One of the most significant scenes in the first season of AMC’s Mad Men is when Don presents the ad campaign for Kodak’s wheel called ‘The Carousel.” Don uses the wheel to show pictures of his family in order to market the machine as something that evokes nostalgia within a consumer. This moment presents Don with a deeply sentimental and emotional reaction as he sees pictures of his kids and him and Betty as a happy couple. This experience gives Don his own nostalgia for happier times and suggests he may feel guilt or remorse for his actions but reminds him what he values in his life- his family.
Don says that nostalgia literally means “The pain from an old wound.” This relates to Don’s current situation as he feels pain when looking at these pictures and seeing how happy his life once was and how now his marriage is failing. Don goes on to explain how nostalgia is more than memory because it is felt in the heart. This proves that these pictures did have meaning to them and were not just the Drapers’ pretending to be happy. In comparison to the family portrait taken earlier in the season, the pictures in the slideshow seem much more genuine and capture true happiness. In The Way We Never Were, author Stephanie Coontz references Christopher Lache when he suggests that many people tend to be overcome “by fantasies even more than by things” (176). These pictures provide more meaning than any other material thing Don owns. The idea of a perfect family seemed like a fantasy to Don, who grew up in a broken family, but these pictures remind him that he did, at one point, have a close, happy family. However over time Don and Betty have drifted apart due to their lack of communication and commitment. This fantasy of a perfect family is not so unrealistic and suggests that Don may be remorseful towards this nostalgia that he longs to go back to.
Throughout Don’s speech the idea of aches and wounds is emphasized to demonstrate Don’s longing for those times of happiness. He states that the wheel “takes us to a place where we ache to go again.” This speech is almost as if a veil is being lifted off Don and the viewer gains insight into his heartache. There is a slight sense of regret in his nostalgia, as it seems as if he is questioning his affairs and the distance he created within his family. Don also brings up how the wheel lets you travel like a child (hence the use of the word carousel) and lets you go home to a place where you know you are loved. The idea of childhood is significant because it is something so innocent and pure, untainted by adulthood. Youth is a time when thoughts and dreams are joyful and simple. Don came from a troubled childhood, and the only time when he was truly happy in life was the early stages of his marriage and when he is with his kids because this when he experienced love. Don aches to feel this love again and has a strong desire to go back as if on a carousel.
The setting of this revelation is important because creator Matthew Weiner said that advertising is “a great way to talk about the image we have of ourselves, versus who we really are” (Witchel). This scene embodies Don’s heartache while presenting his nostalgia in the form of his work to illustrate the man he once was and the man he has become. The wheel ads depict a man who loves his family and is truly happy. While Don still loves his family dearly, he has not made the best decisions when it comes to keeping his marriage stable. This moment allows Don to self-reflect on his actions by giving us insight into his guarded persona. Don deeply cares about his family, his kids above all else, and truly displays nostalgia as he aches and longs to go back to a time full of happiness, something missing from his current life.
Coontz, Stephanie. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. New York, NY: Basic, 1992. Print.
Witchel, Alex. "'Mad Men' Has Its Moment." The New York Times 22 June 2008. Print.