content by

James Enge

Lies on Toast: The Fantasy of Mad Men

No TV show currently running would seem to be less fantastic (in the genre sense) than Mad Men, which is famous for its realistic recreation of period detail. Take its first episode, where gray-flannelled genius Don Draper has been tasked with dreaming up a new campaign for Lucky Strike cigarettes. The problem is that Reader’s Digest has been thundering the health problems of smoking in everyone’s ears, and that an FTC ruling has forbidden the counterclaims of tobacco companies that some cigarettes are healthier than others. “No more doctors. No more testimonials. No more cough-free, soothes-your-T-zone, low-tar, low-nicotine, filter-tip, nothing. All I have is a crush-proof box and 4 out of 5 dead people smoked your brand.”

Draper is out of ideas, and his evident floundering sets off a crisis in the office in which the Freudian death-wish, marital infidelity, various nascent office romances, a tsunami’s worth of distilled liquor and a stab or two of boardroom treachery all play a role. At the last possible moment, at the end of a meeting with extremely disgruntled clients, Draper pulls a ray of sunshine out of some orifice that only advertisers have and invests the client’s product with a kind of homely glory. The new campaign will be just a picture of a pack of Lucky Strike and the phrase “It’s Toasted.” Other cigarettes cause cancer; Luckies have the warmth and comfort of toast. The day is saved, and the client is free to pound smoky spikes of toxic death into the general public’s lungs for the foreseeable future. Um. Hurray!

[More lies, spoilers and a dismembered limb or two beyond the jump.]

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