Is Mad Men the Ultimate in Product Placement?

I was thinking about how Mad Men, being focused on an ad agency, is able to place products left and right. It's like a return to good old American blue chip stocks, back when we still produced things, such as Ritz crackers (in Betty Draper's kitchen), Clearasil, airlines which were not close to bankruptcy, Hilton Hotel chains, John Deere lawnmowers (ouch!), Cadillacs. They even start focusing on one of the best products to ever be sold at home and around the world... television shows!

Perhaps the show was meant to bring back the supposed "good ole days" when, even if sexism ad racism were rampant, white guys in America still ran the world, and Americans still bought American-made everything. Actually those Mad Men guys remind me of the Wall Street "players" of this past decade or two, except their Betty Draper wives were replaced by second and third wives, and the houses in Connecticut were multi-million dollars manses. Martinis, cigars and a lot of Sex in the City were pretty much the status quo in Manhattan until that dreaded September of '08.

After watching an episode of Mad Men, I find myself wanting to go have a drink at the Algonquin, or eat some mashed potatoes and smoke. I want to spend some money on some good ole Americana: a huge car with no seat belts, a weekend in Palm Springs, a good hairdresser, and great Jackie-O dresses. The show doesn't need any commercials -- the whole thing is a commercial. And besides the odd Heineken or Eurotrash episode, or English owner/partners (who disappeared fairly quickly), there's nothing "foreign" about anything in the show.

But what ad men really did to America was help to make us into consumers. And that is what, in the end, brought us down. It is the wrong message to send that we should jump start the American consumer engine by gently (or not so gently as the product placement is pretty obvious and constant) nudging folks into buying American. If Bay Watch, Dallas and Twin Peaks helped sell America to the world, maybe Mad Men will help sell America back to Americans. Maybe, if we pay attention, what the makers of Mad Men will help us to do, is to understand what went so terribly wrong so that we might do it better this time around... instead of blowing it all in Vegas-style gambling of our futures, and those of our children.

And that leads me to the final point, as the characters I worry the most about in Mad Men are not the grown ups, but their children. I would not be surprised to see Don and Betty's kids end up in drug rehab (product placement for Silver Hill and various lifestyle adjustment services?). In future episodes, perhaps there will be more and more television selling us more and more emptiness and loneliness, as the ads the mad men create, like those images projected on the skyscrapers during the opening credits, rush past the falling man as his world disintegrates and his country is no longer his own.