WASHINGTON, May 19, 2015 − It was an inner smile that worked its way to the surface of Don Draper’s – a.k.a., Richard “Dick” Whitman’s – face, curling the corners of his mouth. The lesson learned by the square-jawed ad executive was that life is all about him.
While in a 1970s meditative state, Draper discovers, in the words of the late, self-destructive pop singer Whitney Houston, that loving yourself “is the greatest love of all.”
This was the perfect ending to the seventh and final season of American Movie Classics’ (AMC’s) original television series Mad Men, which chronicled the fast-paced lives of Madison Avenue’s chain-smoking, hard-drinking, womanizing PR hedonists.
Like all popular fiction, the show represents the age in which it is made.
A recent Pew Research Center survey of 35,000 Americans age 18 and older noted that those “who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014.”
In his book Experimentation in American Religion, Robert Wuthnow wrote that during the 1970s, “Over half the students on certain elite campuses claimed to be without religious beliefs; nationally at least 20 percent of all college students denied any religious affiliation, and the number who remained only nominally religious ranged considerably higher. Experimentation with Eastern religions and with mysticism, while less impressive numerically, was also much in evidence on campuses, drawing a large share of its recruits, as we have seen, from well-educated young people while they were still in school.”
In Sunday’s last Mad Men, Don Draper is dragged to a transcendental meditation retreat held at a compound perched atop a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
In a telephone conversation, Draper confesses to his dying ex-wife, “I broke all my vows.” Of the daughter who caught him in the throes of passion in one of his many trysts, “I scandalized my child.” Of the U.S. Army officer who died in Korea when he dropped his cigarette lighter in a pool of spilt fuel, “I took another man’s name and made nothing of it.”
While attending a group therapy session, Draper hears a man complain of being unloved by his wife and children. As he breaks down sobbing, overcome by a tidal wave of self-pity, Draper throws his arms around his fellow dysfunctional and joins in the sobfest.
The scene then cuts to Draper and fellow transcendentalists, seated in the lotus position, chanting “ommmm.”
Eyes closed, Draper smiles with self-satisfaction after absolving himself of his sins.
The strain of the Coca Cola’s famous 1971 jingle is heard: “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company… That’s the real thing.”
Ah, the peace that passes all understanding… consumerism.
India’s Mahrishi Mahesh Yogi founded the Sonorama Society in 1959 to advance transcendental meditation in America. But it wasn’t until 1967 that this New Age balm for what ailed the modern world took hold in the collective consciousness.
That year, the Beatles joined the cult.
“The youth of today are really looking for some answers the established church can’t give them, their parents can’t give them, material things can’t give them,” said John Lennon.
Of the transcendental meditative state, Lennon said, “The point, however, is not to think anything… We don’t know what would happen to a killer who did it – maybe meditation would change his mind, you know.”
Mark David Chapman, a stranger to eastern religion, shot the British rock star four times outside his New York City apartment in 1980. Among the personal effects police found on the shooter was a copy of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.
Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in Salinger’s novel, says, “The guy I like best in the Bible, next to Jesus, was that lunatic and all, that lived in the tombs and kept cutting himself with stones.”
The reference is to the New Testament’s Demoniac of the Gadarenes, a man who, like John Lennon, did not like to think. He didn’t need to.
When Jesus asks the deranged, demon-possessed man his name, the response is, “Our name is legion, for we are many.”
A higher power, one outside himself, eventually relieves the man of the tortured voices screaming in his head.
Returning to his village, the man tells of the miracle that brought him to sanity and the open arms of family and friends.
The story fails to mention whether the gathering broke out into a spontaneous, cleansing, life-affirming commercial jingle.