George Lois Hates Mad Men And Thinks You Should, Too

4 min read

So George Lois, the famous designer and art director who has taken credit for such groundbreaking campaigns of the Sixties Creative Revolution as “I Want My Maypo” and Volkswagen’s “Think Small” ad, hates Mad Men. In an interview in Playboy a few months backan issue that, ironically, seems to be all about celebrating Mad Men and features a pictorial of one of the show’s minor players–Lois heaps disdain on the series.

Here, in part, is what Lois had to say:

Mad Men misrepresents the advertising industry by ignoring the revolution that changed the world of communications forever.  That mortal sin of omission makes Mad Men a lie.  Matthew Weiner, creator and show runner of Mad Men, rejects my opinion of his show…

The more I think and write about Mad Men, the more I take the show as a personal insult.  So fuck you, Mad Men, you phony gray-flannel-suit, male-chauvinist, no-talent, WASP, white-shirted, racist, anti-Semitic Republican SOBs!

[Mad Men] is nothing more than a soap opera set in a glamorous office where stylish fools hump their appreciative, coiffured secretaries, suck up martinis and smoke themselves to death as they produce dumb, lifeless advertising – oblivious to the inspiring civil rights movement, the burgeoning women’s lib movement, the evil Vietnam war and other seismic events of the turbulent, roller-coaster 1960s that altered America forever.

The heroic movers and shakers of the Creative Revolution…bear no resemblance to the cast of characters on Mad Men.

This is not the first time I’ve heard Lois slam Mad Men. He’s been vocal about his hatred for the show since its first season. And he certainly has a right to his opinion. I mean, he lived it, man. He designed all those great Esquire covers, for goodness’ sake. He named Lean Cuisine and worked on the Jiffy Lube account. He never did any ads that might be considered sexist. Oh–wait. (Also: see the Chemstrand ad at the head of this post.) He certainly never recycled creative work. Oh–wait.

Lois has also, on more than one occasion, been accused of, shall we say, exaggerating his role in the creation of certain great campaigns, including Maypo and Volkswagen. So I suppose he knows whereof he speaks as far as lies are concerned.

But this is not about George Lois and his inflated opinion of himself. This is about George Lois crapping all over Mad Men. He takes the show as “a personal insult” and savages it for not paying attention to the times it allegedly recreates.

On that point, Lois has no leg to stand on. The times, they were a changin’ throughout Season 4. You could make a case that the entire season was about the women’s lib movement. Vietnam and civil rights were significant undercurrents, and Mad Men never played politics safely, never became moralistic or didactic. It’s all been handled with subtlety; the various characters’ reactions to the turbulence of the times has been a mixture of wonder and naivety and confusion. Perhaps Lois stopped watching before this season began.

(On that note, I will also plead guilty as to having read only snippets of Lois’s Playboy interview. I have not read the article in the magazine, nor have I looked at the pictures. The excerpt above comes from Monsters & Critics.)

As for anything else Lois has to say, I say, sheesh. Get over yourself, George.

Of course, Mad Men is a soap opera. But it’s a thoughtful and complicated and beautiful one. It’s not supposed to be an historical reenactment of the world of advertising in the Sixties. It’s a TV show, for crying out loud. To ding Mad Men for focusing on relationships and “misrepresenting the advertising industry” is to miss the point entirely. It’s like dinging Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter for getting the facts wrong about Lincoln’s boyhood.

Maybe the problem is that Mad Men has never sucked up sufficiently to George Lois. Here’s Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, from an interview in Rolling Stone by Eric Konigsberg:

George Lois is a tough subject for me, it really is. I always say I’ve never heard of him. He wasn’t working when the show started, he wasn’t even interested in what year it was, and then there’s this man’s ego — I keep trying to remind people that he is not Jonas Salk. George Lois was really good at selling shit, and also, apparently, a big credit hog, according to the This American Life story.

Have you dealt with him?
They asked me to talk to him when the show was coming out, and I was like, “Sure,” and then it became very obvious that everybody who was from the period was like, “You don’t really want to — he’s the Tony Soprano of advertising. You do not want to owe him or cross his path — you do not want to be on his radar.”

Too bad. Too bad Lois couldn’t act with a little more grace in his old age. If nothing else, the man created some of the greatest magazine covers of all time. Hey–Mag Man. There’s a show idea.