My newest addiction is Mad Men (yes, I know I am a little behind the times), and I can’t help but wonder why, despite his very immoral actions, we still like Donald Draper (besides the fact that he is so ridiculously good looking).
The newest literary archetype in modern television is the anti-hero, which is basically, by definition, a character who does bad things, but we still like (Don Draper, Walter White, Donald Trump?–I recently read an article that theorized the reason “we” “like” Donald Trump is because he reminds us of our favorite immoral television characters). I think we can all agree that cheating on your wife multiple times is a very, very immoral thing to do, yet as the viewer, we never quite discourage Don’s love affairs like we do some of the other characters. Like, we really hate Pete because of what he did to Peggy, and how he picks up random girls in the elevator. We don’t really like Roger Sterling, because of how he seems to manhandle, manipulate, and control Joan and the other one-night-stands. But, Don is different. Unlike Pete and Roger, Don imposes boundaries; he does not sleep with just ANY girl he meets in the elevator, but rather ones that he carefully selects (most of the time, these are high profile business transactions). His relationship with Peggy is obvious of this–Don certainly could have his way with Peggy, or any of his other secretaries, but that is against his moral code. When he realizes Midge is in love with that Roy, he leaves her alone and lets her be loved. He isn’t just some free flying, id-satisfying man with no conscience–Don Draper DOES have a conscience, and he DOES have rules that he lives by, whether or not those rules are necessarily our Christian-wholesome values or not…
In contrast to some of the other characters, Don treats his women well. We don’t like Pete because of what he did to Peggy–he seduces her, makes her think she is something special, and then pulls the rug out from under her. We don’t like how he treats Trudy–even for Valentine’s Day, the chocolates he brings home FOR her, he eats. Ken Cosgrove is a relatively likeable bachelor, but we don’t like how he gossips and talks about the women he’s hooked up with. So, we like Don Draper because he is not like these other scummy men. Before they get divorced, Don buys Betty beautiful watches, brings her home cars. He won’t be abusive towards his children, we see him trying to invest in his marriage at the beginning of season 2, and we like how he touches her. Don is affectionate towards Rachel, divulges intellectually and personally with her. Bobbie Barrett is a bad egg, and Don is a little masochist with her, but I think we excuse that because it is a business transaction, and she is very, very bad herself, so she must deserve it.
I think we also like Don because, despite the rummage that is his personal life, he still appears professional and successful. In the episode when Marilyn Monroe dies (and by the way, the writers do such a tactful job of reminding us how time is moving within the story line without making those transitions obvious by inserting these true historical events), all the secretaries are upset, and Don begins sleeping at The Roosevelt, he still manages to put his own inner turmoil aside and comfort and console the women. He is still able to bring in accounts, still able to persuade clients, still about to perform his job. While he divulges into the personal lives of those he lives with, he himself is very, very private, and continues to keep the personal and the public sphere private (right, because meshing the two, like Freddy, would suggest weakness).
But, most of all, I think our affection towards Don Draper gives us insight into the human psyche. We like Don Draper mainly for the fact that he is a main character, which means a majority of our own personal time is invested in his character, and because of that, we feel we have something at stake. I think this same psychological trick occurs with any Edgar Allan Poe villain–we like Montresor because we hear the story from his point of view, and therefore, we have some kind of investment and understanding in his downfall. Like Atticus Finch tells us, the most we know a person and walk around in their shoes, the more sympathetic we can be towards them. What makes our traditional villains so evil is that, as viewers and readers, we have very limited information on them. We don’t know their childhoods, their personal food preferences, what happens when they go home at night; all that we see is their evil doings, and because we don’t know those backstories, they just appear 100% evil. I would think that, if Donald Draper were just a minor character that popped in and out, he would come off as a pompous, arrogant psychopath who has no feelings or regard for women. But, because we get to see Don in some of his most intimate moments–sleeping on the coach in his office, his childhood flashbacks, watching his family pictures on The Wheel–we develop a sense of investment, and a kind of pity, for Don Draper and his terribly lonely, isolated, depreciating world.
(which makes him all the more attractive because, underneath it all, he is just a wounded little boy who could really use a loving, comforting maternal figure)
“When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere. Just ask him.” Season four, The Summer Man