Rush Limbaugh has been all over Mad Men this week, and as you might expect with a TV show about the 1960s revolution in pop culture, his ideological take was almost directly opposite to the discussion in all the recap blogs.
Naturally, Rush saw Mad Men’s depiction of the struggles of women to be fairly compensated for their work, represented by characters like Peggy and Joan, as a form of “militant feminism,” which, he says, “totally screwed up human nature.” Because the women’s refusal to be little more than sex objects “made everybody question what they naturally felt like doing,” cads like Roger and Pete could no longer chase them around the office as brazenly. These “natural behavioral roles,” Rush goes on, “were not automatically questioned and doubted and attacked until the late sixties, when this all intensified.” And as we all know, he’s been the prime victim of such attacks ever since.
But Rush’s complaints about the finale, which he feels TV critics have marched in “lockstep” to deem as “brilliant,” were even more revealing. The series ends, of course, with Don Draper chanting Om on a hilltop at Big Sur, finding a measure of peace and enlightenment at last. Then the screen filled with one of the most iconic ads ever, Coca-Cola’s 1971 “Hilltop,” in which a young, multicultural cast sing, “I’d like the buy the world a Coke…”
The inspiration that brought Don back to advertising was, in effect, the antithesis of Rush’s many shibboleths—it was racially and ethnically inclusive; it dreamt of peace and harmony; it practically cried, “One Worldism.” And young women (dressed in shapeless hippie garb, like embroidered peasant shirts) led the idealistic anthem. Visually, it was a radical statement of late ’60s hope.
But for Rush, “the so-called brilliance in the finale was gonna be way over everybody’s head” because most of the audience knows nothing “about the real-life McCann Erickson.” Both the fictional Don and the actual adman who created “Hilltop,” Bill Backer, worked for McCann. Backer got his inspiration not by Om-ing out at a peacenik retreat but by watching how people stranded at an airport cafe in Ireland bonded by drinking a river of Coke.
The key is how you understand “Hilltop.” At the time, progressives saw the well-scrubbed blissfulness of the Coke commercial as a corporation co-opting the counterculture, a perversion of idealism that, as we know now, helped to buy the world more Type 2 diabetes. “Hilltop” was the beginning of corporate manipulation of hipness, cool, and anti-corporate rebellion to move product, so much so that we don’t even notice it anymore. As Joan Walsh adds, the ad bowdlerized “the movements of the ’60s–-civil rights, environmentalism, feminism” to valorize “a company routinely criticized for labor abuses, which faced a boycott over its refusal to leave apartheid South Africa.”
Rush Limbaugh, however, sees “Hilltop” as a highpoint of lefty power. He thinks corporations should never have to suck up to hippies or liberals or “femi-Nazis,” or whatever it is he thinks women, gays, and people of color want.
Interestingly, Mad Men ’s creator, Matthew Weiner, takes neither side. Or rather, he takes Coke’s word for it. “I think it’s the best ad ever made,” Weiner told theTimes. “That ad is so much of its time, so beautiful—I don’t think it’s as villainous as the snark of today thinks it is.”
Yet, in a striking coincidence, just a half hour before the Mad Men finale ran Sunday night, Showtime’s new Happyish used the same Coca-Cola commercial to make an even snarkier point.
Happyish takes place in a present-day ad agency, where Thom Payne (Steve Coogan)—who says he’s a whore who works “for Satan”—pitches Coca-Cola on a campaign built around “radical happiness.” His partner advises the Coke reps to model their marketing on the über brand of them all, the Nazi Party. The execs eat it up. In one of the series’s many fantasy sequences (which include Payne having sex with a Keebler elf and running his car over the GEICO gecko, who tells Thom to “fuck off”), we see a look-a-like “Hilltop” ad. As the camera pulls back to reveal the film set, a chubby Hitler stomps out and screams at the warbling hippie youth to amp the feel-good. “I told you to be happy!” he shouts in a paroxysm of Führerness. (How the show gets away with all this is another story.)
While advertising arguably helps pull Don out of his own personal hell, it’s crushing Thom’s soul. In a weird coincidence, it’s doing the same thing to Rush Limbaugh right now.
Advertisers have been fleeing Rush’s radio show ever since he began viciously attacking then–law student Sandra Fluke in 2012. As advertisers have dropped Rush, so have radio stations. This week, Boston’s WRKO announced that it’s cutting Limbaugh’s talk show from its line-up. This is “the second major radio station in recent weeks to drop Limbaugh’s program,” Media Matters points out. “Limbaugh’s longtime Indianapolis affiliate WIBC severed ties with him in April. WIBC’s parent company noted that Limbaugh’s absence could actually improve its advertiser prospects.”
It’s gotten so bad that one talk-radio consultant is telling stations that “YES-YOU-CAN Sell Rush Limbaugh”—chiefly by “prospect[ing] local retailers who drink Limbaugh’s Kool-Aid” and “guy-stuff categories” like “golf and gadgets and all the other apolitical things Rush talks about.”
Right. Rush is just a golf-and-gadget guy, and Coke is just a bottle of caffeine and sugar water.