This weekend's TV was momentous with AMC's crown jewel ending at the beginning of the glorious Free to Be You and Me 1970s. Don Draper finally hit bottom and was, as always happens, in the right place at the right time to surrender, and find the heart of the American dream....again. After sneering through the consciousness-raising retreat center, ambling after the niece of his fake wife, the only other person who knows his real name, and like the girl he originally moped after out there, a mother like his own, i.e. fleeing their child like its a needy style-cramping vampire. He's along for the ride but it turns out he's the one who's finally able to rise up and hug a shlemiel in a group therapy session as decade began, a good omen that led immediately to what he had been looking for (unbeknownst to him or us), the perfect Coca-Cola commercial, one that would define the decade itself--it's seamless interweaving of the mainstream popular plastic packaging and post-Aquarius encounter group openness commercialization and open collar freedom, but a freedom beyond the boy's club sexo-alcoholic escapism of the sixties, a freedom that understood no one escapes oneself, and the minute you stop trying, joy comes dropping down like a cartoon anvil. Hugging the shlemiel (Evan Wood) is the first truly free thing he's ever done, to release seven seasons worth of accumulated stress, of the Don Draper mask, the alpha male swagger, collapsing like a globally warmed iceberg and just hugging it out with a guy his total polar opposite, a weak-chinned balding charisma void, the kind I used to be always mean to, fearing if I was nice they'd hang around and try to poach foxes, embarrassing themselves, chasing off foxes and cramp my style by association. Learning to recognize myself in them, to love even them unconditionally, was the biggest surrender I ever had to make, and it's a case of genius casting that he's so forgettable even when talking about how forgettable he is. As an actor though, it's truly extraordinary; there's no maudlin sentiment or whining for attention -- it's not a breakdown but a breakthrough, crying and laughing at the same time.
And just when you thought things were getting kind of wholesome, pure, believing the Aquarius line, it comes in fully with "I'd like to teach the world to sing" extended length commercial, played in full. Watching, transfixed, still moved, I could remember hearing that song everywhere in the 70s as a kid and when I was getting sober in 1998, hanging out in AA just to meet girls and drink free coffee (I told myself). Only gradually feeling the cracks along my walls and barriers. When I could literally hear and feel the iceberg in my soul finally melting enough that it just split and cracked open and dissolved, right in the midst of an AA meeting on a late Friday afternoon, triggered by my self-imposed humiliation over walking in late with squeaky shoes, toxins and sweat, laughter and tears and rose-tinted waves of gratitude all pouring forth like the incoming warm ocean.
|The Nordic Aliens bring their universal message|
And most unique to the 70s too, we were all--the entire nation--into that song. We all knew and know all the words, not that there's many. Because irony didn't exist in the popular media; we were too open-hearted and there were too few channels to separate us, no other devices on which to watch things. In the 70s we all had to endure each other's programming and the kids never got first draft choice if my dad was around, but we were always in the same room, seeing the same things. It left us all with a cross-generational water cooler currency woefully missing from today's everybody on their own screen post-nuclear familial structure. That's how that Coke commercial crossed the generations, it bonded the entirety of the nation in its moment.
TV was a shared language in the 70s but it was the EST and therapy groups and encounter sessions that brought us closest. Even if your parents didn't go, some couple they knew did, and the message of openness and being 'perfect in the now' crossed from that couple to your parents and outwards in a loving pink energy ripple effect. Parents knew how to treat us, to not hold on tight or try to align us to their thinking, not to live through us or rathe their worth as humans on what daycare we tested into. They were them and we were us and all were okay. This kind of encounter group wildfire helped prep me for later yoga classes, acid, and eventually AA. Don's encounter group scene's tremendous cathartic power comes from that same wildfire, the time when yoga and meditation were brand new to the west. There was no arguing with the resulting slow burn awakening as the news of inner peace's availability spread (like that 70s Faberge Organics shampoo spot: "tell two friends / and they'll tell two friends / and so on / and so on").
It's the same with Don's mountain retreat moment, as we say in AA, "your own best thinking got you here" - which has about two dozen dual meanings. To be able to commit to a meditation class without smirking, or judging, being able to take instruction from a young hippie kid in the lotus position, to get the message rather than let your ego--like a jealous rival--convince you to hang back and judge the messenger, to sneer at such naked emotional simplicity rather than leave that jealous ego in the dust, to shiver in the naked heat of the sun rather than run back to the iceberg re-freezing warmth of the bar. But looking at the entirety of his seemingly haphazard journey west, we see how every little incident led to this moment, from the invite to the Veteran's fundraiser to giving some snotty thief his car, all step by step, like a careful opponent making sure all his enemy's (i.e. ego's) avenues of escape are blocked before springing the iceberg break coup de grace. If he had his car he would have quit before the miracle (as we say in AA), if the guy speaking had been attractive, or young, or old, or somehow different enough to be either desirable or a threat it wouldn't have worked, if that mopey bitch in that first encounter group hadn't cross-talked about being abandoned by her mom, then his ride wouldn't have bailed, and so forth.
Don was hugging the shlemiel not because he heard, as we say in the rooms, his own story, or recognized the dawning of the commercialization of the Age of Aquarius. But because he saw beyond himself, and knew this person was him, and was Jesus, and the dying Betts, and his children, and whore mother, and brother he drove to suicide, all wrapped into one flag-draped coffin of a rainbow child. But Do is an ad man to his core, and even there in the crucible of surrender, lurks the next gold ring. For him they are inseparable but that's the thing you go into the wilderness of Self but if you don't bring back a present, a souvenir we can use here in the communal house, you just wasted our time telling us about it. We're conditioned to accept that from popular culture, so maybe it doesn't even get our French theory noses in a twist when right after the credits comes a car commercial with Jon Hamm voiceover. The average critic writing about the show doesn't mention that, doesn't see it in the context of the show itself. But any acidhead huckster would note, that's SYNERGY too!
It's because I'm a Pisces and a child of the 70s that I can both scoff at astrology and yet know it's true, and it's because I have seen the land beyond duality that I know duality is beautiful as long as you know it's fiction. And I know that fiction is far truer than reality in depicting reality, and I've hallucinated enough to know never to believe my own eyes or ears so when skeptics say they need such evidence to be convinced of flying saucers I snort derisively. I feel waves of selfless gratitude and secretly mock those I deem less humble and I get that irony and yet prefer to laugh at myself rather than try and change it. And I know I can cry and feel bad about pollution all I want, but that never helps things. I can donate $ or volunteer without losing the joy or sense everything's okay. I know I should meditate and feel joy and love and put it out there to those who need it, not who's hot or deserves it, to effect change. Not for nothing Jesus washed the feet of the lepers, not the supermodels. Don's phone call to Peggy clearly indicates he's planning a suicide, and the ego is so entrenched it needs a bomb threat to leave the building. But that's how it is. You gotta get low to get high. But fuck that, bro. I knew even in my awakening of spirit that I'd have to be nice to ugly idiots to keep the buzz alive, and instead I ran and ran. By the time I stopped it was ready it was the 90s, and too damn late. Now there was the internet, and SSRIs. My hair was not on fire so I was no longer willing to dive into the well.
|Helen Slater, showing she always had a way with reticent buds (Supergirl, 1984)|