A while ago, I posted this ad for Mad Men that I saw at a local train station:
The tag line translates: "Behind Every Successful Woman Stands a Man Who's Staring at her Ass." It's the ad campaign for the American television series Mad Men, which has been bought by ZDF Neo (g), a branch of one of Germany's two main public-broadcasting channels.
Now, back when I saw this poster, I hadn't watched Mad Men, although it had been recommended to me by people whose taste I trusted. Cohu, in comments, pointed out that the entire premise of the ad campaign was wrong. Boy, was she right.
The two characters shown in the poster are Don Draper, the series' main figure and creative director of a Madison Avenue advertising firm, and Rachel Menken, the owner of a New York department store. They have a brief romance during the show's first season, while Don's firm is wooing her as a client.
Let me count the ways in which this ad is cultural vandalism:
- It completely distorts the relation between the two characters. First of all, Don Draper although a womanizer of the highest order, doesn't "stare" at women's "asses". His manners are too refined for that. This is not to say that he's an enlightened, sensitive 90s man (Thank God) -- the series is set in the early 60s. But he generally treats women with respect. In fact, Draper punishes underlings for stupid sexist comments, perhaps more for the stupidity than the sexism, and recognizes talent in female subordinates. Menken, for that matter, is Don's equal in all things, and he treats her as such.
- The pointless vulgarity. One of the intriguing things about Mad Men is the fact that its past is a different country. There are no cute, winking anachronisms. Although the characters' attitudes toward women and minorities are more cliched than they would be today, their manners are more polished. People dress formally, use the subjunctive, help the ladies with their coats, speak in complete sentences, and use appropriate greetings and goodbyes. This is what makes the alcohol-fueled lapses in decorum so pleasantly shocking: when one character says "fuck" (which happens a grand total of once in the series), the other characters react as if they'd just been slapped. So the whole snarky talk of staring at asses -- doubtless conceived by some insufferable young German ad-man who sprinkles his business-jargon with the English word "edgy" -- is completely out of place.
- It sells the series as lowbrow for no reason. God knows, the German television landscape is full of lowbrow (g) shtick complete with ass-staring jokes. But Mad Men isn't lowbrow, it's high-middlebrow. (This is, by the way, the level of brow that Germany seems to be incapable of producing itself). People who tune in looking for crude humor are going to be quickly disappointed, and will tune out after 20 minutes. Why is attracting a blip of attention from fans of fart jokes worth vulgarizing and caricaturing the very artistic product you're promoting?
- It's worse than a crime, it's a mistake. The ad shows the condescending amateurism that you so often see in the German media. As Cohu pointed out, nobody who had watched even one episode of the series would have approved this marketing approach. Unless, of course, they just didn't care. Which, obviously, they didn't. I mean, why bother actually coming up with a stylish, witty ad campaign for the series? It'll just go over the heads of the stupid couch potatoes we "serve"...
Now, don't get me wrong. Sponsoring this stupid ad for Mad Men is not taking a hammer to the Pieta. Mad Men is not a timeless masterpiece, it's more like a Trollope novel. But it is damn good television, and this ad completely disrespects that fact. Perhaps if Germans began actually taking well-made high-middlebrow television seriously, they'd finally be able to create some of their own...