Mad Men Go Green

Two of the show's stars make a funny Web ad touting high-speed trains. But will the latest example of celebs using comedy for a cause on the Net run off the rails?

In the world of "Mad Men," set in a haze of cigarette smoke, the only green that matters is money.

Which is one reason why – along with our jonesing for a "Mad Men" fix – we're getting a kick out of a new humorous eco-advocacy video featuring actors Vincent Kartheiser and Rich Sommer in character as ad agency players Pete Campbell and Harry Crane.

The video, which debuted this week on Funny or Die, is a clever ad of sorts for high-speed trains amid President Obama’s stalled plan to bring the fast rail service to 80 percent of Americans by 2036.

In the spot, set in "Mad Men"-era 1965, Campbell floats an ad campaign promoting high-speed trains as the transportation mode of the future, more efficient than cars or planes. Crane, though, doesn't see much of a need to tout the seemingly obvious.

"I read a piece that said in 40 years, gas is going to cost almost a dollar a gallon," he says. "America always makes the right investment – let the government boys figure it out... we do not need to sell trains."

The video, part of an effort by the advocacy group U.S. PIRG to flood senators with emails supporting high-speed rail, comes in a week where gas prices hit an average of $3.57 a gallon and with oil back over $100 a barrel for the first time in two years.

The video also marks the latest example of celebrities using comic Internet shorts to plug various causes, ranging from the political (gay marriage, as in the mini-classic "Prop 8 – The Musical") to the charitable (efforts to fight cancer and malaria, among others). Just over a year ago, Ron Howard directed a memorable video featuring a comics who played presidents on "Saturday Night Live" in a push for a new consumer financial protection agency, which was later established.

Mixing celebrities and causes, even in the guise of humor, has the potential for controversy. Groupon’s seemingly tasteless, charity Super Bowl ads and web campaign spurred confusion and outrage. The blurring of entertainment and political advocacy comes fraught with an even greater risk of backlash.

Meanwhile, Obama's train plan isn’t moving too quickly, with three GOP governors reportedly refusing to accept billions in federal funds to get the project going in their states.

Whatever you think of the rail proposal, even the conservative crowd of "Mad Men" would blush at big bucks going unspent when there are expensive ad campaigns to be waged. Check out the video below, if only for a peek at some Mad Men in action, nearly five months since the Season Four finale:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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