No country for old MAD MEN
So pretty much my favourite blogger on advertising, Bob Hoffman, the Ad Contrarian, has decided to hang up his weekly posting spurs.
In a piece called ‘Some Final Thoughts, Part 1’, he wrote:
“The ad business has passed me by and I'm no longer very interested… For a few years I was energized by the fight to end the corrupt and dangerous influence of online tracking. But I've said everything I have to say about that."
All made me think about my favourite Coen Brothers film, No Country for Old Men, from the novel by Cormac McCarthy.
That film's hero/anti-hero is Vietnam vet Llewelyn Moss, who decides to keep a briefcase full of money that he finds in the desert after a drug deal gone bad.
The story then focuses on Moss being pursued by psychopathic hitman Anton Chigurh, whose weapon of choice is an air-powered captive bolt pistol and who determines people's fate with the toss of a coin.
But the third character is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, nearing retirement, a moral man finding it increasingly hard to do his job in the face of the violence sweeping through America.
The film, set in 1980, starts and finishes with Bell talking. In between he's always one step behind the action, even arriving too late at an El Paso motel to save Moss from a Mexican gang also in pursuit of the money.
The scene everyone talks about is when the sheriff decides to return that evening to the scene of the crime and spots the motel room lock has been freshly blown out, the tell-tale sign of Chirgurh's presence. The Coens even show us Chigurh hiding behind the door. But when bell enters the room, it's empty. Chigurh's been and gone, taking the hidden money with him. He was only there in Bell's imagination
The full meaning of the film is spelt out in two final scenes.
First Bell visits his cousin Ellis, another cop, who's now stuck in a wheelchair after being shot on his porch. He tells unceremoniously:
"You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you."
And then in the final scene, with some gentle encouragement from his wife, Bell, now retired, recounts the dreams he'd had the night before:
“All right then. Two of 'em. Both had my father in ‘em. It's peculiar. I'm older now'n he ever was by twenty years. So in a sense he's the younger man. Anyway, first one I don't remember too well but it was about meetin' him in town somewheres and he gave me some money. Think I lost it. Second one, it was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback, goin' through the mountains of a night, goin' through this pass in the mountains. It was cold and it was snow on the ground. He rode past me and kept on goin'. Never said nothin' goin' by, just rode on past and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down. When he rode past I seen he was carryin' fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it, about the color of the moon. And in the dream I knew that he was goin' on ahead and that he was fixin' to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold. I knew that whenever I got there he'd be there. Then I woke up.”
The last thing you hear is an old clock ticking in the background.
And that reminded me of my favourite episode of Mad Men, ‘The Wheel’. It’s the one where Don Draper uses photos of his own family as he pitches a name for Kodak’s new slide projector
“This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. Goes backwards and forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the Wheel. It’s called the Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels, round and round and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”
As the episode ends, Don heads home on the train, imagining seeing his wife and children and being the father and husband he saw in the pictures he chose for the pitch. But when he gets home, stark reality sets in. His home life mirrors his job, an imagined reality.
Then again, as my other favourite ad blogger, Dave Trott, said in a recent post about Bangladeshi farmers who, faced with repeated flooding of their land, have changed from chickens to ducks:
“They’ve learned that what works is to change with the world as the world changes.”
That’s the trick.
And Bob’s now published ‘Some Final Thoughts, Part 2’.