Friday, October 10, 2008

Mad Men: EST, aka Even Suckers Transform

When we last saw Don, he was in the glow of sunlight through the window of DC8 on his way to Los Angeles to get away from his domestic travails. It’s the primal tactic of flight when fight doesn’t work. Good old running away. After the week we have witnessed, we should all be so lucky if we could escape from our economic travails by a geographical shift.

The most we can do is visit our fictional world of choice, where our hero is sitting on a jet plane. Hmm. An East Coast man, who is dissatisfied with his life with his wife and children and who has a penchant for reinventing himself, is heading out to California. Real-world thoughts start seeping in, and Werner Erhard pops into my head.

Why is that? Let’s see. John Paul Rosenberg was a used car salesman born in Philadelphia. He married and had 4 children before he decided he didn’t want that life. He went cross country with another woman, and reinvented himself as Werner Erhard in St. Louis. The Erhards bounced around the country for 10 years, but of course the important date is in 1971 when Werner held the first Est weekend in San Francisco after he created a personal empowerment program by putting multiple world philosophies into a cuisinart and turning it on high. Rosenberg/Erhard is a tale that would have much resonance for Whitman/Draper, the time shifting notwithstanding.

Rosenberg/Erhard actually relied heavily on an earlier work by Napoleon Hill called Think and Grow Rich, which came out in 1937 and which Dick/Don could have been familiar with. He certainly is acquainted with its three main principles: every achievement begins with an idea; plans call for their implementation and; what you think is what you do.

Don is a unique character on television in that reinvention of himself. We’ve met characters with 2 identities: Bruce Wayne/ Batman; Tony Soprano, suburban Dad/Mafia boss; Samantha Stevens, housewife/witch; Christian Slater now topping all that, with Henry/Edward.

But I believe Don is unique on our tv landscape in the very serious business of opportunistically shedding your identity and assuming another man’s life. It has dark undertones of metaphorical cannibalism, twinged with that most modern of nihilism: Don’s mask brings him no happiness.

But that’s depressing, and who can be depressed when we will all be visiting LaLa land together.

Stop by newcritics on Sunday night when Tom Watson and I will forget about the stock market long enough to feel Don’s pain.