A cloud of smoke

Posted 10.01.08

I've been watching and reading as many varied sources as I can to try to understand what's happened in this current economic crisis, and whether the bailout should have been rejected. What's the alternative? Nobody seems to have an answer.

But I've come to one conclusion about the cause of all this chaos.

Have you been watching "Mad Men,"the stylish, award-winning series about advertising in the 1950s and 60s? I find it fascinating, as I was just entering the work world in those decades, and remember all too well the male-dominated, smoke-filled, sexually charged offices in New York where this drama is set.

The underlying theme of "Mad Men" is that no one is what they appear to be. While men act on the surface as devoted husbands, they're cheating on the side, and the women are no better, many of them using sex to manipulate the men in their lives.

The cloud of smoke enveloping every scene is a metaphor for the advertising industry, as the program reveals the cynical tactics used to persuade a gullible public to buy products they often didn't need (like cigarettes, the subject of the first episode).

If you haven't been watching "Mad Men," I urge you to look for the first season on DVD.

I'm convinced that advertising, especially on television (because the images are so realistic and the medium so invasive), has been a major factor in the current financial crisis.

TV has become an addiction for the middle class. It's where they've come to feel "entitled" to the home much larger than they can afford, the cars that scale mountain-tops and go "zoom zoom," the fashions they see on soap operas and awards shows, and the huge engagement rings flaunted by stars on entertainment shows.

Ads on TV show laundry equipment in dedicated spaces larger than most bedrooms, young professionals in the latest fashions with expensive electronic gadgets many of us can't afford, couples driving cars that cost more than their parents put as a down payment on their first homes.

Greed is what drove people to buy homes bigger than they could possibly hope to finance; greed drove the banks to issue mortgages they knew borrowers could never pay; greed drove the sale of those mortgages in &qot;bundles," and greed has kept those in charge on Wall Street and in Washington to ignore the impending crash in order to keep lining their own pockets.

Advertising is what feeds greed. Like the food addict at a buffet, it's hard to resist what looks so tempting, and is freely available.

A recent lecturer on TVOntario's Big Ideas was Benjamin Barber, author of Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole.

His lecture is available as a podcast at: http://www.tvo.org/TVO/WebObjects/TVO.woa?video

Click on Big Ideas.

Bobbi Graham's website has free pages and many resources for writers, publishers, and cat-lovers. Go to www.SimonTeakettle.com, and make sure you read Terzo's blog.

Copyright © 2008 Barbara Floria Graham/Log Cabin Chronicles/09.08