Don Draper is a monster, so why is it that so many men want to be just like him?
I stopped actively watching Mad Men about two seasons ago. Of AMC’s lineup it’s probably my least favorite show (The Walking Dead is a close second). I think I return infrequently mostly to watch Don Draper kill himself, as must happen eventually.
I don’t like Mad Men because at some point in the show’s lifecycle the series went from being a commentary on misogyny to a proponent of it. For me I think that moment came when Betty went from beautiful victim to ugly bitch-queen ex wife.
Yes, there are a couple other significant female leads, but they’ve either taken on the mantle of Betty’s victimhood (Joan, Megan) or devolved into a sort of patriarchal comic relief (Peggy).
The focus of Mad Men is the men. And although they may be presented as flawed, deeply so, there’s a sort of celebration of their ugliness. The women on the show are largely decoration. This isn’t about their journey, they’re tourists. This is about the men. One man in particular: a psychopath named Don Draper.
This struck me especially hard as I watched the latest episode of season 6, “The Flood,” and listened to Don prattle on about how he didn’t love his children. “Until they do something.” Until his son did something. And Megan comforted Don. And Don thought longingly about his mistress.
Don Draper is a terrible man. A terrible father who married his children’s babysitter as not to be bothered raising them. A serial philanderer who lacks any sense of remorse or empathy. A man who in between boughts of drunkenness and flu-induced murder/rape fantasy sits at the dinner table trying to fake emotion. “Okay, smile,” Don seems to think, “nod and laugh. Good job, Don. Good job.”
Praise be to Jon Hamm for a great performance, but Don Draper is a monster. A monster with the personality of a briefcase latch.
Of course that in itself isn’t the problem. There are plenty of despicable characters on television. The problem is that the monster that is Don Draper is presented with an overabundance of sympathy. He’s cool, suave, sexy, and what’s worse is that an entire generation of men respond to him as such.
“Don’s back!” tweeted a friend of mine triumphantly after Don Draper started cheating on his wife again.
Women want to be with him, men want to be like him. My God, what’s wrong with us?
It seems like I blinked and suddenly hurting children is funny (The Campaign, Project X, God Bless America), self-loathing is catharsis (Louis C.K.), and misogyny is the new cool.
Despite mass shootings, violent crime is down in the United States, but sexual crime is rising. It’s part of a trend some thirty years in the making. Rape up, murder down. Not surprisingly these trends seem to mirror the collapse of feminism and the resurgence of “manliness.”
Beards and mustaches are hipster gold. Nostalgia for times gone past is at an all time high. Our culture is obsessed, again, by brute strength, macho cars, and emotional repression. Our movies and music are full of sexual anger and exploitation. The cowboy is king, and although the nerd may be hot he lacks any of the past intellectualism. And the boomers, the generation most responsible for climate change, the national deficit, and the growing gap between the haves and the have nots, is regarded with a sort of quiet reverence. Retro chic is in, in a big way.
The truth is this: we, the men of this generation, are a self-obsessed bunch of do nothings chugging down craft beers and designer coffee drinks while the world burns to cinders around us. We take on the glam façade of manhood and chuck out all the responsibility. We call ourselves men, but do nothing to earn it, and God knows there’s a lot of opportunity.
So, what better icon could we ask for than Don-fucking-Draper? An empty, angry, shell of a man, bullshitting his way through life, convincing everyone, especially the viewers that he’s everything he’s not.
We idolize Don Draper. We toss him up on magazine covers and pat ourselves on the back for having made so much progress. But the illusion tends to fall apart completely when we consider one simple question: how cool would Don Draper be if he were a woman?