Guest-post by Kisses in the Hallway
In my Mad Men research I came across a book entitled The Image, A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America by Daniel Boorstin. I haven’t heard Matt Weiner mention this book anywhere, but in my attention to Mad Men detail, I noticed a copy of another book by Boorstin sitting on Cooper’s shelf. It’s The Americans: The Colonial Experience and it sits next to Atlas Shrugged.
So Boorstin’s Image book–written in 1961–is mainly about something he calls America’s national self-hypnosis. His thesis is that there’s a vast, booming industry, from the news to advertising to travel to celebrity, devoted to creating an illusion that’s not exactly false, but isn’t quite true, either. More controversial, he claims we in fact want to be seduced by this illusion. Contrary to Packard, there are no villains. Instead, the illusion’s exactly what we want. Now, in the chapter on advertising, I found this interesting passage. This could very well be Don’s pitch from Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. From page 215 of Boorstin:
The advertiser’s art then consists largely of the art of making persuasive statements which are neither true nor false. He does not violate the old truth-morality. Rather, like the news maker, he evades it….When Claude C. Hopkins, one of the pioneers of American advertising, took on the Schlitz Beer account some years ago, he prepared himself by learning all he could about brewing. On his tour through the Schlitz brewery Hopkins noticed that bottles were purified by live steam before being filled. This caught his fancy. He developed an advertising program around the notion that Schlitz beer was pure because the bottles were steam-sterilized. Schlitz quickly rose from fifth place in national sales to near first place. What he said was, of course, gospel truth. Consumers simply did not know enough about beer making to realize that the beer of every respectable brand was bottled this way. The use of live steam by Schlitz became a more vivid fact than its use by any of the competitors. Hopkins had concocted the pseudo-event he was looking for. He had made news. This pseudo-event was then given a nationally advertised dignity making it predominate over the same prosaic fact which was equally ‘true’ about all reputable beers. Competitors dared not match the boast for fear they might seem to be imitating Schlitz.
Lucky Strike cigarettes sold well by pre-empting the slogan ‘It’s Toasted.’ They were toasted! So was every other American cigarette. Soon the sales of Lucky Strike reached nearly six billion cigarettes a year.
As Sterling says–I don’t have to tell you what you just witnessed. Boorstin’s book is very fascinating. I highly recommend it for it’s own sake, but it’s themes do resonate with Mad Men’s first season quite well.