's TV advertising is, in my view, just as strong as it has ever been, the philosophical creativity is completely non-existent (read: destructive). It all boils down to today's prevailing philosophical trends. It has been interesting to grasp first-hand how advertising has devolved into a detractive, disintegrating, destructive element in the culture - where advertisers, desperate to make money in the short-term, exploit some of the worst philsophical corruptions around - from it's essence as a positive, informative, and even uplifting element. Of course, this is only because of the mixed economy (and the fact that it becomes more "mixed" with each passing day) - which is why it's especially ironic that people like Madmen's Weiner struggle with the "creative - profitable dichotomy." If not for their leftist philosophies - which causes the mixed economy - such destructive "art" wouldn't be profitable, as it is now. They attack the inevitable results of their philosophies as the inevitable results of their ideological enemies'. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In any case, this is the link to my blog:

Edward Cline said...

GDW: I'll take a look at your blog site. Thanks.

Edward Cline said...

MadMax: That one line of yours made me laugh: "too influenced by Conservatism." I've never been influenced by it, but then only a blind man would think that.

Edward Cline said...

GDW: You should've introduced yourself earlier. You have a terrific and very informative blog site devoted to the philosophical analysis of commercials. There is one quotation of yours that is especially noteworthy: "The purpose of this commercial’s message isn’t to ensure that all “cultures” (read: individuals) have their individual rights equally protected, but rather to elevate inferior cultural elements by capitalizing on the confusion and conscientiousness of those who hail from superior cultures and have something to lose." Or, as Ellsworth Toohey put it: "Don't raze shrines. You'll scare people. Elevate mediocrity, and the shrines are razed." I highly recommend your site to other readers here. But my favorite video was the British Airways, "To Fly, To Serve," and I loved your analysis of it.

Grant Jones said...

Madmax asked, "I'm curious to see what the reaction to this will be by the Objectivist sphere on the web. Will Ed be called "unhinged" or "too influenced by Conservatism" or "corrupted by rationalism"?"

No, official Objectivism will continue to do what they've done for decades. They will ignore Ed and his work.

Madmax is right. Official Objectivism is fighting the last war. The Left won that war and is now reaping the fruits of victory. Which for them is the systematic destruction of America and Western Civilization.

It's been nearly a month since the Boston Marathon Bombing. Both ARI and TOS have issued one denouncement of Islam each. But, neither have said a peep about the Moslem invasion of civilization. Seriously, how can anyone claim that this spectacle is nothing other than an evasion of reality?

Besides the official movement's bizarre love affair with their no borders dogma, there are other reasons afoot. I think ARI's attempt to gain academic "respectability" has neutered them. Academia is the source of the evil that is destroying us. They can't say so openly or they wouldn't get invited to the right parties and conferences. They prefer to believe our academic grave-diggers are merely honestly mistaken. So, it must be the conservatives who are beyond the pale.

Drew said...

Excellent pieces on Mad Men by Ed Cline. Fantastic.

I tried to sit down and watch the show with my wife, but I couldn't stomach it. I did not know why. Now I do. These articles just put all my emotions into words. This is why Mr. Cline is one of THE BEST bloggers out there (even if he is a rabid homophobe).

Seriously though I came across Ron Pisaturo's article "I'm Married...To a Woman" ( and I have been alarmed by the swift accusations of bigotry for simply enunciating a plausible notion that homosexuality is a consequence of conclusions formed during early childhood. Granted, such a theory is dated and I don't think it is supported by empirical evidence. But a rational person offers a counter theory, not hurl accusations of bigotry.

Even though I don't think homosexuality is a neurosis, one perfunctory glance at the gay-culture at large brings the conclusion that it is highly neurosis-driven. My anecdotal experience with innumerable gay colleagues (I'm a male nurse) and by simply watching a "pride parade" supports this notion.

Am I being bigoted?

I digress here, but wanted to speak out about this somewhere where I might get some sympathy. There are many non-neurotic gays I've met too, but my experience tilts way too much toward the neurosis factor to simply evade the huge correlation.

I suppose you could say that being oppressed historically causes a neurosis-like response, but there are tons of oppressed groups that do not respond with the kind of tastlessness like prancing around in a G-string and the kind of self-obsessed flagrant homo-eroticism at a pride parade. Maybe I'm just a stuffy old codger.

Edward Cline said...

Drew: I would not otherwise comment, for your statement about me is off-topic and uncalled for, but I am not a "homophobe," rabid or otherwise. I have had friends and acquaintances who were homosexuals. My last literary agent was one. When I was a Cub Scout, I had to give the scoutmaster's son, an Eagle Scout, a black eye and a swollen cheek for his unwanted and unsolicited attentions during a weekend camp-out at Fort Ticonderoga. In the Air Force, I had a roommate who made passes until I told him to piss off. That being said, some of my favorite authors were homosexuals, such as Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward, and Terence Rattigan. Cecil Beaton, the noted photographer, was one and he did fantastic work. I could name other notables. So, my position on homosexuals is not based on an emotion-driven, irrational perspective such as bigotry, but rather on calm, rational reflection. However, I have never had a lesbian friend or acquaintance, and the ones I have encountered have been vicious man-haters, nearly psychotic. Most gays are comfortable in the company of women, and even date them. Most lesbians, I've observed, are not comfortable in the company of men, and find it repugnant. Go figure.

Rick Kiessig said...

Why are stories that are pro-individualism, pro-happiness, and pro-freedom impossible to them to conceive of and develop?

Ed: I like your explanation, and have a few ideas of my own. I think the people making these TV shows (and indeed most of America) are deeply, profoundly unhappy. They actually have no idea how to be truly happy, so they either reject the idea as impossible (and therefore suffering and destruction are necessary), or they turn to religion, with its promise of happiness in the afterlife.

I suspect this problem is often more acute with the children of rich and successful parents. In today's culture, kids like that are typically raised in a way that dismisses key virtues as being unnecessary. For example, honesty, justice and productivity are for "others," or they're "optional." And there's a natural attraction to collectivism: since they've had everything given to them all their lives, why shouldn't it be the same for everyone? And since they feel their wealthy parents are somehow to blame for their unhappiness (which they are, but only in part), then why shouldn't all wealthy people be punished? With such an approach to life, they can never be happy -- and it's likely they will never know why.

I think this also explains why these same people often turn to irresponsible drugs, sex, and so on; it's the only way they know to get some temporary relief from the terror they must feel on a daily basis.

@madmax: Is there really such a thing as an "Objectivist movement" or "organized Objectivism"? There's Peikoff, ARI/Brook and TOS as visible "representatives," but even taken together, they are nowhere close to being a movement. What I see is mainly just a bunch of individuals, doing our best, based on our current knowledge and understanding. There is no "it" that can take action.

I, for one, agree with your 3 points, but would extend them:

1) Statists and Collectivists are evil (it's not just Leftists)
2) Unmoderated religion and mysticism are evil (Islam is probably the worst and most violent, but it's not the only one)
3) Muslim populations anywhere are dangerous (not just to others, but to themselves)

But hey, I'm just one guy, certainly not a movement.

BTW, you must hang out with a much different crowed than I do. Most of the O-ists I know aren't fixated on gay marriage, abortion or immigration. There are a few who occasionally write about those issues, but I think they've been sucked into it due to the prevalence of those subjects in the MSM.

Drew said...

Ed, I apologize for my lack of clarity. I was being facetious, thinking it was so obvious that you are not a rabid homophobe (although that seemed to be the accusation thrown at you). My comment was misplaced and this is off topic, sorry. Despite that, thanks for further clarifying your position. I've had a similar experience with lesbians too, albeit not all, but many fit the stereotype in my experience.

madmax said...

I think ARI's attempt to gain academic "respectability" has neutered them. Academia is the source of the evil that is destroying us. They can't say so openly or they wouldn't get invited to the right parties and conferences. They prefer to believe our academic grave-diggers are merely honestly mistaken. So, it must be the conservatives who are beyond the pale.

Now that you mention it, I have heard Yaron Brook and Diana Hsieh both make comments that if the Conservatives should come to control the universities then Objectivism would be closed out. That statement whether true or not shows how ungrounded are their concerns. The Left has control and they will never allow Objectivism to ascend; not without a war.

Its a Catch-22 though. The importance of making headway into academia is unquestionable. But can you do that by trying to reach out to the Left and not castrate yourself? I don't think so. And as you point out with the examples of ARI's and TOS's commentary on the Boston bombings, it looks like official Objectivism has been neutered.

Edward Cline said...

MadMax: Here is an instance of conservatives, religious or not, shutting out Objectivist faculty. John David Lewis, a former successful businessman who left business to pursue his first love, ancient history and cultures, wound up getting a PhD in those subjects from Cambridge (UK). As you probably know, he is the author of "Nothing Less than Victory." After some minor teaching posts here in the U.S. He landed a teaching post at Ashland University in Ohio. He was happy teaching there. He used Book 2 of my Sparrowhawk series for a course and invited me to sit in on the oral examinations of his students, and also to address the humanities faculty on the importance of the series. Some time later, faculty members who were unhappy with his injecting Rand into his courses and with his close association with Objectivism campaigned to deny him tenure, and ultimately to have him fired or to force his resignation. To make a long story short, he wanted tenure so he could get another teaching position elsewhere, and he was also eager to leave a hostile work environment. Meeting with the president, he sat before the school president's desk and literally over the desk top exchanged with the president his letter of resignation in return for the grant of tenure. John was a dear friend of mine (he died of cancer a few years ago) and one of the few authentic, feet-in-the-real-world Objectivists I've known. It turned out that the powers behind Ashland wanted to convert the university into a Christian one. Which they've done.

John found a position at Duke shortly after leaving Ashland. So, it isn't just the Left that can "neuter" Objectivist scholars and teachers. The religious Right can also wield the same power.

madmax said...


That is a depressing story for many reasons, not the least of which the misery Lewis had to go through. But I still wouldn't conclude that there is any equivalency in the threat between Left and Conservative. Conservative colleges can cast out libertarian influences all they want but it doesn't change the fact that the dominant ideology for the VAST number of colleges in the WEST is Left-Liberalism. Yes, Conservatives still have some power over relatively unimportant areas. The Left allows this to keep them occupied before the all out power grab which is coming soon.