How Marshall McLuhan Helps Us Understand Mad Men


The final TV episode of Mad Men, set in the revolutionary decade of the 1960s, will be broadcast on AMC this evening. Whether you liked and watched it or not, as I did, since its premiere on July 19, 2007, the series received huge critical praise for its acting, writing and historical accuracy, winning 15 Emmys and 4 Golden Globes. It was also the first basic cable series to win the Emmy for Outstanding Drama series in each of its first 4 seasons.

It has been of special interest to advertising people and the article below can help the rest of us understand the program better. One mistake the article’s author makes is his comment that “I’ve always found the lack of any mention of media writer and thinker McLuhan the most inexplicable”. It’s true that McLuhan isn’t mentioned by name during the series, but his most famous aphorism “the medium is the message” is mentioned, specifically by then office manager Joan Holloway in a comment to Peggy during Episode 6 of Season One. Viewers who don’t know where that phrase comes from should. See my March 24, 2012 posting on this blog about Marshall McLuhan and the Mad Men here: .

Further proof, as if any were needed, of Marshall McLuhan’s prescience. In 1964, he wrote:*

“The classified ads (and stock-market quotations) are the bedrock of the press. Should an alternative source of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold.”

*Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (ARK edition, 1987) p.207

And, while we’re on the subject, here two more McLuhanisms on advertising:

“Ads are the cave art of the twentieth century.”

“Ads are not meant for conscious consumption. They are intended as subliminal pills for the subconscious in order to exercise an hypnotic spell, especially on sociologists.”

And finally, how about this? “I don’t necessarily agree with everything that I say.” ( )

Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th century.  - Marshall McLuhan

One Response to “How Marshall McLuhan Helps Us Understand Mad Men

  1. 1 R. Lumpp

    McLuhan did not make value judgments about advertising or anything else. He simply described, in inimitably colorful fashion, what was going on. Readers often take the color for approval or disapproval. He invited the reader to perceive rather than to judge. “A thing is received according to the mode of the receiver.”–Thomas Aquinas. Receivers inevitably expect writers/observers to judge. Hence confusion, perplexity, ambiguity.


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