Monday, January 18, 2010

Ad Men & Women

The characters on Mad Men tend to lack integrity in both their personal and professional lives. AMC’s perceptive and award-winning series, set in the early 1960s, broadcasts consistent proof of that pitiful human condition into my living room. This miasma of mendacity, which most often comes during breaks for commercials and TV promos, reflects the output of contemporary Don Drapers, Peggy Olsons and Pete Campbells.

The tasteless deception is so pervasive that undiscriminating viewers can no longer differentiate between genuine information and the cesspool of artful lies. In enumerating some of the many atrocities, let’s not preface these peeves with the word pet because that would be offensive to my two lovely cats:

* When an ad for the Lincoln MKS uses a snippet of “Space Oddity” as its soundtrack, this is absurdly intended to convey an upbeat assessment of the automobile’s prowess on the road with a sorrowful David Bowie song about doom (rendered by Cat Power).

* The Beatles’ “Revolution” was long ago perverted by Nike, but now Luvs diapers have claimed “All You Need is Love” and the Target department store sells its wares with “Hello Goodbye” --- including a visual that reads “Goodbuy.”

* Senior citizens, their faces distorted by looks of disgust, sing “Bye-bye ooze, bye-bye yukiness...” in a grotesque desecration of the Everly Brothers classic to hawk Sea-Bond denture adhesive.

* Howie Long, a former Oakland raiders defensive end, is a he-man regularly mugging mercilessly for the camera while belittling metrosexuals who dare to chose Hondas rather than Chevys.

* Retired basketball point guard Walt “Clyde” Frazier teams with former baseball first baseman Keith Hernandez to persuade aging males they must color their grey hair with Just for Men gel to attract much younger babes. These bottom-feeder ads end with the repellent mantra: “He scores!”

*A shameless sportscaster named Chris Berman employs his famous football catchphrase -- “He. Could. Go. All. The. Way.” -- in ads for both the weight-loss plan NutriSystem and the high-calorie restaurant chain T.G.I. Friday’s. He. Could. Go. Straight. To. Hell.

* A certain Talking Baby was introduced during halftime of the 2008 Super Bowl -- I prefer to call this the Stupor Bowl -- as a particularly obnoxious spokesmodel for Etrade Financial. The footage of a real child is manipulated to spout insults while also throwing up, participating in a play group of fellow infants or tapping a computer keyboard. Now comes news that the original kid is a toddler too old to qualify, so another exploited newborn will be unveiled during the 2010 athletic spectacle.

* At the other end of life’s journey, bearded Billy Mays died in June 2009, yet his shouting lives on. It’s downright macabre that this deafeningly loud direct-response marketing creature continues to laud such home-improvement toxins as OxiClean, Orange Glo, Mighty Putty and Kaboom.

* Giddy faux-consumers dance with joy over products that cure their diarrhea or heartburn or irregular heartbeat -- quite a few of which are later banned for including one too many deleterious side effects. Until ordered to cease and desist by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Pfizer pharmaceuticals lured arthritis-stricken baby boomers to the prescription medicine Celebrex with a twist on the 1970s Three Dog Night number about dancing to the music. The revised lyrics promised “Celebrate celebrate, Do what you wanna do...” However, such claims were deemed questionable after the revelation that results of a scientific study had been exaggerated.

* Similarly, the 1963 Ronettes’ hit “Be My Baby” helps Cialis convince victims of erectile dysfunction to pump up their manliness -- perhaps lasting four hours before they need to consult a doctor! -- while also pruning themselves in bathtubs overlooking idyllic vistas.

* Viva Las Vegas in 1964 may not have been Elvis Presley’s finest moment but surely the erection-enhancement proponents now singing “Viva Viagra” have taken that tune to a new low. The King’s movie with the same title featured Ann-Margret -- whose come-hither 1963 Bye, Bye Birdie performance figures prominently in a Season Three Mad Men episode, “Love Among the Ruins.” Don Draper and his Madison Avenue colleagues, who generally demonstrate more class pleasuring corporate clients than do their 21st-century counterparts, handle the account for an exercise girdle that turns out to be a very effective launchpad for female orgasms (Season One’s “Indian Summer”).

* Animals are used, either in animation or manipulated live action, to pitch their own destruction. Charlie the Tuna may have been the granddaddy of them all, with chickens and cows now equally suicidal.

* D--list celebrities, among others in this subset of morons, address their gratitude to inanimate objects and online gimmicks. For example, those cured of something called Dry Eye saying “Thank you, Restasis!” Or relieved thrifty homemakers proclaiming “Thank you,, thank you!

* Ben Stein, frequently shilling for an array of companies from the vision lubricant Clear Eyes to the cable giant Comcast, mines the same deadpan persona that grew tired immediately after his role in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 24 years ago. In August 2009, the former Richard Nixon speechwriter lost his gig as a columnist for the business section of The New York Times due to the conflict of interest presented by his dreadful monotone ads on behalf of, a highly controversial credit-reporting firm.

* Some pathetic plugs are meant as in-house marketing: Distracting logos and character snippets for other shows that appear at the bottom of the screen during an entirely different program.

* To publicize a drama, its stars stand with arms folded to look tough or striding toward the camera in slow motion to look tough and sexy.

* Sometimes, self-aggrandizement is the issue. An annoying male voice seems to be coming over a bad phone connection from Bangladesh to boast a brand name: “Only by Bravo.” He intones the last word with an unseen but insinuating sneer.

* And speaking of that cable outlet, many of the worst reality smackdowns imaginable are on the schedule. “Top Chefs.” “Shear Genius.” Tabatha’s Salon Takeover.” Although I’ve never seen the actual shows, the ads tell all: in each case, an imperious host bullies conniving contestants to vie for some who-gives-a-damn triumph.

* But in a universe that just can’t seem to get enough Real Housewives, nothing beats the cast of California bubble-brains. The oft-repeated promotion for a recent episode spotlights one blonde bimbo bemoaning her marital woes. “We are seriously heading for divorce,” she tells the other, equally dim fraus with wedding rings. “And I don’t know what to do!”

Well, lady, you might start by quitting that godawful “Real Housewives of Orange County.”

--Susan Green is a film critic and arts journalist based in Burlington, Vermont. She is the co-author with Kevin Courrier of Law & Order: The Unofficial Companion and with Randee Dawn of Law & Order Special Victims Unit: The Unofficial Companion.

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