Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Brooks, Marc. “‘Mad Men’ as a Sonic Symptomatology of Consumer Capitalism.” Music and Letters 102 (December 2021): 317-46.

Critics of Mad Men (AMC, 2007-15) have typically understood the show’s use of music in terms of “getting” an advertisement, but there are examples of musical cues that challenge this puzzle-solving experience and force viewers to critically engage with the symptomatology of consumer capitalism the show presents. In the season one episode “The Marriage of Figaro,” excerpts from Mozart’s opera—Cherubino’s aria Voi che sapete in particular—are heard diegetically (on the radio) and non-diegetically as Don Draper films his daughter’s birthday party. The scene creates a parallel between Cherubino and Don’s yearning for true love, even as it only exists in fantasy in the advertising logic Don (and the show itself) dwells on. In the season two episode “The Mountain King,” the musical selection of George Jones’s hymn-like country song Cup of Loneliness reflects the cycle of (religious) guilt and self-loathing experienced by Don’s protégé Peggy and the kitschy Christian imagery of the ad she produces in the episode. In the season five episode “Lady Lazarus,” Don’s (new) wife suggests he listen to The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows before she quits the ad industry. The song plays over a montage showing the emotional emptiness of various characters’ lives, ending with Don violently ripping the needle off the record. Unlike the first two examples, in which the music resonates with particular symptoms of consumer capitalism, Tomorrow Never Knows suggests a countercultural solution to Don’s feeling of emptiness that Don fears and rejects. Rather than directly instilling a message (as advertising does), these three musical moments allow for open-ended critical interpretation.

Works: Matthew Weiner (showrunner): soundtrack to Mad Men (2, 8-33).

Sources: Colin Meloy (songwriter): The Infanta (2); Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro (8-16); George Jones: Cup of Loneliness (16-25); John Lennon and Paul McCartney: Tomorrow Never Knows (25-33).

Index Classifications: 2000s, Film

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

Except where otherwise noted, this website is subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
Creative Commons Attribution License