“What you call ‘love’ was invented by guys like me. To sell Nylons.” – Don Draper
“I messed everything up. I broke all my vows, I scandalized my children. I took another man’s name and I didn’t make good on it.” -Don Draper
Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched the final episode of Mad Men yet, stop reading now.
This 7 season show ended finally this past Sunday with an entirely different ending than I had expected. I was fairly certain that Don Draper was going to commit suicide, after all the show had been warning us of this from the very first opening credits.
But Don Draper didn’t commit suicide, he just created a new ad.
The Real Thing
I’ve read other people’s take on Draper’s enlightenment, many of them saw the finale with a smiling hippy Don as a happy ending. And I sincerely wish they were right, I’d love nothing more than for Don Draper to have gotten out of his vicious cycle and gone on to star in Scooby Doo.
But I think Mad Men was much too intent on being historically honest to end it with a Happily Ever After.
It’s important to remember that Matthew Weiner was trying to do something with this show, something that needed to be done. He was trying to do something that couldn’t be done in a sermon, but had to be done in a story.
Here’s an interview from Weiner about the way he was going to wrap up Mad Men:
Whatever happens to Draper will take place against the backdrop of an era Weiner clearly sees as disappointing, in which hopes are deflated, various hypocrisies are laid bare, and cynicism eventually reasserts itself. “The chickens are coming home to roost,” he says. “The revolution happens, and is defeated,” in 1968. “There is cultural change, but the tanks roll into Prague, the students go back to school.”
Weiner is writing about a time in American history that he lived through, and was extremely disappointed in. A time when he grew up watching “the world being run by a bunch of hypocrites,[who] were telling us how they had invented sex, how great it was to do all those drugs, [and have no responsibilities. [They were] selfish, racist, money-grubbing …”
It’s important to remember the story he’s actually telling. Because it’s a story that still is happening.
The Invention of Lying
You probably have never heard of the name Edward Bernays, but he’s changed the world, more to the point, he’s changed your world.
In the early 40’s and 50’s Bernays was the inventor of what we call Propaganda. During World War II, Bernays helped the Western allies socially engineer consent. Think of posters like “Uncle Sam needs You” (America is your family) or “Loose Lips sink Ships” (fear of death)
He learned, from his uncle Freud, that everyone has a few base desires, like fear, or sex. And if you could just tap into those desires you could make people think a certain way.
But after the war was over, Bernays learned that he discovered this new power but no longer had a purpose for it. So he went into marketing. And now most of the way we have grown up thinking about the world has been shaped by Edward Bernays.
Have you ever heard that saying “Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride”? Do you know where that saying comes from?This 1950’s Listerine Ad.
It’s an ad that taps into our deepest fears of being alone and not being connected. Not so that we can connect, but so that we will buy mouthwash.
So back to Mad Men:I think Don Draper was so busy manipulating what motivated humans that he forgot he was human too.
I don’t think Don went on to live in a hippie compound. I think that Don Draper stumbled into the next season of eventual misery, he almost touched something outside of himself and that’s when it dawned on him that this was something that everyone was searching for, and so it was something that could be used as a very very powerful way to just sell stuff.
I believe that at the heart of the Gospel is that God gives us what we want, even if it destroys us, and if we want something other than God, more than we want God, it most certainly will.
But if we chase our desires deeper, like a river leads into an ocean, we will find that everything we want has always pointed us back toward God.
In speaking of this desire for our own far- off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.
Did you catch that? If we mistake these things for the Real Thing (God) they will turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.
Part of the genius of the show Mad Men is that Matthew Weiner humanized Edward Bernays, but I don’t think he was ever trying to save him. I don’t know that Weiner thinks he can be saved.
I’m not sure I do either.
Not because I don’t like Don Draper, I loved him as a character. I hope that, within the universe of Mad Men, he really did find some kind of peace and that the Coke commercial ending was just a summary of the show and a way to take a jab at Pepsi.
But I’m doubtful that Don Draper can be saved because I believe the door to the human heart opens from the inside and once any son of Adam learns how to manipulate our desire for God, he can so easily forget that there is really a God to be desired.
We can so easily mistake our cravings for what we actually crave, We can find ourselves reaching for the Real Thing, and just come back with a Coke.