Readers: I just realized I never finished this blog….so here it is. Please forgive the lateness of the hour in posting this.
Last night was Mad Men‘s series finale. It was a bittersweet ending to a show that revived the 1960s for viewers, many of whom didn’t live through it the first time around (myself included). Though admittedly I didn’t watch the first few years, last summer I got hooked on the drama and binged watched my way through the whole series in less than a month.
Full disclosure: As a Gen Xer who was born in the year of the Star Wars IV (seven years after the show ends), I don’t have actual experience of this era. I am fully aware that from this position of hindsight any analysis I do of Mad Men is colored the fact that I can not look at this era without also linking the 20 year period that would come after. In other words, I can’t talk about the 60s without thinking about the 70s and 80s.
From my little mythie/depth psychological perspective, I’ve always understood Mad Men as a metaphor rather than simple history. The fact that it taps into the metaphorical realm of archetypes accounts for its great popularity. As with all other great epics, it speaks both to the story itself and its larger contemporary culture. Mad Men provides us with one of the great American “everyman” anti-heros, Don Draper, who I’ve previously written about as a metaphor for American ambition.
Through his relentless search for meaning, Don becomes an metaphor for what Jungians call the ego–ego being the psychological structure that forms one’s identity. The ego is what allows the psyche to have a sense of self. It holds the identity together, and interestingly enough, it is often both fragile and unshakably strong.
So what happens to Don’s ego to ambition and utopianism in end of Mad Men? Though earnest in his search for enlightenment, the enlightenment itself becomes a commodity. What happens to Don at the end of one of America’s most poignant, world-shaking, and prolific decades? He goes on pilgrimage to Esalen Institute. He breaks open. He sees his truth through another’s. He cries. He practices transcendental meditation. And then he has a epiphany. The series leaves us with an image of him meditating as it then crosses over into a Coca Cola commercial, perhaps THE most iconic one ever.
“It’s the real thing. What the world wants today. It’s the real thing…”
Many have questioned whether the creators of the show mean to suggest that Don created this iconic advertisement after returning from his time at Esalen. In the end, however, it really doesn’t matter whether they suggest that or not. What they are getting at is that there is the paradox that lies inextricably within American mythology; within the American experience/experiment. It’s the paradox inherent in the metaphor–that just as the American ego achieves a small moment of epiphany, an enlightenment, it channels that moment into selling something. In this case, that something happens to be a carcinogenic, sugary addictive substance.
I’m just gonna leave that thought there for you all to drink in. Until next time readers!