Why Do We Love Don Draper?
I am selling Amway products with Don Draper. On the road. National accounts. Just me, Don, a convertible and a carton of Lucky Strikes. My chest feels larger than ever.
It‘s a a dream, obviously. But so vivid.
Don and I were deep in discussion about phosphates and environmental damage. Our flirting was fueled by innuendo and the double entendre of Amway which seemed apparent at the time but totally escapes me now. Mother of god, if I’d died then and there, with Don by my side, I think I would have been okay about it.
Let me be clear. I was not dreaming about dishy Jon Hamm, bearded actor. I was dreaming about Don Draper, fictional character.
I’ve been bingeing on past seasons of Mad Men. I went all the way back to the very first episode and I’ve been working my way from start to finish — from Betty to Megan — trying to guess how the whole thing will end. It has been Greek drama all along, I’m convinced. There are clues strewn about: in the ashtrays, in the dirty drinking glasses, in the run nylons and the panty girdles. The detritus of nostalgia.
My dream makes me wonder. Why do we love Don Draper?
We shouldn’t. We know that. We women mos def know that. And yet we fall.
Don lies about everything to everyone. He’s no do-gooder; the man works in advertising, for god’s sake. He has no morality. He cheats. His breath has got to be revolting — all those cigarettes, all that booze. He’s out of touch even by the standards of 1969. He mostly treats women like ass. There is a serious Brylcreem thing going on. And his real name is Dick.
Why do we desire him, given all of that?
Because he has secrets. Deep deep deep secrets. Dark ones. Despite his veneer (or perhaps because of it) Don proffers pathos too tempting to resist.
I’ll speak for myself here. I love pathos. It offers so much more possibility than well-adjusted, steady, reliable. It’s a torturous route to something elemental. To the cause of the damage.
Don Draper is what we can never have. And he’s there to remind us of it all. The parental love we missed. The dog hit by the speeding car. The boyfriend who failed to show up on prom night. Or showed up, but with another date in tow.
He’s the compromises and the failures and the shitty things we’ve done to others from time to time. And, of course, to ourselves. Mostly to ourselves. He’s not a psychopath. He’s not the Talented Mr. Ripley. No, Don is way closer to home.
Don Draper is whatever and whoever it is that dwells in the saddest nostalgia, that pains us to remember.
I watch Mad Men not only because I love the clothes and the writing and the plot. I watch Mad Men because of where Don Draper makes me feel it might be possible to go. That, maybe, just maybe, he might see me and choose me and love me — and together, we might cure each other of the damage within. Show it the light of day and usher it, once and for all, out the door.
Don lives by the credo that things are inevitable. That we are almost always doomed to repeat the same mistakes. That we we are drawn, moths to flame, to new beginnings, yet those beginnings turn out to be little more than disguised but well-worn paths. Our very own self-defeating behaviors over time. Our mistakes, comin’ around again. Like Don.
In four weeks’ time, Don Draper will be no more. I don’t know if he lives or dies, commits suicide or gets shot, or even if he lures his ex-wife away from her husband and picks up right where he and they started. In the house in Ossining.
It doesn’t matter, to be honest. Reality is we’ll never really know what happens to Don. He’ll take his secrets with him. And we’ll bury our own a little deeper.
Don Draper will remain the perfect fantasy. That road sign luring us onward… to the place we’ve longed for forever and ever. The place we seek but never find.
That’s why we love Don Draper. Because he is our nostalgia.