The influence of an ancient philosopher and two more modern economists on the world of Sterling Cooper is the focus of Kevin Guilfoy’s upcoming lecture, Mad Men: Manufacturing the Affluent Society, at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha.
Guilfoy, an associate professor of philosophy at Carroll University, will present the lecture at noon Tuesday, Oct. 9. The event, part of the university’s Visions & Expressions lecture series, will be held in Commons 101. The lecture is free and open to the public, and free parking is available during the lecture. UW-Waukesha is located at 1500 N. University Drive in Waukesha.
Guilfoy points to Plato’s assertion in the Republic that the downfall of a democracy begins when the masses can be convinced to borrow money in order to satisfy questionable desires. That argument was resurrected in the writing of John Kenneth Galbraith and then countered by Milton Freidman during the period portrayed on Mad Men, Guilfoy said. Mad Men creator Mathew Weiner told the New York Times that Galbraith’s The Affluent Society was one of the books – along with Silent Spring, The Feminine Mystique and Unsafe at Any Speed – that helped to shape the writing for show’s third season.
“Loosely, Galbraith argues that advertising has the power to create desires. Donald Draper is acting at the behest of corporations to make consumers want products we don’t really want and certainly don't need,” Guilfoy said. “In Galbraith’s world the Mad Men keep us in a cycle of pointless consumption thinking that happiness is just a new TV away. Like Plato, Galbraith argues that consumerism distracts and detracts from aesthetics, community and good government.
“Friedman doubted the power of advertising to overwhelm human free will. Donald Draper may play on people’s emotions but their wants and desires are genuine and must be respected in a liberal democratic society. For Friedman there are almost no problems that cannot be solved by business competing in a free market; a market that includes advertising.”
Guilfoy has taught at Carroll for the last 10 years. His original area of specialization is the philosophy of Peter Abelard. He was the editor of the Cambridge Companion to Abelard and has published several articles in 12th century philosophy. More recently he has been writing on the intersection of social and economic philosophy and popular culture. His most recent articles are Man’s Fallen State: St. Augustine on the appropriate use of Viagra.; Capitalism Socialism and Democracy on the Disc World in Terry Practchett and Philosophy, and Capitalism and Freedom in the Affluent Society in Mad Men and Philosophy.
UW–Waukesha has the largest enrollment among the 13 UW Colleges campuses with more than 2,000 students. These freshman/sophomore campuses and UW Colleges Online comprise the UW Colleges. They offer an associate of arts and sciences degree and prepare students of all ages and backgrounds for baccalaureate and professional programs. In addition, UW-Waukesha offers several collaborative bachelor’s degrees through UW-Milwaukee and UW-Oshkosh.