Ad man extraordinaire Don Draper, on an aimless, AWOL, cross-country bender, arrives in California, 1970, and attends a meditation/self awareness retreat a la Eselen Institute. Finally he breaks down in despair, confesses on the phone to protégé Peggy about his double-life, drops unmoving and during a therapy session is moved to embrace and cry with a sobbing middle-aged white man overlooked by his own family. Then during morning meditation he Oms and a faint smile comes over his face. Enlightenment, finally, after seven years of flailing affairs and assorted office firebombs?
Cut to the Real Thing Coca-Cola ad, all sugary sweet and “Teaching the World to Sing” with a product destined to help cause an epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes. It’s the perfect harmony of an impending health crisis.
This is Don’s final enlightenment: Beyond creating a need for things people did not need, he moves to a culture of selling things that are bad for you, wrapped in a feel-good, best things in life are free tap dance.
Which begs the question: What, exactly, is the real thing: Advertising schmaltz, or inner peace? And can you have both?
Kudus to Mad Men creators for their nod to the present-day movement to mindfulness, wrapped appropriately in the movement to self-realization that took place in the late 1960, early ’70s.
More than 40 years later, though, are we still Don en route to that enlightenment, however shallow our own “Real Things” may be?
I wonder, with the popularity of Mad Men and the discussion of its ending, if this will have an effect on today’s mindfulness movement: of being present, in the moment, and not distracted by our millions of bits of data and duties: in other words, the mega bites out of our lives. There is no such thing as multitasking, for instance, and author Daniel Levitin in The Organized Mind shows how it is actually stressful, damaging, and counter-productive.
I fear, however, that pop culture will continue to wrap such an important, self-helpful process in stereotypical hippie-dippie tinge of arrogance that renders it unappealing and unattainable for most.
Will we live in the Coca-Cola world of the Real Thing or our own Real Things?