It’s A Mad Mad Mad Men World

After having abandoned Mad Men about halfway through its 6th season a few years ago, I reasoned last week that a freezing January weekend was as good a time as any to give it another shot, especially since the show will end this spring and we’ll all soon find out what is to become of poor old Don Draper. I originally gave up the show because it had lost the atmosphere of the first few seasons, and by the middle of Season 5 had become a parody of itself. It turned out, putting a pin in Season 6 and returning to it later over this past week was beneficial, so much so that I am actually looking forward to new episodes this April. It’s decent TV after all, it’s very well made, and its meticulous attention to detail is admirable. One of these details stuck with me more than others however. In the last episode of Season 6, Don Draper at the zenith of his alcoholism hides his drinking by pouring his Canadian Club into a mug at his office. It’s a colourful, psychedelically designed mug and is therefore one that the dour old fashioned 1950s man Don Draper has no business possessing. He knew it too, as he grimaces at this mug as the camera lingers upon it, before he takes one more gulp. The noticeable mug of course bears the logo of the newly rebranded company (Sterling Cooper and Partners) he now works for, and this grimace of course is meant to symbolise both his distaste for his current lifestyle and also his queasiness at his position in the restructured advertising agency. It serves a point therefore, both physically and thematically, but the camera lingers a bit too long on this mug for me to think anything else than they want me to go online and buy it. Continue reading

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Algorithm & Blues

No one was really shocked when in the summer of 2013, The Guardian and the Washington Post with the help of Edward Snowden exposed the extent of US government spying on internet users all around the world. The story was less a big shock and more of a global ‘but of course!’ moment. We all had our suspicions, but the Snowden episode meant that we could all talk about these activities openly without seeming like a conspiracy theorist, and much more importantly, it meant that world leaders couldn’t treat journalists asking questions about these activities like conspiracy theorists. It was an important event because at a May 2013 press conference, Barack Obama could dismiss questions about government spying with a wave and a sneer, yet two months later, and forever more, he had to answer, and explain.

I wasn’t really bothered at all by the revelations, to be honest. I could understand why some people were outraged at the confirmation of the hypothetical persistent violation of their privacy, yet to me this was just a part of the modern internet world. In order to live here, you have to give something away. Most things we use online everyday are free, yet companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google are all worth billions. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that in a situation like this, you (the user) are the product that these companies produce. They gather as many users as possible together on their platform, and then charge companies vast sums of money to advertise to us. It’s a simple two-sided market, as used by newspapers, terrestrial TV Stations and credit card companies.

The ‘theft’ of personal information, by Google or the government or both, is a constant theme in mainstream media. It gets the blood boiling, as we can all think immediately of our own online presence, and how comfortable we would be with others looking over it without our permission. How dare they use the text from that status I just wrote to recommend an ad to me, how dare they spy on my WhatsApp messages, how dare they publish my Facebook photo online. All of these are common complaints in the world we now live in, but these statements and concerns all miss the point. The end of privacy shall not be a result of stolen personal data, it’s going to be a result of the seemingly harmless, impersonal data that some people, many of whom are completely unknown to us, freely give away. Continue reading