Ah, the story of Don Draper...the middle aged, insecure, brilliant, infidel ad executive living in 1960's Manhattan; the ultimate existential anti hero inserted into pop culture's collective consciousness courtesy of the equally brilliant writers and directors of the television classic 'Mad Men'. He has seen violent death in war, found new life by becoming an impostor, slept with movies stars, models, and coworkers, and developed some of the sharpest minds machining the materialist demand forces of Western economics. A true character for the ages; you can go from absolute disgust / disbelief to total admiration of the man in a matter of minutes.
I began watching the series about four years ago and like most people, struggled a bit through season one and then hit pay dirt beginning with the season two opener. It felt as though the writing on the show went from a solid historical based television series to an instant, refreshing, timeless, and vibrant dramatic classic. The writers presented to modern television viewer's that time of the 20th century and its respective social structures, stresses, and social hegemonies for entertainment; yet safely tucked below the show's entertainment value is the fact that the group on Madison Avenue 50 some years ago represents exactly who all of us are today.
Now this could be purely coincidental, and I could be very well matrixing some of the things I've been reading and learning about over the past few years, but I have caught at least three "occult references" to date while watching Draper's life unfold over the past six seasons. What better parallel peripheral to a man who is completely and utterly alone in the universe; a man who's life and successes are built on a fabricated reality.
The meaning of the word occult, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is a such :
to shut off from view or exposure
So in no particular order, three occult references that have been mentioned in Mad Men that I have picked up on as of date.
Season 2 : Harry makes mention of JPL on a forthcoming Draper trip to California
JPL is the acronym for the California based Jet Propulsion Laboratory. JPL is the founding brain think tank that pioneered early rocketry and NASA propulsion engineering. No doubt JPL was the symbol of cutting edge lunar and space progress at that period of time and the very name would have extolled a sense of excitement in air. On a more curious note, JPL is known in certain circles as Jack Parsons Laboratory.
Marvel Whiteside Parsons aka Jack Parsons, pictured above, was a bona fide chemistry genius and founder of Anaheim's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. No doubt, research into his work and life would yield a blog that would go on forever. His work and theories in respect to solid fuel rocket boosters dominated the 20th century's space exploration landscape. Parsons was not only a highly respected scientist within the military and industrial complex, he was also an admitted occultist. His life included (but is most certainly is not limited to) :
Ritualistic workings prior to each rocket test attempting to invoke the protection and guidance of the Greek god Pan
Correspondence with Aleister Crowley and Crowley's anointment of Parsons to lead the Agape Lodge of the Thelemic Ordo Templi Orientis of California
A scryer/channeler relationship with L Ron Hubbard. Mr Hubbard and Parsons spent many an hour together, performing rituals and rites in various forms of communication with "some higher intelligence"
Alleged completion of the famous "Babalon Working", wherein with the assistance of a Marjorie Cameron and Hubbard, the threesome would attempt to summon from the ether a "moonchild" that would in turn destroy Christianity
A short, intense list, no doubt, but there is much more to the story. Many in the government felt that Parson's 1947 completion of the Babalon Working opened a portal to another world, which in turn provided explanation for the infamous1947 UFO wave. Crazy stuff indeed. Parsons ended his life in a violent explosion, wherein it was rumoured he was in the midst of creating a homoculus. As I said, crazy stuff indeed. And likely included in Mad Men for a very serious, indirect reference.
Season 2 : Draper's Flight to CA
On the tail end of episode featuring Draper's and Pete Campbell's flight to California, Draper is seen gazing afar from a window seat on the plane. Over top of the scene is none other than Joe Meek's "Telstar". Meek, as discussed in a previous entry on this blog, was also a noted occultist and likely an "experiencer" of high strangeness.
I was fortunate enough to discover the work of Joe Meek last year; listening to some of his music today is like listening to music from another plane of existence. "Telstar" today sounds as if it had been created by something in the presence of Tesla or even the Mothman; I can only imagine what people thought when the song first aired over 50 years ago. Even famed occultist/Crowley devotee Jimmy Page of Zeppelin fame has admitted that Meek's brilliance is more or less an undiscovered treasure of the 20th century. Quite a correlation!
Season 4 Don Draper conversation with Anna Draper regarding UFOs
Fans of the show know that the relationship between Anna and Don was something very special and powerful. For a woman to learn that her husband had been missing in wartime action, yet find her husband alive and well years after the war, then realize that another man has taken her deceased husband's name, and yet still find love and to be able to create a special relationship with this imposter is quite a complex process of "being". In season 3/4 (I think), Don learns of Anna's diagnosis with cancer, and that her time on earth is quickly coming to an end. One of the last exchanges between the two involved the discussion of UFOs; as Don is painting the living room one morning in Anna's California bungalow, Anna mentions that she swears she saw a UFO one time that nearly knocked her over, and continues :
Anna Draper : I started thinking of everything I was sure was true, and how flimsy it all might be.
Don Draper :You don’t have to see a UFO to know that. But it’s not a great way to think about things
Anna Draper :I know everything about you and I still love you.
No doubt, the exchange is one of the better moments of the show; the conversation completely embraced the point of being of what is Mad Men. Many in the world of Fortean research have postulated that UFOs do indeed have an occult origin. I am inclined to agree with those researchers.
So where does that leave this post? I no doubt could very well be putting together interesting individuals in history, personal leanings, and random scenes in a TV show to impose a greater meaning or symbolic gesture onto the television show that is 'Mad Men'. Yet I also believe that one of writer's is aware of ideas that have been touched on above, and have included the ideas into the show with intention. I've likely missed many more references; once the show is completed, I plan to go back and binge watch the series from beginning to end. I am certain that more interesting references exist that I have missed on first pass through the show.
Heading into the series' final episodes, I do wonder if this "occult" link becomes more significant to the plot, or if it fades away. Only the writers know, but I do think that an end to Draper's artificially constructed existence happens, one way or another.
So dear readers, what do others think? Have I missed the boat on this one? Have I missed anything that makes sense in the context of Draper and the occult? If anyone reads this post and has more ideas or references in respect to this theme, drop a note and let me know!