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Is This All There Is?

By April 24, 2015 One Comment
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mad men

Five more episodes—that’s all that’s left for Don Draper. It’s been a magical ride through the 1960’s as Don’s meticulously constructed life has been woven into the significant events of the decade. The first half of the last season ended with the moon landing—a hopeful end to a decade that seemed to spiral out of control. The last few episodes leaped into the ugly 1970’s. I can say it because I was born in 1974. My early childhood was spent in rooms with thick brown carpet and walls plastered with paneling. My clothes were usually some kind of awful plaid, and the hair styles were…I’ll just call it interesting. Madmen picks up on this ugliness—the big mustaches, the polyester pants, and the paneling. Everyone seems to be affected by it, except Don Draper of course.

The trajectory of the show is fairly clear—Don’s life, the life he literally constructed and sold, is unraveling. The genius of the show is the use of images, shots, and recurring symbols. The last three episodes have ended the same way, with shots of Don alone, alienated from his family, his lovers, increasingly his work, even his apartment. Everything points to the death of Don Draper. Not literally of course, my guess is the show will end  Soprano’s style, leaving everyone guessing as to Don’s fate. Metaphorically? Symbolically? Don will die. In many ways he’s already dead. It’s been a slow, steady, progressive death, the worst form of death that anyone like Don Draper can fathom—becoming irrelevant.

All of our life is spent trying to make something of ourselves. Friendships, family, careers, hobbies—all of it an attempt at some form of relevancy. We all want to matter, we all want to believe the world would be a different place if we weren’t around. All of us like to think that we have something to contribute, we have something unique to say, something important. And so we live with the illusion of relevancy, beating back the truth as best we can, fighting off this nagging feeling that maybe time has passed us by. Unable to accept that our cultural clock is slowing down, the batteries dying. This is the beauty of Madmen. Not the excess, not the beautiful people living the high life, but the inevitable unraveling of everything we create. All of it… our work, our play, the identity we project and construct for the world to see and read about online—it all comes undone in the end.

I know what you’re thinking: Lief’s having a midlife crisis. Maybe you’re right. A knee surgery, a blood clot that won’t go away, an MRI… it makes you think. What happens when the things that once gave a sense of joy are now met with indifference? What happens when an important part of our identity is stripped away? Is this the effect of sin? Or is this simply what it means to live as a finite human being? I’m not sure…but I’m not upset, and I haven’t gotten a tattoo—not yet anyway. I guess I’m content to let life take its course—to go the way of Don Draper.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

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