I know I said I’d do Daffy Duck but…nah. Changed my mind. I can do that, you know. It is my blog. Not to say I don’t like the little black duck—and I especially love that he hates that long-eared bastard, Bugs Bunny—but I think I want to sink my teeth into something meatier: Mad Men’s Don Draper.
If you don’t know him or have never seen the show, Draper is a partner and the perpetually unhappy Creative Director at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a fictional advertising set in the 60s. The show’s five seasons (the sixth just premiered tonight) show Draper moving from his seemingly perfect life with a perfect wife and kids in the suburbs and his apartment and girlfriend in the city through divorce, changing social landscape, non-stop infidelity, to the launch of a new advertising agency amid the dawn of television. The show is all skinny ties and smoking in the office, two-hour lunches and full-service secretaries.
Advertising is about helping us find our deepest wants in the bottom of a bottle of beer or behind the wheel of an automobile. It’s about us finding happiness, about us buying happiness. Don Draper is one of the best ad men out there, he understands connecting a product to happiness. Problem is he cannot connect to his own happiness. He searches for it in work, women and drink and comes up short every time. This failure to be happy, to pursue but never attain happiness makes Donald Draper one of the most flawed characters on television.
But I don’t think that’s his greatest villain.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, there’s very little to like in Don Draper and he’s the hero of the show. That means everyone else is not as good as Draper and he’s a jackass. He’s a womanizer, he’s condescending, he’s a liar, he’s good at what he does and an ass while he does it. His code of ethics is muddled at best, nonexistent at worst and right and wrong are fluid concepts to him. But he does make it all look so cool, doesn’t he?
I think Draper’s biggest villain is contentment. He has a lot to be happy about—he’s surrounded by beautiful women, he’s well paid, he gets to drink in his office, clients send him on trips, he gets to see the fruits of his labors on TV and in print, on billboards and in magazines. He stands head and shoulders above his peers. But it’s not enough. It only makes him content. Not happy. Content.
Contentment is being happy but not happy enough. It’s on the edge of something greater, something fulfilling. It’s something we cannot see, cannot define, something that lies on the tip of our tongue, urging us forward. In the Matrix, Morpheus called it a “splinter in your mind.” Many people stop at contentment, swallow life and call it enough. They settle.
Don Draper can’t settle. Enough is not enough. His problem is, this contentment, that dogged pursuit of out and out happiness doesn’t lead him anywhere. He’s running from contentment and has no idea what he’s running to. And this makes him a well-groomed, well-paid, highly effective fuck up. When the show starts, Don has enough—there’s nowhere else to go. The entire series sits on the shoulders of enough not being enough and that pursuit strikes a nerve in all of us. It’s why the show is as popular as it is.
I’m well behind but gonna catch up. Next is ET from…ET.
You’ve nailed Don! He’s the epitome of the anti-hero. As flawed as he is, I do think there’s a kernel of nobility in him. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have gone to Joan to talk her out sleeping with the Jaguar guy. Or when he shook Peggy’s hand and realized she wasright to leave. But he’s got a chip on his shoulder about his upbringing and he won’t be happy til he gets rid of it.
Anti-hero is good, Lynn. My problem is finding the heroic part. Wolverine is an anti-hero. The Punisher is an anti-hero. But there is that kernel, huh? Is that enough? I think I keep watching him to find the good part, to see if he’ll be the good man. But if he was, would we want to see more? And what does that say about us?