Mad Men’s “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” use of smoke and mirrors

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Deception is not a new concept when it comes to the advertising profession. And in this pilot for a series about said profession, deception here is almost as overwhelming as Peggy’s naïveté. Don Draper, the ultimate deceiver, sets off on a seemingly impossible task — convincing people to smoke cigarettes, despite the clear danger and risk engulfed in the habit. Thus the use of ‘smoke’ in the title takes on various meanings: the literal smoking campaign, the more metaphorical inability to see clearly, and finally the idea of advertising as a career of deception, one that is essentially all smoke and mirrors.

Because of our Karen Lury readings, I was particularly intrigued by the use of smoke as an image (and, in turn, silhouettes, shadows, and mirrors). Draper is often cloaked in darkness — we see him initially from behind, met with a view of his shiny, dark, and rather glorious head of hair. Or, if it is in fact his character we see in the opening credits, he is simply a dark silhouette. Throughout the pilot episode, we watch as he projects various images onto himself: the suave professional, the sensitive lover, the misguided misogynist, the family man. Thus, this visual use of darkness, or ‘blankness’ in some sense, works as a vehicle for the character. This was particularly poignant in the scene where Draper stares momentarily at a pair of insects stuck above him in a lighting panel. We can only their silhouette. They, like Draper, seem trapped. Ah! Metaphors!

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