Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Framing environmental reponsibility, 1960s style

Last week in the UK, the excellent TV series Mad Men returned to our screens. Based on the advertising agencies of New York's Madison Avenue, the show offers an unflinching perspective on American values and society (as well as being a damn good ensemble-type show with a fantastic script and great actors).

As well as the compelling, if somewhat jarring portrayals of issues such as race and gender, the show has made the odd oblique reference to the environment - most notably in an earlier series where we see the model American family casually dispose of the unwanted remains of their picnic... by cheerfully tossing it away at the side of the road before driving off.

Putting to one side the more subtle symbolic aspect of this sort of scene (that the clean-cut image maintained by the characters conceals the awkward, messy reality of their private lives), it is interesting to consider the way in which environmental responsibility was framed in the 1960s. For example, a further irony of the picnic scene in Mad Men is that advertising was of course heavily used to 're-educate' Americans on the wrongs of littering - a notion captured neatly in the 'litter-bug' PR campaigns of the decade.

A rather less savoury fragment of 1960s advertising treatment of environmental issues can be found in this advert that appeared in Life magazine in 1962, which happily trumpets the scale of resource consumption in terms that would make even Tony Hayward shudder...

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