Hollywood's fascination with advertising—whatever the industry's successes or faults—seems to have left an indelible mark on the American psyche. The industry itself is rather small, say, in comparison to sports, news reporting, and finance. Few people actually know anyone who works in advertising. Yet, advertising looms large in Hollywood films and TV shows. It is from these representations that the public gets nearly all of its information about the business of advertising and the people who work in it.
Moreover, Hollywood seems to have established a formula for this representation—a formula that goes back at least to the 1940s and has been rather endlessly recycled, more or less intact, into the 2000s. What is more, the public has little means to assess the verisimilitude of this representation against the reality of the industry itself. Where else would one get a look "inside" the world of advertising except in such popular cultural venues?
In this unit, Hollywood's formulaic representation is considered through the examination of three pivotal films—The Hucksters (1947), Putney Swope (1969), and Crazy People (1990)—and the popular TV series Mad Men (2007-present). Although these productions have enjoyed varying degrees of commercial success—and thus, opportunities for impacting public opinion about advertising—there are many more with essentially similar stories to tell about this reified world and the machinations of its influences upon us. Their cumulative impact on public attitudes about advertising must not be underestimated.
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