Friday, November 22, 2013

Don Draper and the Other Predator

Still on Netflix time, we're just now getting ready to Season Six of Mad Men (actually, I think we must have missed some of season five; there are characters here I don't recognize, but no matter).

Anyway--Mad Men has never made a lot of sense to me.  I kind of like all the retro stuff; I did live through it after all, before, I suppose, most of the writers were born.   Or maybe not: I was there, but not there: the Mad Men life has very little to do with my own and I often find myself wondering whether it's me or just that they don't get things as right as they think they do.  

There also seems to be an elephant-sized structural problem with the show, and that's Don Draper: he's never made the  least bit of sense to me as a character and the efforts to build a show around him have always seemed artificial, strained.  This is emphatically not true of the whole cast: I think Pete Campbell is a marvel of dark comedy.  Roger Sterling must have the head writer's kid locked up in the basement: Roger gets all the funniest lines.  Don's first wife--is it Peggy?-- Betty (!) is a marvel of a train wreck in her own way.

But we were postmorteming this morning and Mrs. B said, a propos of nothing in particular: "Is Don Draper Jack Kennedy?"

My first thought was "huh?"  My second was "what a du" -- but no, I long ago learned that any idea of Mrs. B's that I begin by thinking a dumb idea will very likely turn out to be at least an interesting, maybe a very smart, idea.  So I've learned how to stifle.  And as I think about it, I begin to see her point.   Don's magnetic, good-looking, slim-waisted (though while we are speaking of "wasted"--I can understand stays tanned, fit and ready on all that booze and tobacco no more than I understand how Kennedy brought it off under the weight of his parlous physical infirmities).

We're also supposed to believe that Draper is talented although the writers have never figured out a way to make that convincing, except to keep telling us so.  Kennedy--well, the tempting comparison is too facile. I did think he was an empty suit at the beginning of the campaign although I'm willing now to give grudging recognition to the theory that he seems to have grown in the job.  Still, you had to wonder.

But of course, the real point of connection is the womanizing.  I suppose we all have our intuitions as to why Kennedy did it: for sheer sensual enjoyment, as a power play, for the joy of humiliating an 18-year-old virgin, to flirt with danger, whatever. With Kennedy, over time it has come to ring true. With  Don, I'm not sure you even see that.  You wonder time after time why he even bothers.  Again this strikes me as a dramatic failing--there was a way to put gristle on this character's bones, but I don't think they have found it.

Which is to say, maybe the Kennedy comparison is the most enlightening possibility.  Think of Kennedy as we know him now.  Think of Draper as Kennedy, and a lot falls into place.

1 comment:

Lise said...

Here's how I see Don Draper: All that power, and he still misses his mommy.

But as someone who grew up among Kennedy-worshipping Massachusetts democrats, I see that Mrs. B's musing makes a lot of sense.