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The Price

The Price Is Right by Emily Nussbaum.

Ever since the finale of “Mad Men,” I’ve been meditating on its audacious last image. Don Draper, sitting cross-legged and purring “Ommmm,” is achieving inner peace at an Esalen-like retreat. He’s as handsome as ever, in khakis and a crisp white shirt. A bell rings, and a grin widens across his face. Then, as if cutting to a sponsor, we move to the iconic Coke ad from 1971—a green hillside covered with a racially diverse chorus of young people, trilling, in harmony, “I’d like to teach the world to sing.” Don Draper, recently suicidal, has invented the world’s greatest ad. He’s back, baby.

The scene triggered a debate online. From one perspective, the image looked cynical: the viewer is tricked into thinking that Draper has achieved Nirvana, only to be slapped with the source of his smile. It’s the grin of an adman who has figured out how to use enlightenment to peddle sugar water, co-opting the counterculture as a brand. Yet, from another angle, the scene looked idealistic. Draper has indeed had a spiritual revelation, one that he’s expressing in a beautiful way—through advertising, his great gift. The night the episode aired, it struck me as a dark joke. But, at a discussion a couple of days later, at the New York Public Library, Matthew Weiner, the show’s creator, told the novelist A. M. Homes that viewers should see the hilltop ad as “very pure,” the product of “an enlightened state.” To regard it otherwise, he warned, was itself the symptom of a poisonous mind-set.

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