Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Election Night

I did not watch the Super Bowl, though I hear it broke records for viewership this Sunday. I had no skin in that game so if I watched, it would have been for the ads and, perhaps unsurprisingly, you can watch these ads at anytime on Hulu. What is surprising is that the ads are so popular with a certain segment of the population, that they themselves are sponsored by General Motors and Toyota. I'm particularly fond of the Justin Timberlake repeatedly getting hit in the nuts in the Pepsi ad.

No, the super event I've been awaiting this month is Super Tuesday. Part of my rules about no TV is that I still can watch major news events, and I think this qualifies. Really, though, I'll have to stay up past my bedtime to know who won my state because it's supposed to be close. So if it was just a matter of who won, I might as well not check the news till tomorrow. But I love looking at the information graphics as the returns come in. Whether it's sports or elections, it's fascinating to see how the networks choose to visually depict who's ahead, what's the score, and how much time is left in each segment of the game, or election night as the quarters click down and the polls close in each state. Watching their use of color, maps, and graphs to show how districts voted, how certain they are of the outcome based on precinct reporting and time left, I am tempted to pull out my Edward Tufte books and do a critique of their visual explanations every time I see them.

From the technology that helps votes get counted quicker to the technology used to create those instant information graphics, we're a long way from 1960, when it was Nixon vs. Kennedy. That was my inelegant segue to the topic I really want to talk about, which is the AMC original series Mad Men. Here is a clip of the episode named after that election. The fictional New York ad agency, Sterling Cooper, has been hired to help the Nixon campaign. The episode not only showcases the slowness of the returns (everyone thought Nixon was going to win), but also serves to highlight how accepted sexual harassment was in the workplace (nearly every episode makes me thankful to have been born in the ERA era).

This show won two Golden Globes a few weeks ago, which no one heard about because the awards ceremony was canceled due to the writer's strike. This includes both best TV Drama and a Best Actor in a Drama nod to Jon Hamm, who plays Don Draper, the Madison Avenue hero/antihero of the show. He's a hero if you like to see an advertising genius at the top of his game, a self-made man who rose up from nothing based on merit alone who puts sniveling, entitled boys in their place. He's an antihero if you don't like the fact that he has made that perfect life built on lies, two-timing not only his wife but also his mistress and finding new ways to hawk Lucky Strike cigarettes even as the Surgeon General is condemning them. And since most of you haven't seen the show, I won't reveal the biggest, most central lie of them all.

The fact that Jon Hamm can make you believe and love such a liar is why he won the Golden Globe. Tune into AMC, buy season one on iTunes, or wait for this to come out on DVD--I will let you know as soon as I know.

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