“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” — Lester Bangs
“Buy a coke, smoke cigarettes until you die, and go fuck yourself. WINNING!” — Don Draper, basically
In a nutshell, those two quotes represent my own worldview and that to which I am antithetical, and why ultimately, I am sad about Don Draper’s fate in the Mad Men finale. That’s not to say that I’m not impressed as hell with Matthew Weiner’s conclusion to Don’s story. As Sarah noted, it makes all the sense in the world, and it’s completely in line with the character we’ve gotten to know over the last seven seasons.
But just because it makes sense doesn’t mean I’m can’t be bummed about it. I am naive enough to believe in the better angels of our nature. I believed in Don Draper. I believed there was more to him than advertising slogans, that there was some depth to his character. I saw metaphor in his pitches where there was none, because I watched too much West Wing and Friday Night Lights and too many Cameron Crowe movies. I refused to be a cynic, and in the end, I got burned.
Don Draper is not a good person. He’s not a President Bartlet or a Coach Taylor. He didn’t have hidden depths. He was the Charlie Sheen of advertising: A womanizing, adultering substance abuser who changed his name so he could be someone else. He slept with prostitutes. He had threesomes. He abandoned his children. And like Charlie Sheen, every time he hit rock bottom, he’d find new ways to succeed, new ways to fuck up his life, only to rise again, because the world doesn’t give a shit about what kind of person you are. The world only cares about how much money you can make them.
Of course, McCann Erickson took Don Draper back, because he made them a fortune. It doesn’t matter that, in two years time, he’ll probably spiral out of control again, because when he comes back, people will probably love him even more. Because America loves a great comeback story, no matter how many times you come back, and no matter how many times you prove yourself to be a morally bankrupt reprobate. Don Draper has tiger’s blood!
The Don Draper story that Matthew Weiner chose to tell was not of hope and redemption. He chose, instead, to hold a mirror up to show that America is not about emotional enlightenment. It’s about transactional enlightenment. Worth is predicated on your financial value, and not whether you choose to make the world a better place. You may believe that it’s a fitting end to a series about people in advertising, but I am profoundly sad by it. I feel broken. I am reminded, instead, of a quote by another inspiration of mine, Bill Hicks, who once said, “If you’re in marketing or advertising, kill yourself.
I believed in you, Don Draper, and now I feel like a fool for expecting so much more.