In his 1990 essay about television David Foster Wallace pointed out that post-modern entertainment had conditioned us to be more accepting of brands whose messages were presented in a way that allowed us to feel knowing and clever, above their influence. I wonder what he would say now that the most critically respected TV show is about advertising, and has been successful to the extent that a vast array of people now know the basic mechanics of advertising, and instead of making people question the thousands of ads we see each day, this new understanding has elevated them to art. We now see ads through the eyes of Don Draper (a possible sociopath), who seems minimally troubled that his entire creative career is dedicated to making people feel things his clients (or he) wants them to feel (“What you call love was invented by people like me to sell nylons”). What we’ve seen recently on the show is not only is he not bothered by manipulating the emotions of others, he actually gets off on it (see his relationship with Sylvia). And so do we. We are voyeurs into the world of advertising because advertising is the air we breathe. It’s how we experience the world. I love Mad Men, but I don’t doubt that the show has softened our view towards advertising: when we see a heart-wrenching ad now, we don’t think “that was manipulative,” we think “they did a good job.” We imagine Don putting his hand proudly on Peggy’s shoulder as they revel in their accomplishment. We recognize that Kodak is about evoking nostalgia and Heinz is about tradition and family, and these things seem self-evident, unquestionable. Good ads no longer need to be self-aware about the evils of advertising because we no longer see advertising as evil. We’ve forgotten it, moved on. It’s like it never happened.