The Cola Cult

A short note on the end of Mad Men, by a guy who has never actually watched Mad Men


I didn't watch the final episode of Mad Men, or any episode of Mad Men for that matter, but I'm sufficiently plugged in to the hivemind to know it ended with the shock revelation that the entire Korean War had been imagined by an autistic Bob Newhart the "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" ad:

Watching that commercial today, it looks like a cult recruitment video. And not a fun cult, like the one in the "Be a Pepper" ads; it's the kind that's about to drink a bunch of poison cola and die on an Italian hilltop. (*)

They made us sing that Coke song in elementary school. Our music teacher prefaced the lesson by explaining that the '60s were a rough time but the song had brought everyone together. That's what it was like to be a little kid in the '70s: Grown-ups kept dropping hints that we'd just missed some sort of cataclysm. Nowadays, all I'm missing is Mad Men, and it's streaming on Netflix anytime I want to go back and catch up. This is probably progress.

(* Credit where it's due: I stole the idea that the Peppers were a cult from a brilliant old Saturday Night Live sketch that does not appear to be online anywhere. Curse you, NBC copyright lawyers!)

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  1. I didn’t watch the final episode of Mad Men, or any episode of Mad Men for that matter,

    Turn in your cosmo card.

    1. Someone on Twitter described it as “Falcon Crest with better set design.”

    2. Seriously. How can I trust Friday A/V Club any more, if the organizer has not seen one of the greatest dramas of our age!?

      (only half snark there; it is a really good show)

  2. In the 90s, we had the same thing. Instead of Coke, it was Capri Sun. And instead of hippies, it was the false advertisement of Terminator 2 liquid metal graphics.

    1. I thought it was the hampster dance song.
      We had the hampster dance song.

        1. Sigh…

          My spawn doesn’t understand why I like this so much.

          1. Dafuq? NO JOLLY CANDY LIKE BUTTON?

            Fine. HEIR.

  3. They made us sing that Coke song in elementary school.

    We did too, but mostly we sang religious songs (in public skool!)

    I always wanted to play the triangle but all I ever got were the rhythm sticks

    1. There was a hit release version of the song that dropped the Coke references. We sang that in school, I’m pretty sure, along with “The Name Game.”

        1. I’m getting all teary-eyed with nostalgia. For a couple of years in the mid/late 70s the Big Commercial FM rock station used to put the Stiff records artists into rotation between Foghat, the Cars,Lynyrd Skynyrd and Ted Nugent songs.

    2. That was an era of odd musical instruments. The recorder, the autoharp, various African drums.

      1. We had all of those. You can still buy them. A few years ago I gave everyone on my Christmas list elementary school musical instruments.

    3. Our music teacher was fond of Cat Stev…. oops, Yusuf Islam

  4. Saint Elsewhere and Newhart
    Two legendary series endings in the same season.
    So I get the autistic Bob Newhart reference, but
    Help me out…the Korean war ? Is that a M.A.S.H reference ?

  5. I was disappointed it didn’t end with Don Draper jumping out of the window of his office building in Manhatten. That would have been perfect since they’ve been showing that happening in the credits since the first episode.

    1. And what the hell ever happened to Pete’s rifle? How come that never came into play? I was waiting years for that thing to go off!

      1. +1 Chekhov’s gun

  6. That’s what it was like to be a little kid in the ’70s: Grown-ups kept dropping hints that we’d just missed some sort of cataclysm.

    Yeah. It was like after the 60s nothing else mattered. Like our lives would be nothing in comparison.

    Only today do I understand that those dirty hippies were no more significant than the Occupy losers, yet I imagine that those losers will become teachers and teach the same thing to their students.

    1. But 10-20 years on, everyone was acting like they’d all been hippies.

      1. And everyone went to Woodstock. I mean everyone. By the end of the 70s it was hard to find someone who didn’t.

    2. What’s interesting in hindsight is how much ex-hippies took credit for the civil rights movement, which they had jack and shit to do with. I’m not even sure they were a major force in the anti-war movement.

      1. ProL, everything good in the world is thanks to them.

        Don’t you know that they invented Velcro and tamed the power of the atom?

        1. I like some of the movies with hippies made by non-hippies, I guess.

          1. South Park did the best hippy homage ever…

      2. You can bet that in another ten years if there’s something to take credit for, the Occupy people will be the ones doing it. I’m surprised no one has romanticized them in the movies yet.

        1. You can’t romanticize them because they were completely boring and had nothing at all interesting to say.

          While hippie is overplayed as a cultural touchstone, they at least were doing some fun and interesting things. Again, I am talking about the actual hippies and not the pop-culture fashion movement that followed.

          1. The stank of Patchoulli and unwashed dirty hippies doing nasty crap was not interesting unless you are referring to that whole free sex thing…

    3. Let’s get our terms straight here. Are we talking about actual hippies or people who started to dree like hippies when it became a mainstream fashion? By the time the coke ad came out, it was purely a pop-culture fashion thing.

      I rather like actual hippies and I think it is unfair to lump all of the people who decided to imitate them when it became fashionable in with them. I think that the original hippies both had a much more significant cultural impact than the Occutards and did much more interesting things.

  7. Is this the end of the Clinton presidential series?…..took-money

    1. Nothing will end it. All must vote for Hillary, because VAGINA! If you oppose Hillary, you are a sexist patriarchal shitlord.

  8. There was an SNL parody of the Be a Pepper ads where America is Turning Gay !

    I’m a homo, he’s a homo, she’s a homo
    Wouldn’t you like to be a homo, too
    Be a homo, act like a homo.

    (C’mon, you know the tune)

    1. SNL, the Un-Funny.

  9. I had never seen the Coke commercial before. Holy shit, the 70s were weird. No wonder Jonestown could exist.

    1. Yeah. The 70s were really fucking odd compared to today. The cops carried revolvers instead of Glocks, and when you asked them for help, instead of running you for warrants and searching you for drugs before telling you to fuck off, they actually helped you. It’s hard to imagine.

      1. And crime was rampant. So running warrants and searching for drugs is great!

        1. Just watch any movie from the 70’s set in NYC and on the subway. That sums up the decay of 70’s right there.

          I recommend Death Wish and The Taking of Pellham 1-2-3.

          1. The Taking of Pellham 1-2-3.

            I thought Walter Matthau was great in that, and also that Denzel Washington did an admirable job in the remake.

        2. Crime was rampant in the big cities. Not sure about everywhere else.

          1. Charlie Manson was out there!

      2. According to my dad,they didn’t call the cops when kids got in a fight at school. A football coach would take both boys to the wrestling room, then they’d put on boxing gloves and go three rounds. Then they’d shake hands and go back to class. They all brought guns to school. Left them with their home room teacher and picked them up at the end of the day. Maybe the 70s was the libertarian moment.

        1. I remember in the early 80s, a friend got an air rifle for his birthday. So a half a dozen of us kids, no one older than twelve, walked around town shooting birds.

          Nothing else happened.

        2. Peak freedom. You could openly smoke weed at any rock concert and second run movie theater. Drinking age was 18 and not enforced. Cops were too busy dealing with real crimes to fuck with people. The 1970s were much more socially free and tolerant than any period after

          1. Kids could play outside and no one would call the cops. Imagine that.

            1. I can remember playing outside without anyone calling the cops.

              Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll *at the same time* is mind blowing to me.

              It may be a gross misconception, but it seems like if any era fit the alcohol/drugs + penetration – express written consent = ‘1 in 5 women raped’ equation it would be years largely covered by the 70s.

          2. Other things my dad told me about the 70s. His friend got pulled over for DUI once, and the cops gave him a ride home. You could smoke anywhere. If you were a teen who fucked another teen, your only potential problem was her dad.

            1. MADD was a real scourge on liberty.

              1. Not until the 80s.

          3. This is without a doubt true.

            I know that geezers have a tendency to get all nostalgic for the good old days. I know that geezers tend to conform to social norms than young adults.

            Even after doing my best to control for these two subjective factors, my own experience was that the 1970s were more socially free and tolerant … at least for young whites and Asians.

            I do think, however, today’s American society, in general, is far less racist with respect to blacks. Nobody looks twice at a mixed race couple and the “We Reserve the Right…” signs have completely disappeared from restaurants. Sure, many cops still think they need to beat down young black men. However, they are now criticized for it, which is an improvement over the seventies.

            Also, even though there were many venues where one could smoke dope, cops would fuck with marijuana retailers quite harshly back in the seventies.

            1. cops would fuck with marijuana retailers quite harshly back in the seventies.

              I don’t remember than happening until the 80’s. Hell, I remember Job Rolling Papers being heavily advertised until about 1984. THAT should have been a Mad Men episode, but Matt Weiner is kind of a clueless dork (all his Sopranos episodes suck).

    2. Check out the Source Family documrntary on Netflix. I’d kinda forgotten how much cults were in the air back then, at my church growing up they were constantly warning us about them.

      1. Source Family is a bizarre failed cult. For a really bizarre cult that has enjoyed success and actually has had cultural influence, read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, which really is a fascinating book. Of course, the most successful American cult is the Church of Latter Day Saints. The Amish have also had a pretty long run as well.

        The fact is that the US has spawned cults since its inception. There were scores of cultish communes in the 18th Century.

        1. How are the Amish a cult? They don’t recruit new members – IMHO that’s essential to be called a cult.

          1. I always saw a requirement for a cult being that the members had to give up a lot of their personal possessions and provide free labor to the cult. Plus secrecy on their practices (e.g. If you can’t find out the practices of the group without being a fully indoctrinated member).

            The Amish will host freaking tours to outsiders, so they aren’t secretive. All their free labor is of the for family members, charity for folks on hard times, or I scratch your back you scratch mine neighborly stuff. I don’t know if Amish land is church owned, but they do have personal possessions and that might extend to the point of personal land worked (can’t be certain). So yeah, I don’t really see the amish as a cult either.

            1. give up a lot of their personal possessions

              Leave out this bit and you’ve got scientology.

              1. Their seabase requires the members to essentially give up all personal possessions.

                1. Ah, didn’t know that. I used to check in a pair of those weirdos in their sailor suits for regular meetings at a hotel in Buffalo. It took me forever to figure out what their game was.

        2. “A cult is any religion an adult chooses to join as an adult”-

          R. A. Heinlein

    3. Re: Warty,

      I had never seen the Coke commercial before.

      You just made me feel old, you bastard.

      1. Warty’s cruelty is boundless.

  10. Watching that commercial today, it looks like a cult recruitment video.

    Whatsa matter Walker? You don’t want to pay your fair share for The Collective? GET HIM.

    I’m old enough to have seen that ad when it came on and I never caught the eyebrowless, giant foreheaded ginger at the beginning. She creeps me out as much as the commercial.

    1. One thing about back then, too, is that commercials didn’t turn so fast. You might see the same ad over a couple of years.

      1. That fucking Indian won’t stop crying!

        1. Ask me if I wasn’t thinking of that Italian dude when I typed that. God knows the damage that did to my psyche. I so want to throw trash out the window of my car, but I c-can’t do it! I CAN’T DO IT!

      2. +1 Victory Auto Wreckers

    2. I remember the ginger. Scary ginger.

  11. That Coke commercial is still the basis of diversity marketing.

    Every ad you ever see that features a member of every race can be traced back to that ad.

    That ad is the basis of marketing in the Democratic Party, as well.

    Look at the logic of that ad.

    People vote for the Democrats for the same reason Coke sales popped with that ad.

    People support Barack Obama and his policies because of the logic in that ad.

    It is irrational to only engage people with reason when what they’re doing is for irrational reasons.

    People are against police brutality because it’s racist–not because it’s unconstitutional.

    People are turning against the Drug War–not because it’s unconstitutional but because it’s racist.

    We get a lot more traction when we try to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.

    1. OMG, you’re right. I just got an image in my head of one of those Hope posters with Obama holding a coke in his hand.

    2. Tell me more about that ad, Usul.

      1. Hope, Change, Desert Tenet.

      2. “Tell me about the Colas of your homeworld, Usul”

  12. It isn’t just the Colas. Pretty much ALL TV ads seem to take place in a world where people take a cult interest in consumer products. If I ever saw people in a real McDonalds acting like the people in McDonalds ads, I would suspect drugs. And don’t get me started on Folgers.

    Very very few ad campaigns seem to be about the realistic reactions of un-mindwashed humans.

    1. Wait, are you telling me that Mentos are not the freshmaker?

      This changes everything!

      1. I dunno – if I saw Germans acting like that, I might just shrug it off and order another liter of beer.

      1. Pity their actual performance isn’t as good.

        Actually, I’m not quite being fair. If you work in a office complex, FedEx will find you. Even if management just moved you from a penthouse office to a cubbyhole in the basement with steam pipes, FedEx will find you. What they apparently CAN’T cope with is houses anywhere outside of an urban beltway. I think the drivers believe that werewolves roam the countryside.

        In the ’90’s it got to the point where, if a mail-order company was telling me “You qualify for free next day FedEx shipping!” I would tell them, “No, please, send it UPS ground. It will get here sooner.”

        1. Every time I see a FedEx shipping number, I pray it’s a SmartPost, because for some odd reason, my local post office can manage to find my door, but FedEx can’t. (And UPS is pushing the drivers so hard that in the time it takes me to walk to the door from hearing the bell, the guy is already filling out the “we missed you” post-it)

  13. I like some of the movies with hippies made by non-hippies, I guess.

    I saw part of Easy Rider a while back. Holy shit, it was bad. Painfully, atrociously, embarrassingly bad.
    Not funny.

    1. At least it had a happy ending.

      1. Exactly what I was going to say!

    2. No, no, that was a movie about hippies made by hippies. I was thinking more. . .actually, I don’t know what I was thinking about.

      1. I think the worst outcome of this impulse were the 80’s docu-dramas featuring brave, selfless leftists, battling against the shadowy cabal of capitalist evildoers, out to stop them at any cost.

        So tedious and tiresome.

        1. If there’s an afterlife with access to total information, one question I’d like answered is how much today’s politics, particularly leftwing politics, was driven by entertainment.

          1. I wonder how much of an effect Miami Vice had on public support for the drug war.

            1. “Its going down twisted!”

            2. Smuggler’s Blues, baby!

      2. I think what you’re looking for is “The Holy Mountain” by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

  14. Just watch any movie from the 70’s set in NYC and on the subway. That sums up the decay of 70’s right there.

    I saw some movie, I can’t even remember what it was, but it was set in ’70s NYC, and there were mountains of garbage on the curbs everywhere, because the noble sanitation workers were battling for social justice.
    No Justice, No Trash Collection!

    1. The whole basis for The Destroyer series (and the movie Remo Williams) was that constitutional government couldn’t handle all of the crime, so an extralegal assassin was needed to balance things out and to keep the government’s hands clean. Except that the assassin was released by order of the president, but, hey, don’t read these books for politics.

      1. The Destroyer Series was (is?) a multi-volume satire of the ’70’s pulps. The worst books were the ones in which the author(s) took the whole thing seriously. Some of the ghostwriters got it, and some didn’t.

        1. Is. You can still get the books. I read the first twentysomething, but there are many, many more.

  15. Not watching Mad Men will be something we can all remember together. Our not watching the show will be something of a cultural landmark.

  16. After reading this entire thread, I am still not as knowledgeable a Jesse on this show.

  17. “Watching that commercial today, it looks like a cult recruitment video.”

    So it was the perfect way to wrap up a show about a decade that was basically one long cult recruitment ad for progressivism?

  18. I confess that the whole notion of Draper (or another character) creating that nauseating Coke ad went right over my head. I took it as a symbolic reference, contrasting popular culture in 1970 to what it had been in 1960. It seemed to me that the entire point of Draper’s phone call to Peggy was that he was turning his back on advertising and, indeed, the entire Draper persona.

    Shows what happens when you watch TV half asleep.

    1. Shows what happens when you watch TV.

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  20. It isn’t just the Colas. Pretty much ALL TV ads seem to take place in a world where people take a cult interest in consumer products.

    You mean like Apple?

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