MAD MEN is nearing its end. It comes back in spring 2015 for the final episodes, and I'll be truly sad to see it go. For a show seemingly about nothing, it's also about everything.
Most people wonder why I like the show, and it certainly isn't the reason most people like it. Everyone sees the characters smoking and drinking at work. They see an age when black people never rose higher than the elevator operator, or the waiter, or the cook in the back. Women knew their place as housekeepers. People look nostalgically back at those things, not realizing that the show is actually taking the piss out of that shit. Honestly, it might have worked a hundred years from now. The problem is, there are too many people still alive today who remember those times, or they're children of people who remember those times. Hell, I was raised by my grandparents, and the tang of the MAD MEN era was still alive in my own childhood, just about to die. Instead of recognizing the show as a lampoon of a misbegotten era, everyone looks fondly back at those good ol' days.
OK, I wouldn't mind being able to drink on the job. That would be cool. But keep in mind, the good ol' days were only the good ol' days if you were white, male and preferably middle-class, at the least.
The part I truly enjoy about the show is the quiet desperation. The lack of communication. The unsung desires of the heart, and the unfulfilled dreams of the average person.
But there's more to it than that. I completely forgot, but the show used to have a tagline, and I was reminded of it tonight: "Mad Men: Where the Truth Lies." I hate most taglines, but that is pretty much spot on. I think the ultimate message of the show is that we are all advertisers. We pick the best versions of ourselves, and we put them on display to the world. See how cool I am? Come on, fellas. Like me. Please?
But that version of us is rarely the truth. It's the truth we want, and if we want it enough, maybe--JUST MAYBE--it becomes the truth. We spend most of our time trying to get people to like us. To be our friends. To maybe fuck us. To spend time together. We no longer need our survival instincts when it comes to our physical lives. We've become completely independent on our social survival needs.
This is so much more true today. We post things we think will get our friends' attention. We live to see who likes our Facebook posts or retweets things in our Twitter feed.
Here's the interesting part, though: I don't think that's a bad thing, just so long as you don't hurt other people to get that attention. We all want to be loved. Sometimes, when we're at our wits end, and we're ready to throw in the towel because everything sucks and always will suck, we just want to be held and to be told that we're worthy of another's love.
Don Draper is his own creation. Literally. His real name is Dick Whitman (as we learned in the first season, so I don't want to hear anyone screaming about spoiler alerts). He was dissatisfied with his life, so he took the place of someone else when the real Don Draper died in the Korean War. He built a new life for himself. And as he gets older, it's tearing him apart. You can see the Draper facade falling apart, and Dick Whitman yearning to break through again, which is why he took his kids to see the house he really was raised in, a whorehouse from the Great Depression.
It's all about identity. If you look at it from a certain angle, it's THE TWILIGHT ZONE without SF or horror elements. It's all about one man's self-destructive tendencies because he no longer wants to live the lie he created. He wants to be what he once was.
I think that's something many of us can empathize with. Sometimes I think back on certain memories, like the year that I obsessed over the Garfield comic strip and hid the books my mother borrowed from the library, just so she couldn't return them and I could keep them. Or the days when my cousin and a few friends would stage GI Joe wars in my basement. Or the war games we used to play with water pistols. Or the times I could sit back and enjoy a good thunderstorm. Or when I could look out at a snowy day, knowing that I didn't have to go to school and enjoying the eerie silence outside my bedroom window. All of those things and more.
But the one thing that Don Draper doesn't take into account--just as we don't--is that the good ol' days were not really the good ol' days. Murder, kidnapping and rape happened in our towns, but either they didn't make the papers, or our parents kept knowledge from us. Maybe small town America could leave their doors unlocked at night, but you can bet the motherfuckers living in the cities threw the deadbolt on before going to bed.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. It fills you up with good emotions, but it's all a lie. Things are never as they seem, and they are rarely as we remember them.
Something to think about when MAD MEN comes back.