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Congratulations Donald Draper! It appears you’ve won the game of life. You’ve reached the pinnacle of success receiving much praise and adulation for your work. You’re financially wealthy with an expensive car parked in the driveway of your big suburban home. You have a beautiful wife and outstanding children who love you very much.
When the time comes for your eyes to wander, it doesn’t take much for the prettiest girls to undress before you. To sum things up, as one of your co-workers once put it, “You have everything, and so much of it.” So Don, surely, with all of this comes joy and happiness, and feelings of being whole and complete. Am I right?
This Sunday marks ”The End Of An Era”, as AMC has marketed it, when the critically acclaimed series Mad Men airs its last episode of the series. In the 7 years of production and 10 years of story line, Mad Men has provided its audience with a program distinguished in its storytelling and brilliant writing, which is patient but authentic at its attempt in showing the different facets of human psychology through the relationships the characters have with each other and with themselves.
Compared to more modern shows, on the surface it may seem like not much is happening, but underneath there is plenty of drama as we bear witness to how life unfolds for each of these characters. Pointing out its contrasting style, creator Matt Weiner often uses the example of a guy who goes to a party, meets a girl and gets her phone number but ends up losing it, “In a TV show he’ll go back to the party, find it in some way. In Mad Men he will never see her again.” The main themes in Mad Men include death, alienation, identity, sexism, adultery, business, alcoholism, racism and counter-culturism.
Attention to historical detail is a celebrated characteristic of Mad Men, a show set in the 1960s, one of the most fascinating decades of the 20th century. But what sets the show apart is the way Mad Men incorporates spiritual elements in its story and dialogue that when more of the show is taken in by the viewer, the more conclusive it becomes that there is clearly a spiritual foundation to the whole story.
From 1960 to 1970, Mad Men follows the lives of the people connected to the advertising agency, Sterling Cooper. It’s creative director, Don Draper, is a sharp, brilliant but complicated character with a shady past he can’t escape from. Although he’s reached the top of the mountain, he’s left feeling discontent. Suicide crosses his mind early in the series and remains a theme throughout–the opening credits is Don daydreaming about jumping out of his office window.
Don’s struggle to find fulfillment and happiness by external means ties into the idea of his profession; advertising isn’t about selling products as much as its about selling happiness, which Don alludes to in the very first episode. The idea of material and physical wealth having limits in its happiness is a spiritual concept that Mad Men is exhibiting through the story line of Don.
Do You Believe In Energy?
A hint that Mad Men’s creator Matt Weiner is aware of spirituality is in the logo of his ‘Weiner Brothers’ production company, which is ‘The Sun’ tarot card. We see this card again when one of the characters is given a tarot card reading. Lots of scenes in the series have hints of spirituality in it. In one episode, Don comes across a book called “Meditations In An Emergency,” which ends up being the title of a different episode. When one of the characters takes LSD, a man in the scene repeats verses from the ‘Tibetan Book Of The Dead.” Two of the characters attend a “Hare Krishna” chant ceremony. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great philosopher and spiritualist, is brought up along with one of his quotes. Jim Garrison–the famous lawyer from the 60s who pursued the JFK conspiracy–is mentioned on a television. But the most impactful scenes of spirituality are the strange occurrences and hints of foreshadowing through coincidences and synchronicites that it feels like there’s an invisible force at work. It’s in these scenes and others that indicate much more is going on than just advertising, adultery and drinking.
Some Of The Quotes From The Show
“Do you believe in energy?”
“Only awareness can make reality. And only what’s real can become a dream. And only from a dream can you wake to the light.”
“She’s the soul of the world . . . she says you are part of the world, air, water, every living thing is connected to you.”
“I know everything about you and I still love you.”
“I can’t believe that’s the way God is.”
“I’ve seen UFOs”
“You have to be a transparent eyeball.”
“You can’t put yourself in the right place at the right time. You have to be in the right place all the time.”
“There are people who get to decide what will happen in our world. You have been invited to join them. Pull back the curtain and take your seat.”
“There are people out there who buy things, people like you and me. And then something happened. Something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that. But you do.”
“If I don’t go into that office everyday, who am I?”
“Dying doesn’t make you whole. You should see what you look like.”
What Does It Mean To Be Human?
Matt Weiner once described Mad Men as showing the difficulties in being a human being. It doesn’t matter who you are, everybody born on this planet is presented with challenges in life that can sometimes make it unbearable. What is the point? We all want happiness. We’re all wired to seek for happiness in things, experiences, conditions that will alleviate these difficulties and make life more pleasant and more enjoyable. Is that what life is about? Or does this wanting create suffering? As Don once said, “We’re flawed because we want so much more.” But is it possible to feel connected? Is peace obtainable? Fulfillment? Satisfaction? Lasting happiness? These are some of the deeper questions Mad Men explores in its creative and subtle ways.
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