Costume Drama


Marketing has become the lifeblood of American culture—witness this election season’s theatrics, from photo-ops at Middle American diners, to balloon-saturated and laser-laced conventions, to the endless media coverage of media coverage. All the more appropriate, then, that one of the biggest television sensations of the past eighteen months—the addictive Emmy-winning drama Mad Men, which recently kicked off its second season on the cable channel AMC—revolves around the motif of salesmanship.

Lushly produced by a team headed by Matthew Weiner, executive producer of The Sopranos, Mad Men depicts the New York advertising world of the early 1960s. (The punning title refers, on one level, to Madison Avenue, the traditional home of ad firms.) Much of the action unspools in the gleaming offices of the fictional Sterling Cooper, a firm that employs a battalion of secretary-ogling, martini-guzzling WASPs, including the laconic, philandering creative director, Don Draper (Jon Hamm). Some of the fun of the series lies in the behind-the-scenes glimpses of hucksterism in the making, as Draper and his colleagues sculpt PR blitzes for a vibrator, a lipstick brand, an airline with a bad crash history, and other products in search of love. Draper in particular has a knack for discerning a brand’s potential romantic and spiritual pull—fathoming how the merry-go-round metaphor implicit in the term “carousel...

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About the Author

Celia Wren is Commonweal’s media and stage critic.