“Mad Men” is my absolute favorite show on television. However, it has also presented me with my biggest personal struggle in my television watching history; why, oh why must I be so in love with Don Draper?
An ad man at the beginning of the 1960s, Don Draper is a womanizing family man, an alcoholic, and a pathological liar with a secret identity. He is borderline abusive towards his wife, an absentee father, and a loose-cannon at work. Yet I have never been more attracted to a character in my life. I want with everything to hate him, to be repulsed by the way he treats women, by how flippant he is about his career, and how stingy he is with his heart. Yet, I cannot stop myself.
Maybe what I am falling victim to here is the conundrum of false advertising, a conundrum that Draper himself has mastered so well in his professional career; the Don Draper package is just too appealing to let my perceptions, my attractions be ruined by its spoiled insides. Don is the craftiest, most charismatic ad man on Madison Avenue. His wife and children are out of a upstate New York Norman Rockwell painting. He lives in a beautiful home and dresses to the nines, all the time. Meanwhile, he’s stolen the identity of a deceased WWII soldier. His real name is Richard Witman and he was born to a prostitute. He used to sell fur coats and he has a fetish for being slapped during sex, preferably by prostitutes. Yet all of that doesn’t matter, as long as he strolls into the smoke-filled boardroom in time to make the winning, flashy, sentimental pitch about the joys of family, all the while demonstrating some of that winning Don Draper smugness.
If anything, Don is the epitome of the 60s: an era left morally disillusioned by the nostalgic family values of the 50s. Free love was on the horizon, a place where the nuclear family could not follow. A young, handsome, revolutionary Democrat from Massachusetts was closing in on the Presidency race. Don, a person who understands all too well the price to pay to achieve the American dream, is left to peddle the left-over Coca-Cola Classic aesthetic from the 50s, as his own personal life acts as a literal contradiction to what he represents to his colleagues and in his ads.
I am angry at him for each time he cheats on his wife, or gets drunk and takes off before little Sally’s 6th birthday party. Yet his behind the scenes struggle to maintain his personal brand in a smoke-filled, martini saturated high-rise makes me sympathize with him, root for him, pray for his upturn back home on the subway. His pitch works, even when he has vomit on his starched white-collored shirt. I try to hold, but the ad man sells me, every time.
Are you a Mad Men fan? Has Don sold you too? Comment!