As a copy editor working late evenings most days of the week, I'm working when most primetime shows are on TV. However, I am fortunate to have off Sundays, which is when my favorite series, "Mad Men," airs on AMC. Since the sixth season of the show ended, I had been filling the void by by re-watching old seasons on DVD. By viewing the show in this format, I began to take for granted being able to watch whole episodes without the interruption of commercials.
When the seventh season of "Mad Men" premiered Sunday night, the presence of the commercials was jarring. I had become accustomed to the satisfaction of watching for a full 45 minutes as the narrative gracefully unfolded. This time, I had to wait to see what in the world the phone call from Roger's daughter could possibly portend or how Joan's play for the footwear account would turn out.
Yet perhaps more curious than the anticipation between scenes was the content of the actual commercials themselves. The ads during this premiere were no ordinary appeals to our need for razors or department store clothing sales or late-night fast-food menus. Instead, they indulged in the same mythical aura as Super Bowl commercials.
One commercial in particular seemed to be striving above all the rest to elevate advertising to some beautiful expression of human emotion. In an ad for Woodford Reserve bourbon, choppily shot black-and-white and sepia-toned images flicker over the screen as a female voiceover tells us with poetic yearning all that this woman wants in a man - presumably only embodied by a gent who drinks Woodford. In a column on Gawker, Michelle Dean also puzzles over this ad, calling it a "very stupid sort of art."
But while some might share Dean's opinion (like me), I still find it somewhat disturbing to think that "Mad Men" might foster an idealism about advertising that could lend ads like that for Woodford greater artistic power than they actually hold.
"Mad Men" is genius because it is aware of its own irony. Don Draper is a master wordsmith who can make meaning where there is none, yet, in his personal life, he can't keep his own word. Yet could the show, despite all its intricacies, be an ad for ads? Could it be that the literary quality of Don's pitch for Accutron watches, delivered by the earnest Freddie Rumsen, creates a forum in which we are more likely to buy into the art-house commercials that punctuate the show?
Well, I don't think I'll be buying bourbon anytime soon. But I sure do miss the option of watching on DVD.