Not Everyone Loves Coke

Some prefer Pepsi.

In high school. we shape our identity partly through our choice of and loyalty to brands.  It is one way we can express in family, which presents brands to us.  If my siblings like Corn Flakes, surely mom will buy me Grape Nuts.  I can have my own box.  I exist.  We like to think that girls care more about doing this, but boys do it too:  Pepsi, Coke; their chosen underwear; the teams they like; and certainly their cigarettes.  And nowadays, without cigarettes, we self-define with our favorite TV binges:  Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones.  We use what we like to define us.  Habits.  Identities.  Sales.

Don Draper is a sex addict–all the more attractive because of his addiction.  His sex addiction is buoyed by his addiction to cigarettes (we never see the brand) and alcohol (brown or clear–it does not matter). Because he is addicted (but we do not know to what type of alcohol or brand of cigs or brunettes or blondes), we yearn to know.   Which woman will really, truly, utterly, and finally win his heart?

We cannot know for one cannot.  Just watch and wonder as he takes that drag and you find yourself wanting to be in that throat, take that drink, and you wanting to be in that throat, kiss those lips, and you wanting to be in that throat.  The story almost ends with one last seduction:  the 40ish hippy lady leader at the seminar.   But we do not get to see that seduction.  Why did he pick her?  Because she was there.  Why watch another? Meantime, what’s happening to Peggy back on Madison Avenue?   Isn’t she going to get to get Don?  Is she going to become Don?

Ladies, raise your hand if you secretly were hoping or at least wondering if it would be Don and Peggy.  After all, they danced; he stroked her hair–and he smelled it, so tenderly–the way you want yours smelled.  Now ask yourself if you were hoping a brand – the brand of Don Draper – would provide that final satisfaction, the drag on the fag that would touch and fill the yearning place deep inside and complete it once and for all.  Think for a moment what would have happened were it Don and Peggy.  Well, you would have to go no further than to say, “Poor Peggy.”  Without the prize, she is left to find and overcome her own personal joys and sorrows with the guy with whom she originally sat naked.  Peggy gets a regular person; they’ll be fine.

Or did you root for “Birdie” Snow White?  Birdie was busy suppressing that of which she was capable, and she was good at it.  Born gifted as a live Barbie, she gets everything that is Barbie’s due:  attention and being left upside down in a bush.  The story could not end with the re-uniting of family.  That would be an ad, not a story.  The family?  Burger King wounded it.  Women going to work broke it.  Vietnam killed it.

Besides time marches on after all the 60s and 70s assassinations, and Sally is all grown up and ready to dive into the cycle of human procreation.  But this Sally is destined to find a path of her own, for both her mother and her father bequeathed to her a wilfulness that was lost on Birdie and the army of American Penelopes who riveted their ways back to the suburbs once their heroes returned from war with their impossible-to-tell stories.  Each one needed his own personal Homer, Penelope needed her bed, but all we got was Kellogs.

Sally would turn out to be:  us.  And who are we?  We are the children born of the four tragic deaths:  Monroe, JFK, MLK, and RFK and the one compelling moment when either NASA or Kubrick put a man on the moon.  Where will we go?  Do we Sally-Barbies just go down fighting our way into the men’s bathroom?  Is that all there is?

“Mad Men” was not a tear jerker–until that point, the morning after, late July, 1969, when Peggy delivered the pitch to Burger King.  Her pitch there in the Mid-west jerked a tear out of me.  What was it last night, she asked the men:  was it the technological advance that put our species on the moon or was it the story that brought us all together wanting the same thing? And would we get it?

We need it.  Don knows.  Peggy knows.  Joan knows.  We need a leader, the right brand, a drag, a star, a coming to life.  Life all the time presents us with choices and we blaze our own paths by the selections we make–or we don’t.  “Mad Men” leaves us with the perfect ad:  many many people, no Barbies (but maybe many wanting to be), with the same product in their hands, singing a California song to Madison Avenue, marrying the culture to the counter-culture, depriving us of our Barbihood–or is it giving us our Barbihood?

Thank goodness Don did not “fall in love” again, for he was, as a young man, so abused–or was that loved–by women when he was 10, growing into his teen years on a sea of breasts, enduring abuse himself by the older men around – not sexual, but emotional and physical abuse – and consoled on the other side of reality by the endless breasts–toughened and softened to endure almost anything except the truth.

But, for Don, there was truth in advertising.

And he did, after all, spread his millions around.  Oh, those looks he gave; oh those looks.  Thank you Don – and thank you too for having such a great friend in Richard Sterling, a man whose last name says it all, and Joan, a woman’s whose sweet face and heart we wish were behind  every one of those Manhattan strong-women we have encountered on our own paths.

Many reviewers said “Mad Men” was “meh.”  I don’t know how they could say that – but then some prefer Pepsi; others prefer Kents.  Some said they wished “Mad Men” would never end.  But of course it is over, for the story is over just as “Breaking Bad” was over when it was over.  Aristotle didn’t prefer “serials”, but these two giant series are not serials; these are epic stories.  You can’t read “Jane Eyre” forever.

Don just had to do what he had to do to make that ad.  Sterling was ready to give it up. The codger so wonderfully played by Robert Morse was happy in his new role as Guardian Angel.  Joan was on her way and Trudy and Sideburns flew out of the way.   Birdie would soon be tucked in wearing her blue gown.   There was nothing left to go on except life.  Don could no more give up sex, cigarettes, or booze than he could give up being Don.

Now it’s up to Sally.–and she’s already … us!


  • KL

    Hi, I have saved this forever and am finally binge watching mad men….. so addictive…on season 4….it s very dramatic, a good history lesson about attitudes, style, design, dress, family etc…God has the world changed…..I’m on season 4 and Don is a mess…..sloppy, drunk and not together.. sad because he started out as the man who “had it all” even though he was behaving like a child behind the scenes….he was “together”. I loved the scene where Don says that Betty left him because he wasn’t the person she thought he was….it wasn’t his lies so much that ended their marriage, it was the fact that he wasn’t the person who she had created in her head. So, in turn, he wasn’t truly loved for who he actually was………and Betty is just so clearly unhappy.

    Can’t wait to see what happens and yes, I’m sure I will wish it could go on forever as you say in your review. All this binge watching……we get attached to these characters these days. Literally think about them in the other parts of my day when I am not watching the show.

    ps a good friend of mine walked in to a dive bar in his neighborhood a few months ago and Draper and Sterling walked in and pounded 5 drinks at the bar together…he said it was surreal.


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