Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Don Draper has Issues – America’s Favorite Nostalgic Ideal Alpha Male

The whole thing on first glance is that the Cable soap opera Mad Men is about the last time anything used to make sense in America, not that it did make sense but it looks back at a time when few questioned the cultural flow of the 1960s.

The 60s in America were explosive and game changing culturally speaking. Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK Assassination, Civil Rights, Vietnam were the real live explosives of that time. An island of seeming reality and stability in a Madison Avenue Advertising Agency and its evolution to big success in the future – now – is found perhaps in the series Mad Men. 

A manly man male flick series? What did they used to call men like Gary Cooper and Clark Gable – "a man’s man" – whatever that really meant or connoted at the times when those movie stars ruled the screen.

I saw one of my grade school buddies on Facebook announcing the season premiere of Mad Men recently and since I never watched it before; I caught a bunch or half a dozen old episodes on demand and dug in. The really boxy minimalist offices in boxy glass skyscrapers are not the art in this guy flick as opposed to a chick flick art kind of thing.

I wanted to know why Draper was suddenly a hot item in the press.  In anticipation of that new sixth season, Jon Hamm’s “junk” in his business suits got touted in the press. He was described in his dress as going “Commando” (sans underwear) in those modern press releases. 

So I guess Jon Hamm aka Don Draper has sex appeal and the series is also a chick flick on some tier level of perception. All I can say is what Hamm or Draper saves in the cost of boxers or tighty whiteys he must more than make up for in dry cleaning expensive business suits and or their trousers.

It is interesting how we project backward what is considered sexy today onto what was sexy then. 

I can only imagine that Draper’s appeal now is something of a throwback, a Neanderthal throwback to cave men. The “Me Tarzan – You Jane” jungle magnetism found in romance novels of brute force taking his woman every time has it appeals and fantasy charms for some of older generations.

Aside from the monkey suits that business men used to wear all the time before California invented Silicon Valley Friday or Casual Friday five business days a week.  Before then, men in the sixties wore white underwear under white long sleeve shirts, drab thin ties and gray business suits. 

About the only real sexuality of Don Draper in the Drab male fashion of the 1960s is his slicked back Brylcreem tightly cropped haircut. Allusions to the ghost of Ronny Reagan I think here for the nostalgia hungry white male looking to the past for some reinforcement and justification for the all white male patriarchal society that ruled all the way up until the sixties but certainly not in this present virtual age.

Indeed slight flashes of the past creep in to the script by means of newspaper headlines or newsmen on black and white televisions in the executive offices of an Ad agency.  

A lot of good historical background in this series. Done I think to give credibility to the cardboard cliche characters of an imagined idealized cardboard Camelot Advertising industry thing back then.

That somewhere between Tom Rath, the PR guy in the Man In the Gray Flannel Suit and Darren Stevens on Bewitched is an advertising dude of Don Draper who must honcho everybody, the corporate sponsors wanting to sell their glitch, the creators / idea men and the art department making up the final story boards and put them all satisfactorily into the same corral for the night and the 9:15 P.M. showing of the Impala commercial on Bonanza.

Don Draper is I think a white collar version of the rugged individualistic Marlboro Man. (God knows Don smokes like a chimney and self-medicates (drowns) with Canadian Club Whiskey.)

That is how real men used to be that came out of WWII or Korea. No delayed stress syndrome for real American men.  They did what men had to do and got on with it in life with the aid of cigarettes and booze. And not drugs like those unwashed hippies.

Don Draper must gage tastes, wants, desires, goals and package things for his clients as some sort of white collar pimp of sorts working in a sterile office work place. He must also sometimes define what you want or more than likely invent and convince you what you want as a consumer and with your new found unlimited power of plastic credit from the 1960s.

When I see the actor Jon Hamm in this showcase drama of Mad Men, I think of the line by the American poet E.E.Cummings “Jesus, he was a handsome man” in a poem referring to the showman Buffalo Bill. 

In a way the original concept of show business from P.T. Barnum was more along the lines of a Don Draper and an Ad Agency in the nineteenth century of such a concept as opposed to the stage and cinema label of show business as we now associate those two words exclusively with.

All the world is a stage btw especially for ad men.

Draper is definitely an alpha male. He is what so many men want to be or at least the illusion of it all. The handsome part puts him at the top of the heap of his generation clawing away at the so-called American success thing.  

Alpha male is a term probably an anthropologist like Margaret Mead was familiar with in 1960-69. Nobody else would have known the term. Alpha male is now a mainstream meme and pundit fodder word usage thing etc.

As a man earning a living on Madison Avenue where so many of the old ad agencies used to congregate comes the name of the show Mad Men. And if I had to work a sixty to eighty hour a week job trying to be creative and appealing to clients and commuting to the bedroom suburbs where a stay at home mom and the average three and one half kids were the reason for a big mortgage and a long commute on Metro North or the LI RR every grinding day of every grinding week, and kissing your boss’ butt to keep that job and mortgage based social bubble viable, then so be it – the American male success formula(?).

In the few episodes I have seen, Don Draper with his stone face Korean War Army officer charisma is suddenly falling apart internally, getting flashbacks and screwing more women than usual. 

Adultery was not a sin in the 60s if you were discreet and did not get caught etc. Don looks like he headed for a second failed marriage. Don Draper has issues. Issues with women. Issues with success. Issues with trying to keep the series going another season.

Issues then. Issues now.  

Enjoy the mental morphine entertainment of Mad Men.



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