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Need to Believe
by Meredith Gage
“The science of sales and marketing was still in its drooling infancy in 1961 when Kennedy was saying ‘Ask not?’” observed the late David Foster Wallace in a piece about the 2000 presidential campaign. “The young people he inspired had not been skillfully marketed to all their lives. They knew nothing of spin. They were not totally, terribly familiar with salesmen.”
Although we hop in the way-back machine every Sunday to travel to the world of Mad Men, the dial stops firmly at 1962 and the tide is already beginning to turn. Everyone – from girls at the church dance to soap opera viewers to party-throwing housewives – is suddenly being marketed to.
Advertising, Wallace continued, “produces in you a very modern and very American kind of confusion, a sort of interior war between your deep need to believe and your deep belief that the need to believe is bullshit, that’s there’s nothing left anywhere but salesmen.”
Wallace, after experiencing success in the early 90s, put himself under suicide watch. “I wanted attention as a writer,” he explained to Charlie Rose in a 1997 interview. “But when I got it, I realized it didn’t make me happy. The brass ring no longer existed.”
you wouldn’t want to get right with god over on the couch, would you?
Even the girls that are supposed to know better are having a hard time of it. Peggy, who long believed a life in the world of advertising would bring happiness, now feels cut off from potential relationships with God and her child. Oh and also with the cute priest.
Joan, who perfected the subservient sex symbol, now tires of fetching glasses of water for her fiancé. Her attempts to review television scripts for Sterling Cooper—an activity she genuinely enjoys—are rebuffed first by her fiancé (“You should be watching them, not reading them!”) and second by Harry Crane after he thanks her for “temporarily filling in” after hiring a dude.
Betty, too, is a victim of the bait-and-switch. She is distressed to find herself not in the relationship of her dreams but in a commercial. “You humiliated me!” she cries. “I use our life all the time,” dreamy Don Draper insists (you are making this worse, Don!) “That’s what they pay me for.”
Her marriage is not a marriage as much as it is a clever bit of self-promotion on Don’s part. She completes an image that he’d like to sell. His product is so smooth she can’t even find physical evidence of his philandering ways. “All I could find were cocktail napkins with stupid advertising on them,” she grouses.
Welcome to the club, Betty! We cynics – those of us who have been sold to since birth, who are convinced that everyone’s a salesman – have long worried about and despised you for your naivete (out of jealousy, perhaps? or sneering self-loathing?). If we were raised by advertising, then Don is the personification of this father figure. He never hit us, and he sure did look good in a suit, but he ultimately never gave a shit about us so long as he profited. We’re glad relieved! – that you figured it out too. So let’s crack open a Heineken from far-away Holland and kick him out of the house.
And let’s close our eyes, and let’s rub our shoulders, and let’s sink into our bathtubs. Let’s pull out the acoustic guitar.
Let us soothe our insecurities about advertising by exploring them through an auteur piece on basic cable. And when we have no other recourse, let us hang ourselves, and let us rest in peace.
Meredith Gage is a contributor to This Recording. Her tumblr is here.
THIS WON’T HURT
You’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do. – DFW
interviewed by Laura Miller
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