Posts Tagged ‘Mad Men’

“To find God, go back to where you lost him”

October 1, 2015

I was in college, my first time around, back in the olden days of the internet—before the web, before blogs, before social media. The only access I had to the internet was through a mainframe terminal in one particular building on campus. I used to rush there in between classes in order to participate in the latest “flame war” that was happening on a couple of Usenet groups I read religiously at the time. Usenet was an early “bulletin board” system, which consisted of newsgroups sorted into thousands of different categories, allowing users to have online conversations with people around the world who shared their interests.

The group on which I was most active was called “rec.music.christian,” dedicated to contemporary Christian music, or “Christian rock.” For at least a few years, between about 1990 and 1994, rec.music.christian was an important part of my life.

This week I was reminded of my participation in this newsgroup. I saw a blog post by a name I recognized from those days—not to mention recognizing his style and wit. I confirmed he was the same person. He was a frequent ally in the flame wars in which I participated. He shared many of my musical tastes, my political opinions, and my anger. Indeed, his blog post this week was a broadside against conservative evangelicals who are more faithful to a political party than to Jesus.

Second verse, same as the first. I thought: “Wasn’t he”—weren’t we—”writing this same stuff 25 years ago?”

To my horror, there’s actually a way to check. Google has archived at least some of these posts. I couldn’t see any posts earlier than 1993, but still… There’s enough evidence there, not only by my erstwhile flame-war ally, but by yours truly, to remind me of two facts: First: I was a pretty good writer, even back then. Second: I was very angry.

Don’t get me wrong: I still struggle with anger, but I’ve been in “recovery” for several years.

Needless to say, in re-reading these old posts, I didn’t like that aspect of the person I had become, even by 1993—and I’d already been nursing anger for a few years by then.

What happened to me back then that made me like that?  Read the rest of this entry »

The truth shall set you free, even on Mad Men

December 6, 2013
don_and_sally

A look of understanding between Don and his daughter, Sally.

I’m late to the party, but I started watching Mad Men last summer and reached the end of the latest episode, the Season 6 finale, a couple of days ago. I’ve joked with friends that while I’ve found the series compelling, I’m not sure I’ve liked it. It has been unrelentingly bleak—and life isn’t like that. For one thing, not counting the sociopaths among us, people are often troubled by guilty consciences when they do bad things. Most of the characters on the show, by contrast, cheat and lie constantly, and only feel guilty when they get caught.

That’s certainly been true of protagonist Don Draper, double-life leader, serial adulterer, alcoholic, and liar-in-chief at his Madison Avenue ad agency.

But something changed in the last episode. In a sales pitch to Hershey’s, a potential client, Don at first spins a Norman Rockwell-esque childhood reminiscence of sharing a Hershey bar with his father. The Hershey’s executives look pleased. The story, however, is a lie: Don was an orphan whose mother—a prostitute—died during the delivery. He was raised in poverty—in a whorehouse—by abusive foster parents. He went to Korea and literally traded identities with his commanding officer, who was killed at his side. He isn’t Don Draper at all; he’s Dick Whitman, a secret he’s kept from nearly everyone, including his children.

Nevertheless, in the most extreme version of “talking past the close” imaginable, Don asks to say something else to the Hershey’s people. He then tells them the grim truth about his childhood, and how the Hershey bar was the “only sweet thing” in his life and the only thing that made him “feel like a normal kid.”

The Hershey’s people are stunned—as are his business partners, who suspend Don indefinitely.

The following is the last scene of the episode. Don drives his children to his childhood home in Pennsylvania. This ramshackle house represents the unvarnished truth about himself, which he has never allowed himself to face up to.

Look at the expression on his face. Look at the knowing look he exchanges with Sally, his teenaged daughter, from whom he has been estranged.

This is what repentance—beautiful, liberating repentance—looks like. In the earlier scene with Hershey’s, he praised the candy bar for its wrapper, which “looked like what was inside.” Likewise, Don wants to be a man of integrity and look like what’s inside: no more falseness, no more facades. In his weakness and vulnerability, Don has never been stronger or more courageous.

It makes me weep.

[Please note: In the actual episode, the credits roll shortly after the song begins. The shots of Don drinking and getting on the elevator are from earlier. Oh well… you take what you can get on YouTube.]