The original, resonant, existentially briliant

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So we might have expected ambiguity. But, if anything, the last scene of Mad Men was the opposite.

My instant reaction was that Don Draper – a man unable to change and escape his past – finally did so.
The events of the previous episodes suggested a metamorphosis. When a small bell rang and Don joined in
the chants of ‘om’, his wry smile hinted of – to me at least – a sense of contentment that had eluded him
since we joined the show in 1960. The Coke ad which then played was Weiner wittily acknowledging how fast
the corporate world – which created ‘Don Draper’ – would subsume the counter-culture.

If we view it in light of Mad Men’s characterization of advertising history, it’s the ad where the industry
has its Carousel moment: having traveled around and around, it goes “back home again, to a place where
we know we are loved.” Over the course of the decade the show chronicled, ads migrated from promises of
comfort, security, and luxury to counterculture-tinged, irony-driven paeans to youth.
In Madison Avenue’s version of the Hegelian Dialectic, thesis and antithesis led to this soft-drink synthesis,
in which hippies celebrate their unique vision of the home and hearth they spent the past ten years supplanting.

In his interpretation, Hamm says Don wakes up the day after his emotional group therapy session and “has this serene
moment of understanding, and realizes who he is. And who he is, is an advertising man. And so, this thing comes to him.”
Nevertheless, Hamm doesn’t necessarily see that as a cynical conclusion, but as a moment of self-acceptance. In tension
with Don’s supposed personal growth was perhaps the most cynical vision imaginable: our hero had hit on a way to sell
sugar water by linking it with global peace.

By the final season, Don was using his most painful childhood stories as pick-up lines with girls. But as with many
addicts—and Don is a work addict, not just a sexual compulsive and an alcoholic—these epiphanies don’t stick. Was this
epiphany any different? I don’t think so. In fact, it seems like a perfectly seventies moment: Don may think he’s
reached enlightenment, but really he’s just hit on a bold new form of selfishness—he’s entered the “Me” generation,
in which any type of sybaritic behavior can be justified, as long you’re being honest about it.


But if Don Draper is as much a symbol as a person, maybe that’s the point. He’s a perfect avatar for the cultural
anxieties around him, from avoidance of death (Lucky Strike) to fear of family dissolution (Polaroid). Now, with Coca-Cola,
Don has built his masterpiece, a fantasy of American innocence, of a world purged of the late sixties, one that erases
the painful aftermath of the civil-rights movement and Vietnam and violent assassinations.

Don gets a happy ending, but he doesn’t change; he actualizes. He’s becoming a more honest liar. “I broke all my vows,”
he tells Peggy. “I scandalized my child. I took another man’s name. And made nothing of it.”

I can’t imagine Don, the Frank O’Hara fan, wouldn’t laugh out loud. But he might see the use.
What makes Lucky Strike different from other cigarettes? They’re toasted. What makes Coke different from Pepsi? Coke is real

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