Saturday, May 23, 2015

Coke. Is. It. And Mad Men Ends.

“I had a dream I was on the shelf in the refrigerator. Someone closes the door and the light goes off, and I know everybody's out there eating. And they open the door and you see everyone smiling and they are happy to see you but maybe they don't look right at you and maybe they don't pick you. And then the door closes again, the light goes off.”

This epiphany-inducing speech by Mr. Average at the Esalen-like retreat is strange, as dreams often are, until you realize that he dreamt he WAS—Kafka-like—a bottle of Coca-Cola. And he was worried that people were going to go for the Chablis on the door instead of him!

Yes, the entire Mad Men series was about Coca-Cola, pure and simple.


I appreciate that the Mad Men finale has been analyzed from every angle known to man, and a few that may be extraterrestrial in scope.

So in my week-later piece,  I'd like to start with a solecism in the all-hallowed Hilltop Coke song that everyone has blithely chosen to overlook:

And that is the bizarreness of "honey bees" and "snow white turtle doves" as direct objects of the transitive verb "grow."

"I'd like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love

Grow apple trees and honey bees
And snow white turtle doves

Come on people, this syntax makes no sense!
You "raise" honey bees and turtles dove, you don't "grow" them. 

And insult to injury: the the meter of the underlying jingle throws a stress on the word "snow" equal to the word "grow"--on top of the natural word rhyming-- making it seem as though it's a parallel verb construction:  "grow tress" and "snow white turtle doves."

Just wanted to put this out there. It's really has been bothering me since I was a kid.

Reverse Angles

Don's unlikely lotus position immediately brought a  reverse angle image into my head: Michael Keaton's opening scene of Birdman. For me Don chanting Ohm in Big Sur was as surreal as Riggan Thomson levitating in the same position in his dressing room.

That said, the interesting thing about the big reveal of Don as the creative genius behind "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing"--called one of the greatest commercials of all time--is that it illuminates for people their own view on advertising itself.

Me: I've never given advertising much of a thought one way or another. I accept the premise--"they" are going to try to sell me something--and I move on. I don't contemplate if they are toying with my emotions, because I don't invest enough in the ads.

People who see the finale as cynical have strong feelings about the evils of advertising. That what was a "real" moment of life as Don chanted at the Esalen-like retreat became perverted to peddle colored sugar water to the world. Hence Don has not changed, when if he had not created the ad, and stayed away from advertising, he would be changed/redeemed.

I like how Tom and Lorenzo put it in their recap:

 *Don took a week of depressed middle class white people and turned it into a minute of hopeful, ethnically diverse teenagers.

*He went from selling cancer to the American public to selling obesity to the American public and he did it using a message of brotherhood and tolerance that he himself would never experience because of his upper middle class trappings.

*This is what we mean when we say the ending is a cynical one. We don’t necessarily mean that as a bad thing. Mad Men has always been a particular combination of capitalist-fueled cynicism and family-based hope.

Matthew Weiner defended the ad at the New York Public Library event:

“I think it’s the best ad ever made,” he said. “That ad is so much of its time, so beautiful — I don’t think it’s as villainous as the snark of today thinks it is.”

So Weiner doesn't worry about the multinational corporation that is Coca-Cola and its impact on Don's soul. That they try to sell "happiness" as carbonated water in a bottle.  That they pervert the whole concept of "it's the real thing."

I don't worry either. I am Coke fan myself. I love the refreshing taste. I know it's not great for me, but I don't drink coffee and everyone picks his own poison. When I first started traveling to Europe 30 years ago it was hard to find "Coca Lite" but every once it a while you would run into it in a little epicerie in the middle of nowhere, and you bet it made me smile. And it usually made the epiciere smile too, at the American who found the Diet Coke. Commerce is not all evil.

As for the finale and the series: From a character angle,  I had trouble with Don's epiphany coming from the refrigerator speech. The dream thing is too weird except as an allusion to Coke bottles,  and I don't think it earned Don's breakthrough connection.

But then I never felt compelled by Don Draper the character. I enjoyed the artistry and style of a TV show that started with the distinct evocation of the 1950s and lead us throughout the decade.

These last episodes for me were a collection of Matthew Weiner's favorite things: particularly the enormous homage to Hitchcock.

But what Mattew seems to have loved most of all was the Coke commercial he saw when he was 6 years old. It's quite a story, especially why it's in Rome (it's because it was raining in England).  More details on Coke's own site.

I applaud people who are able to bring their passions into their work of any kind, and share it with the world, maybe even with a coke and a smile.