"Now I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again, and interesting, and modern".
The week before last I was ill and as I sat at home recovering I decided to watch TV. Having finished Succession, Severance, The Peripheral and White Lotus I wondered what next?
So I went back in time to view the very first episode of MadMen.
Four days later I had digested all 7 seasons.
When I worked in adland I assumed MadMen was all about Madison Avenue, the twists and turns of pitching and the political and creative intrigue of the creative industries in, what was arguably, their heyday. I even wrote a book about that era, during my time at JWT (RIP) with my co-author John Griffiths.
But now I realise that it wasn't about advertising at all.
It was about identity.
As I watched again in 2023, though new eyes and ears, I better understood the cleverly interwoven layers of identity that Matt Weiner (writer, producer, director and show runner) had knitted together.
- There is an examination of the changing identity of the nation state and in particular the image and self-image of a nation - the United States of America. The series takes us from 1960 to 1970 encompassing the Nixon-Kennedy election, Kennedy's assassination, Vietnam, civil rights, riots and an attitude of East Coast declinism in favour of West Coast utopianism.
- There is a thread that deals with identity creation within society, for both women and men. The battle of the sexes is played out over old school typewriters, creative briefs for Playtex and the inclusion (or exclusion) of women in this emergent industry. But we also witness Betty Draper growing restless in the role of housewife, the de-personing of divorcees, and a brand new generation of feminists such as Megan building their identity via their own creative pursuits rather than expressing those of another.
- And finally, there is Don. Or Dick. A man who was born with one identity and swapped it for another, and who spends his whole life trying to reconcile those selves, badly managing the damage it does, and searching to escape both his old and new identity through self sabotage, obsessed with a need to appeal to strangers.
These layers are expertly woven through the seven seasons introducing us to all the conundrums and complexity of identity, and in particular demonstrating how much of that identity in this period was about attaching oneself to signals of social status: otherwise knows as brands.
Sixty Years on brands don't enjoy the same caché and people look for new ways to signal their status.
(despite the final episode ending on what has always been my favourite ad of all time).
And I'll be spending some time in December exploring what this means for brands in the C21st, hopefully putting out some thoughts at the beginning of the year.
Meantime, I am delving further and further in to MadMen and Identity, with view to a written piece on its importance in surfacing, presenting and investigating many hidden elements of identity creation and representation, and what it helps us to understand about where we are now, as well as the direction in which we are headed.
So watch out for that piece - I'll put a link in a future issue of this newsletter.
One thing you already know is how much I have been pushing this notion of identity and multiplicity. I guested on several podcasts last week where I raised it again, including this one with Professor Dr Ger Graus and the Children's Media Conference.
But since I have my MadMen lenses on (and appear unable to remove them for now) no-one says it better than (Frank O'Hara and) Don!
You can still buy the book. And big thanks to those who already have!
Email me firstname.lastname@example.org to book me to speak on the future of identity
Or through Futuremade Consulting to speak on the future of everything else.