Jackie Kellso

Don Draper’s Future: A Mad Mensch?

In advertising agency, AMC, Dick Whitman, Don Draper, Jon Hamm, Mad Men, Madison Avenue, Perception is Reality on May 1, 2015 at 7:16 pm

As an ex-pat of the advertising world, someone who landed her first job as a secretary in 1982 for The New Yorker and worked her way up to become a sales executive for some of the world’s largest media companies, I am hooked on AMC’s Mad Men. Maybe because I remember the excitement in the ad world of the 80s and 90s – I worked at MTV Networks in its heyday. Talk about commissions, perks and premiums and celebrities! On the flip side I had my experience with being sexualized and minimized by real Roger Sterlings and Peter Campbells and of course, Don Drapers. They were all around me, even though the clearing for me to grow and succeed in that world was there, thanks to the Peggy Olsons and Joan Harrises who took the big hits for women a few decades before.

I’m not saying that discrimination doesn’t exist anymore. Far from it! Egos are as large as ever (men and women’s) and people are clambering their way to the top as always. The advertising business, in its most noble way, keeps people employed and moves the marketplace, keeping companies (of products and services) in business. It absolutely serves a greater good, and does get people with the proclivity towards the creative, a wonderful outlet and opportunity to represent the culture and mood of the time. It’s also the perfect gig for breeding greed.

But this article is about the creation of Don Draper, our main protagonist of Mad Men. He and his entire Madison Avenue milieu of the late 50s-70s reflects the powerful term, “Perception is Reality,” the title of a very successful campaign created by ad agency, Fallon McElligott for client, Rolling Stone Magazine, in 1985.

Now, Jon Hamm is pure handsome and a very gifted actor. And so, there couldn’t be a more perfect individual to play Don Draper…The Don. Or maybe ADONIS, a hero, figure of strength, agility, masculinity, and draped; covering up his truth — that he’s a poor, unloved, unlucky, little boy named Dick Whitman. A name that speaks to his potential: to survive he must be a dick, yet a witty man; someone who can succeed in the world of advertising.

His first real client was of course, himself, Dick Whitman, literally a mad (as in angry) man. Don re-branded and marketed himself to be exactly what he and the consumers of societal values wanted him to be: handsome, strong, take charge, and successful. Thanks to the brilliant acting, we’ve seen what a dick Draper can be, but that underneath it, he’s just a mess – emotionally disconnected to the max. And, more so, that we can still love him even though he’s hurt his loving, faithful wives. I think it’s because he didn’t destroy them; their experiences with him only made them stronger.

We’re approaching the final episodes of this ground-breaking show, and Don is now driven to connect with Dick Whitman’s female match; a lonely, dark, frightened Diana; a woman in hiding.  She readily sells her body for a buck as he’s sold his soul for ad revenue (as his mother sold her body for a buck). Diana is running from her past. She is Dick Whitman’s mirror image, and his pursuit of her, perhaps both as comfortable as an old robe and as dangerous as rat poison, is the excavation of his true self. He can no longer hide under the shiny grey suit of armor:  there is no more Don there to drape.

The truth is surfacing, as was the responsible thing for the writers of the show to do. In Don’s current state as a pauper – wealthy, but loveless and isolated, living furniture-less and abandoned in his upscale shell, he’s hanging on by a thread, there’s not even a blanket to throw over him. Anyone who genuinely cared about him, not looking for something from him (like his business partners) can see that he’s broken.

I fantasize that when Dick Whitman fully emerges and the Don Draper campaign is over, that what we see is a Mad Mensch. (Mensch = a good human being, in Yiddish). Moving forward our main man is still a Madison Avenue success (albeit a wounded person) who’s capable of giving and receiving love. His heart can withstand real intimacy. I want this because such a flawed and vulnerable human being who chips away the past and drops the facade to reveal the truth, is a hero. I love the idea that Don Draper/Dick Whitman is a modern hero.

As the 1970s progresses beyond the show’s finale, I hope that Peggy becomes Creative Head of her own agency and finds her equal in a man (if she so chooses); Joan is invited back as COO of McCann Erickson and then retires rich as hell. Dick, Roger and Peter go into therapy and Dick Whitman is accessible, compassionate, and free! When we tune in to see how he’s doing in 1977 he’s a witty, creative guy who writes pro-bono campaigns for The Humane Society; has a loving, monogamous relationship, is a responsible and accessible father, and has a happy and beautiful home. Now that’s a Mad Mensch.

Your Fan, Mad Men!

Jackie

Copyright, PointMaker Communications, Inc., 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jackie Kellso and PointMaker Communications, Inc., with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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