Of Mad Men and Discredited Russian Philosophers: The Angst of Donald Draper


***DISCLAIMER: Massive Spoilers! But that should be obvious, right?***

 

Wikipedia

Wikipedia

Imagine a decade ago that I came to you and said I had an idea for a show. That idea would be to follow the lives of people who work in the office, in advertising, in the 1960s. You’d ask what happened, and I’d say, “Nothing. Nothing happens. They just live.” Would you green light the show? Probably not, but someone at AMC did and called it Mad Men, and the rest is history. Or at least soon to be history as the show comes to its conclusion.

For nigh on a decade (in show years; and kind of in real years) we’ve witnessed Donald Draper and the rest of the crew grow, develop, and collapse. All the while the question to the casual viewer is, “So when will something happen?” We thought that something was when Pete burst forth with the revelation that Donald Draper is actually Dick Whitman, to which Bernie Cooper gave a “Meh” response. The something was actually nothing. So goes the pattern of the show: Something major occurs, we think this is the *it* we’ve waited for, and it’s met with “meh.”

Yet, there’s an inescapable feeling that indeed something has happened, we just don’t know what that something is. After all, we’ve watched Don Draper live a “man’s dream,” of being successful, of marrying a woman half his age (who’s a french model), of drinking while on the job, and living a life with few consequences. But Don seems unhappy and unfulfilled. He fought to get his job back, only to continue to seek after other things. Don is never happy, nor is anyone else on the show. No one ever reaches the mountain and feels satisfaction, contentment is always a few elusive feet away, and for this we think something might have happened. Indeed, something has happened and continues to happen within the story of Mad Men: The battle for Don Draper’s soul.

No, this is not a Jesus Juke. This is not where I turn around and, much like the irate husband in this past week’s episode, tell Don Draper to find Jesus because “He can do some good things.” Rather, the battle for Don’s soul is fought on the existential level. One could say that the thing happening is the fight and struggle for Don Draper’s existence, for his identity, for his happiness. See, Don Draper isn’t really Don Draper, rather he’s two men. He’s Dick Whitman and Donald Draper. Rather than Draper being a cover so that Whitman could escape the horrors of Korea, Draper is also an entirely other personality.

Whitman is a carefree individual, not quite a hippie, not quite a beatnik, not quite an existentialist. But there’s no doubt that he loves life and desires freedom. In the very first episode of the first season we’re actually introduced to both Donald Draper and Dick Whitman. We see the businessman (Draper), the patriarch of the ideal family of four, living in the suburbs. In the darker elements we see a man living for himself, the ideal objectivist who uses anything and everything for his happiness. We also meet, albeit briefly, with Dick Whitman (though we don’t know his name), in having an affair with a bohemian-style woman, someone who seems incommensurable to the businessman. As the season and show progress the divide between the two personalities grows wider as the two fight for supremacy.  Continue reading

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