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  • Two Book Reviews:Mad Men, Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style & the 1960s and Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the 60s and Beyond
  • Astrid Van den Bossche (bio)

Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship; it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel; it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and around, back home again. To a place where we know we are loved. (Donald Draper in Mad Men, Season 1, Episode 12)

The first-season finale of AMC’s Mad Men features one of the most memorable and quoted scenes of the hit series. Delivering a pitch in the guise of a harrowing soliloquy, Donald Draper woos both his filmic and extra-filmic audience by taking them on a journey through the highlights of his family life. Unbeknownst to his clients, but all too conspicuous to the audience, this gripping moment stands in stark contrast with the reality of his quickly disintegrating marriage, his inability to connect with his children, and the precariousness of his moral high ground. “A twinge in your heart” is just about right: it is a ride on a glittering carousel in the midst of an emotional wasteland.

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The power of the scene, however, draws on more than the pathos of Don’s personal history. Threading the photographs together in a compelling love story whilst skipping the tough and the ugly, the scene comments on our ability to re-imagine the past, adjusting it as necessary to suit our sensibilities. Concurrently, it exposes archetypical advertising techniques: repositioning the staid to the novel and engaging consumers through emotional prodding. As Lauren M. E. Goodlad on page 343 of “The Mad Men in the Attic: Seriality and Identity in the Modern Babylon” notes, “Don’s winning pitch is [a form of] capitalist realism: isolating a series of attractive moments, it disarticulates them from concrete histories and elevates the sentimentality to abstract ideal—eliciting desire for the sentiment, and, presumably, for the product.” As such, this single scene is an exemplar of the fascination that Mad Men holds for its audience, but equally hints at its contrived nature: Speaking to our cultural imagination of the 1960s and the advertising industry, Mad Men is a commercial construct that, supported by its success, may unearth more about our own values, beliefs, and prejudices than it accurately depicts a time “long past”.

In the wake of its success, publishers have released a variety of biographies, retrospectives, and historical accounts of mid-century Madison Avenue, sniffing out the televised phenomenon’s real-life roots. In this issue of Advertising & Society Review, we reprint excerpts from Rosser Reeves’ 1961 Reality in Advertising as a taster of one stream of advertising dogma prevalent at the time, and from Mary Wells Lawrence’s A Big Life (In Advertising), her autobiography in which she recounts numerous of her iconic campaigns. To supplement these original texts, this review presents two further works that pick up the Mad Men theme. Exploring, scrutinizing, and evaluating criticisms and commendations alike, Mad Men, Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style & the 1960s, edited by Lauren M. E. Goodlad, Lilya Kaganovsky, and Robert A. Rushing sets out to uncover the show’s relevance to our twenty-first century susceptibilities. Truth being occasionally stranger than fiction, we subsequently turn to advertising woman Jane Maas’s own account of that mad, mad world, Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ‘60s and Beyond, for comparison.

Roughly divided in three sections, every chapter in Goodlad, Kaganovsky, and Rushing’s compilation picks apart a critical aspect of the series. Part I, Mad Worlds, begins with...