Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Why "The Carousel" Scene Is Special

I alluded to "The Carousel" scene from the season one finale of Mad Men. I checked through my blog and could not find where I discussed the scene before. This is Don's famous pitch to Kodak. To go meta on this, it is also the entire pitch to the viewers about the show, Peak America and what is lost.

I cannot do it justice. Television is generally a poorly used medium. Mad Men dedicated itself to relishing the mid-20th Century aesthetic. Part of Mad Men's artistic success came from having a small audience and capturing the '60s nostalgia present in the mid-'00s. They could focus on crafting a great period piece for the Boomers as they shuffled into old age and a Millennial generation curious about it. This scene is one of the greatest scenes in television history. Occasionally you hit solid gold in season one. Here is the full monologue:
Don Draper: Well, technology is a glittering lure. But, uh, there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job, I was in-house at a fur company, with this old-pro copywriter, a Greek named Teddy. Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is new.Creates an itch.You simply put your product in there as a kind of calamine lotion. But he also talked about a deeper bond with the product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate, but potent. Sweetheart. (lights switch off, changes slide)  
Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound”.(changes slide) It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.(changes slide) This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine.(changes slide) It goes backwards, forwards, (changes slide) takes us to a place where we ache to go again.(changes slide) It’s not called the wheel. It’s called the carousel.(changes slide) It lets us travel the way a child travels. (changes slide) Round and around, and back home again. (changes slide) To a place where we know we are loved.(changes slide)
The set up is great. Don has a pitch to a client, so the show can use this set up to pitch you an idea. What is even better is that within the story being told to you, there is another story told. Don is passing along old time tested knowledge. "A Greek named Teddy" sounds old timey. This pitch is not the pitch for the product. This pitch is to you about this show. It is the end of season one, maybe you liked it and maybe you were meh about it. Do not just go for the flashy and the new. Come along for this ride with us. We, the team putting this entire show together, are going to get you with an even deeper bond: nostalgia.

The nostalgia is Don selling you on old America. This is an actor in 2000s America portraying a Kennedy era American, Peak American. He represents what you remember and knows what those of you younger folks secretly want. He is costumed as an "ad man". There is an aching, pained feeling that the America that was functional and powerful is gone. This is why it hurts. You know it's gone. That sentimental bond is with the old America. You cannot openly say it because of Progress! but we know it is there. We'll find a way to pitch, present and recycle it to you.

Mad Men will bring it back for you. Advertising is not as much about the product as who the consumer buying that product wants to be. You want to live in that lost world and want to take pride in the nation that went to the moon. The overwhelmingly white audience wants to enjoy these things guilt free unlike the social mores barring any form of white pride in modern America. Mad Men is a time machine. For one hour on Sunday, you can go back. When men were men, women were women, America at peak and so many handsome and pretty, thin white faces. It is just a memory now. It will hurt, but you will remember, we will remember. Tune in and just melt back into that old world, that time and that place where you feel at home.

2 comments:

Andrew said...

Yep, this is one of the greatest scenes ever in television. Perfect. And the show knows it as the very next scene makes clear: a victory for civilization.

-Andrew E.

Gunnar von Cowtown said...

You want to live in that lost world and want to take pride in the nation that went to the moon. Mad Men is a time machine. For one hour on Sunday, you can go back. When men were men, women were women.... Tune in and just melt back into that old world, that time and that place where you feel at home.

Nice analysis. That pretty much sums up the appeal of the entire series.

Retro is reactionary.