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Friday, August 24, 2007

Mad Men 6: The Medium is the Message!

Did I hear officer manager Joan Holloway - played delectably by Christina Hendricks - say "the medium is the message" to Peggy in last night's episode of Mad Men?

Yes, I did, and it shows just how razor sharp was the research that went into the making of Mad Men. As I explain in my 1999 Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium, "the medium is the message" is Marshall McLuhan's best-known aphorism or say. (It means, for example, that the act of watching television - instead of reading or talking - is more significant than what we watch on television.) But the phrase didn't become well-known until the advertising world discovered McLuhan in 1964 and his book Understanding Media, in which "the medium is the message" was a chapter title.

So what's it doing in a sexy office manager's vocab in 1960?

Digital McLuhan by Paul LevinsonWell, as I also point out in Digital McLuhan, the phrase was actually first "published" in McLuhan's "Report on Project in Understanding New Media" - a typescript report, in fact, that McLuhan prepared for the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare ... on June 30 ... 1960!*

So ... the 1960 scene in Mad Max last night could, technically, have happened.

But would an office manager have heard of the phrase? Not likely ... but by no means impossible. After all, the firm the saucy Joan works for is very high powered, with the Richard Nixon for President team as one of its clients. So, conceivably, Joan could have heard someone from the Department Health, Education, and Welfare talk about the report... (though prefacing the phrase with a "you know what they say..." does seem a little much).

But Joan did look great in her tight red dress, and we learned last night that she's having an affair with boss Roger. (No wonder why she was cool and collected last week when Peggy told her about Don's extra curricula activities...)

Other good stuff last night - some excellent portrayal of the way this advertising world regarded Jews, and more on the almost unbelievable male chauvinism. Peggy comes up with a great description of a basket with tissues with lipstick imprints - a "basket of kisses" - and the ad exec is really impressed. Something like seeing a "dog play the piano," he observes. Did men really have such a low opinion of women back then? Not all men, but certainly some.

Mad Med is now one of the best, hard-hitting, easy-on-the-eyes, humorous, instructive shows on television. A tour-de-force.

*Note added March 22, 2012:  Thanks to Alex Kuskis for letting me know that the phrase appears even earlier, in an article McLuhan published in the National Association of Educational Broadcasters Journal, October, 1958

20-minute podcast interview with Rich Sommer (Harry Crane) - in which we talk about "the medium is the message"

See also reviews of other episodes: Mad Men Debuts on AMC: Cigarettes and Nixon Coming ... Mad Men 2: Smoke and Television ... Mad Men 3: Hot 1960 Kiss ... Mad Men 4 and 5: Double Mad Men ... Mad Men 7: Revenge of the Mollusk ... Mad Men 8: Weed, Twist, Hobo ... ... Mad Man 9: Betty Grace Kelly ... Mad men 10: Life, Death, and Politics ... Mad Men 11: Heat! ... Mad Men 12: Admirable Don ... Mad Men 13: Double-Endings, Lascaux, and Holes


Anonymous said...

I was thrilled to see Joan's character get a little more depth and excitement this week. She's totally wearing the pants in that relationship with Roger. I wonder how long poor little Peggy will survive under the pressure to be the lone female copywriter around there.

Wickedly funny recap of the "Babylon" episode here. When will Salvatore come out of the closet?

Paul Levinson said...

Joan's one of my favorite characters...