Matthew Weiner Discusses Mad Men Ending

Major spoilers for Mad Men are involved in this post.

Matthew Weiner Discusses Mad Men Ending

Mattew Weiner has done a discussion about the last season of Mad Men and the final images displayed.  The whole article is worth reading if you are a fan of the show.  He claims that the last image of the show was not meant in any kind of cynical way:

“My take is that, the next day, he wakes up in this beautiful place, and has this serene moment of understanding, and realizes who he is,” Mr. Hamm said. “And who he is, is an advertising man.”

Mr. Weiner didn’t touch on how the Coke ad did or did not fit within the show’s narrative. But he defended the ad, with its notably multicultural cast, against those who would now dismiss it as “corny.”

Now, I definitely interpreted it that way.  However, Weiner is defending the ad in it’s place and time and not ours.  He talks about how five years before the ad you couldn’t even have black and white people in the same ad.

In one way, if the creator of something says something is so and so, you could say I was wrong.  However, I think it is a credit to Weiner that the end was interpretive enough, so well put together, that its interpretations are more varied than just what he was thinking when he put it together.

I remember one time I wrote a song and someone misheard the lyrics.  What they heard was even more compelling than what I wrote.  Often when writing or doing anything, one goes on intuition more than reason.  David Lynch is a director that is really interesting to watch work, as he operates almost wholly on intuition.  Some of the things I have written that I’m most proud of, I don’t even know what they are till later on.  Also, there is the argument that once created, something is the audience’s as much as it is the creator’s.

A friend of mine said that the ending also hinted at the artistic process.  That so much goes into one song, or scene, etc.  Nothing is created in a vacuum.  It took Draper his whole life to arrive at a place where he could create that commercial.  I think this is another brilliant way to interpret the ending.

I remember reading another interview with Weiner where he talked about how there was positive and negative advertising.  There was advertising that tried to make what was being sold look appealing.  Then there was negative ads that tried to make people feel like they would be losers if they didn’t by the product.  Think of all of the male deodorant commercials that basically say if you don’t buy this you will never get laid.  Draper was someone that believed in creating positive ads.

Now I still stick with my original interpretation of the ending.  Even though the show takes place in the past, the viewing takes place in the now.  Advertising has consumed and co-opted so many things by this point that it is hard not to be cynical about ads.  In my mind tying peace and love to a Coke diminishes peace and love.  If you take my friend’s interpretation about art, art is at least trying to communicate something of value.  It is trying to represent the real experience as best it can so that other people can understand it.  It is trying to build communication.  Meanwhile, commercials end goal are to get you to buy a product.  In the case of the Coke ad, peace and love are being used to try to get you to buy something that causes tooth decay and childhood obesity.  It is turning peace and love into nothing more than a marketable commodity.

There is so much more I could say about the brilliant, beautiful, and somewhat disturbing, to me at least, ending of this great show.  But the whole thing about such a great ending is that you don’t have to decide.  You don’t have to tell yourself that this ending represents one interpretation and that nothing else is correct.  The ending raises more questions, connects with more ideas, than Weiner, my friend, or myself have about it.  The ending is art and that is a beautiful thing.  It is not a final destination, but a river than can lead you to so many different places.  Cast off from shore and explore this world and others on your own.

Give Us Three Minutes and We’ll Give You the World

The original version of Robocop hilariously satirizes TV news and television commercials.  Sure, a movie made in the 80’s is bound to get a couple things wrong, but overall it captures the shallowness of modern culture excellently.  Years on our culture still too often feels like an 80’s action movie.

One of the general plot points in the science fiction movie Robocop is that a military industrial corporation is trying to take over the police force of Detroit.  Knowing now how are police have often been militarized, thanks in part to the military industrial complex, a good deal of this movie is still more relevant than one would hope it would be.  

The Depressing State of the Music Business

As someone that makes his living playing music, I am extremely troubled by the future of the music business right now.  This year Apple canceled the production of their iPod Classic.  This was the only device that they made that I can fit my entire music library on.  The device with the most storage now can only hold about half the songs.  This was the best device for true music fans and collectors like myself.

It seems to me that these companies are trying to push people towards clouds and streaming.  However, streaming is not a viable economic model yet for artists.  Also, as someone that travels all of the time, internet connection is not always an option.  So as a musician I feel pushed towards an economic model that doesn’t support my profession and as a consumer I feel pushed towards a model that doesn’t support my needs.

I can see how when I’m reading I am often distracted from my books because of my phone.  There is so many times when I sit down with a book and I suddenly am checking my phone without it even being conscious.  At least I haven’t been reading on a device that allows me to check things while I’m reading.  I liked that the iPod allowed focus to be on the music and not on anything else, like the experience will be if all of your music is on your phone.

I read somewhere that a CIA operative said that he didn’t watch television because it.”turned your brain into cotton candy.”  However, even TV, what has often been the most shallow of art forms, seemed to have taken a turn in recent years and provided viewers with many thought provoking shows.  Viewers have been educated to watch complicated shows that require watching multiple episodes that don’t necessarily pay off until you have watched an entire series.  Somehow the music business has not been able to make the general public understand that albums are the best form for expressing a complete thought.  The music business seems to be going back towards the singles market.  I love great singles, but often listening to one song is like watching one scene of a movie.  It may be a great looking scene with a tremendous set-design and outstanding performances, but in order to truly get it you must see it in context.  Often when I listen to songs on shuffle on my iPod, which i don’t do that often, songs that I love in context don’t appeal to me as much.

In years past, especially the 60’s, music played a vital role in this country in changing the culture and in engaging people to think about the world in new ways.  Really great recording artists are still doing that.  Morrissey’s World Peace is None of Your Business is just the latest album to expand the musical subject matter of songs and to provide the listener with new insight into the world.  Jackson Browne’s new album also does the same.  However, these kind of albums seem to be an increasing rarity.

I guess I just feel like an art form that is so important to me, and has been so important to many in this country over the years, is slowly being destroyed by economic forces.  And no one in economic power in the music industry seems to be doing anything to try and reverse the trend.  In the film industry you still have people like the Weinstein’s that still believe important stories need to be told.  You get a sense that at least certain executives in film and television, if not the majority, still believe in the power of their art forms.  Meanwhile, while heavyweight music artists might cry out about what is being done to the industry, there doesn’t seem to be anyone on the business side that I can think of that is really trying to champion the what the form can and should be.

The last thing I want to add is that if you are a fan of music, if you are one of those people that says why aren’t there as many great albums as there once was, you need to economically support artists in some form.  Paying a small fee to Spotify or whatever isn’t going to support the kind of art that you want to see, at least not yet.  We live in a capitalist system and you vote with your dollar.  Great music takes money to make.  If you are not supporting artists finically you are going to see less of the kind of art that you want.  Artists are pretty scrappy.  If they really want to make something they will find a way eventually.  However, the finical straights of the music industry will cut down on the amount of great records that artists will produce as a percentage.

You will also see more and more artists, and we are seeing this already, taking part in commercials and things to finance their work.  It’s a lot harder to critique the system when by necessity you are forced to be a part of it.  I can’t blame anyone that takes a commercial now that is just starting out in the music industry.  Even famous antiestablishment artists are forced into positions they might not otherwise want to be in by hard economic times in the industry.  Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) famously did a string of butter commercials so that he could finance the return of Public Image Ltd.  If I am being honest one of the reasons I started this blog is that I hope to be able to make some secondary income through ads eventually so that I can afford to create the music that I want to.

I feel kind of like someone that is trying to bale out an ocean liner that just hit an iceberg with a bucket.  But I believe in this stuff.  If you truly love music like I do you need to support it.  It doesn’t look like there will be any help from the business side of things anytime soon.  All of us that are fans must do what we can.  Even if we fail we can at least say we tried…

Werner Herzog On TV and Commercials

Our grandchildren will blame us for not tossing hand-grenades into TV stations because of commercials. Television kills our imagination and what we end up with are worn out images because of the inability of too many people to seek out fresh ones.”

Werner Herzog

If you would like to read more quotes by the German director you can find some at:

http://www.penningtonproductions.com/werner-herzog-quotes/

If you are even the slightest bit interested in Herzog, the book Herzog On Herzog is a completely engaging read. 

Invest In What You Value

record

I just read that record sales are down 14% this year.  It is a shame, because this has actually been a year when a fair amount of good to great records have been released.  I don’t understand, especially in a capitalist system, why people don’t understand the idea that artists near to be paid for their work.  I mean I think creative people will create no matter how much money they are making.  However, if people are investing in their work they will create more and possibly do more groundbreaking work, as making records takes money.  Making records that really push the boundaries of what recorded sound can do really takes money!  The more you stream or steal, the more you are just going to end up with pop being just elevator music.  Music that sounds good in car commercials.  Those that make car commercial music are rewarded more than those that make great albums.  How sad is that?!!!  So if you want there to be a large amount of decent music being made, invest in artists.  That is the deal, someone makes something you like that inspires you, spend ten dollars investing in their work.  Then there is the possibility that they will make something else that inspires you.  That might not always be the case, but anything you invest in has a slight amount of risk involved.  In Canada artists often get grants from the government when they start out.  That is not going to happen here, not for a long time if ever, in the world of pop music anyway.  We need individuals to step up to the plate.  Stealing is stealing anyway you cut it, and streaming isn’t paying out like selling records is yet.  So there you go, you know who you are?  If you value something make a small investment in something.  It will lead to more things that you value.

What is Selling Out These Days?

As I creep slowly up the music business food chain and have thought about the state of the music business, I have had to think about what the term selling out means.  I grew up when the music business was healthy.  I also grew up following the punk and independent music scene quite closely.  There were people who “sold out” and who “didn’t sell out”.  It meant various things to various people, and was never clearly defined, but it was more so than today.  Lou Reed made a Honda commercial, but I don’t think anyone could ever accuse him of selling out.  Meanwhile a band like Fugazi never even allowed themselves to be interviewed in magazines that had booze or tobacco ads.  Johnny Rotten, John Lydon, did a butter ad a couple years ago, but he claimed this was only to get Public Image Ltd, a very avant garde band, back to making records.  Sometimes things stick to artists and sometimes they don’t.   Really I think you have to measure someone’s whole career and determine if they have artistic integrity.

Back in the renaissance,  in Italy, there was a rich and powerful family named the Medici family.  They funded the arts heavily.  They were patrons of such artists as Michaelangelo.   Basically in one way or another artists need their Medici family.  It is preferable if this is done through funding through the general public, as lots of small patrons cannot really force an artist to compromise their vision. 

However, what do you do in an age when no one is buying records the way they once were?  Art costs money to make.  Bills still need to be paid. 

You see more and more artists making corporate partnerships in order to survive.  More and more artists also appear in commercials as mainstream radio has been neutered almost completely.   This makes me uncomfortable because large corporations often act unethically.  Part of the purpose of art is to speak truth to power.  It becomes harder to do, though it is not impossible, if an artist is funded by that power.  No one will accuse John Lydon anytime soon of biting his tongue.  But he was well established by the time he made a commercial.  I do think that the relationship between corporations and artists is corrupting,  if not to every artist, then at least in the industry overall.  If it is hard to pinpoint exactly who has been corrupted,  it does seem like there is less art speaking truth to power than during the 60’s or the punk rock era. 

I don’t have the answer to these questions.  I just think it is worth thinking about.  I do think that it is important that individuals support artists with their own money through buying of records, supporting radio stations that don’t have corporate playlists, etc.  In a capitalist society you vote with your money.  If you want art that means something you need to be willing to pay for it.  I am still a person that buys almost all of my records, because I view it as investing in an art that means something to me.  Music has, if not literally saved my life, definitely kept me sane.  I want there to continue to be artists that aren’t afraid to speak their mind and to expose their soul. 

How to Sell Out

It seems that in the current music business and the arts in general it is very hard to make any kind or real money unless one dances with corporate America.  With the record business and radio in decline, even though pubic radio is becoming more and more viable for getting artists heard, one of the best ways for young artists to get their music heard is through commercials.  Many film directors also get their start in commercials. 

In the past, because record companies actually had money to promote artists that were not top tier moneymakers, and because the power of radio, it was seen as selling out if one sold their song to a commercial.  Artists like Bruce Springsteen still do not allow their music to appear in commercials.  I highly respect him for this, but let’s be honest, he has enough money that he doesn’t need to do that.  I also read that Kanye West does not allow his work to be used in commercials.  Whatever one things of him that is to be commended at least.  But again he is someone that doesn’t need the exposure or the money. 

I grew up highly influenced by punk rock.  There still seems to me, even though I realize the rules of the game have changed, something disheartening about putting songs in commercials.  It seems to have a corrupting influence on art, as once you hear a song in a Cheetos commercial or whatever, it can be hard to disassociate that song with that product.  Art should also speak truth to power, not walk hand in hand with it.  However, I do know that Hank Williams did commercials, and no one doubts that he was one of the greats.  There are also more ethical ways to sell out.  Moby allows his songs to be played in commercials, but then he uses a fraction of the money towards causes that he believes in.  For instance he will allow his music to be in a car commercial, but then use some of that money for environmental groups.  He is using the money of the company in direct opposition to what that company does. 

After watching a few really awful commercials at the AMC theater last night, I thought of an even better way to sell out.  The one commercial was a bunch of musicians making really bad music with coke bottles or some such nonsense.  Part of my brain slowly died during that shit.  So I think that artists should only allow their art to be used in commercials if they are given enough money to purchase a high end military vehicle like a tank.  Then they should personally drive that tank to the corporation headquarters that gave them the money and blow it up.  The artist would get paid and get exposure.  Meanwhile the general public would not have to watch any more stupid fucking commercials by that company.  What do you think of that? 

P.S.  The last paragraph is a joke if the NSA happens to be reading along.  I swear!