October 15, 2009

Don Draper Voted "Most Influential Man"

The most important thing to understand is this: Don Draper does not exist.

AskMen selects him "Most Influential Man"; for context, last year was Obama.

On just about every level, the show's protagonist is a jaw-dropping example of what so many men try -- and often fail -- to be.

That would be a man, a real man; not a man-boy

...[who are] are much more boy than they are man, obsessed as they are with fast food, video games and bodily functions.  If the mainstream media is awash with representations of perpetually pubescent males, then Don Draper's masterful manhood stands in stark contrast.

One might think it ironic that this brand of retro-masculinity is being honored by a site that that itself caters specifically to "perpetually pubescent males."  It's no accident, it's website bait, like putting pictures of girls in bikinis.  The type of person who wants to be Don Draper is squarely in AskMen's target demo.  If you're watching it, it's for you.

I understand the appeal, why someone would want to be Don Draper.  But I'm going to try and explain why you shouldn't.  This post isn't for everyone: you know who you are.


Don Draper is a narcissist.  That's not an assessment, it's the premise of the show.  The definition of a narcissist is one who creates an identity and prizes it above all other things, every moment of existence is spent perpetuating that identity, trying to get everyone to believe it.  That's Don Draper.  The show gives him an interesting back story, but the key element is that the man at the ad agency called Don Draper is a constructed fake identity, one which he protects zealously.  Nothing else carries that much importance.
And like all narcissists, Draper isn't pretending; he's convinced himself that's who he is.  He often sabotages his job, health, and his relationships with only transient anxiety; but when his real/original identity is threatened to be exposed, he almost goes bananas.

The ultimate goal of narcissism is not just to get everyone to accept the identity, but to get everyone to perpetuate it. He wants to be a brand.  He wins when people confirm the brand   even when he's not around, like when someone on a train says to another, "Dell makes the clearest flat panel monitors around."  That guy's reinforcing the Dell brand.  Never mind they are all made by Samsung.

Neither does narcissism care about being liked, only about being branded. You can hate the taste of Fiji water, as long as you concede that that horrible taste is the result of the water being too pure and from Fiji.  The fact that you hate it is an advertisement itself; it supports the brand as something that the kind of person you are wouldn't like.

On the show, the office staff regularly discuss Draper's exploits and characteristics, always in the same way.  People may like or hate those characteristics, but no one disputes the characteristics.  Campbell, indeed, hates him for these characteristics.


Don Draper (the character) wants everyone to believe his persona.  Well, it worked; not only do the readers of AskMen believe it, they want to emulate it.

You think it's passive on his part; he's hyper cool, and you want to be like him.  Wrong.  He's trying to con you into thinking that.  He's voted Most Influential not because he has enduring qualities worth being influenced by, but because he is trying to influence you.

"You're getting way too abstract.  I just like how cool he is, that's all."  This is what I'm trying to tell you.  He's not cool, he's pretending to be cool.


"I don't want to be Don Draper, just the old time masculinity he represents."  Don Draper doesn't represent that, he's faking it.  Look at the show: how come in a show set in those "old times," there aren't any other "real men?"

"Ok, fine, but he is masculine, strong, suave..." You're saying something you don't even believe.  If you met Don Draper at the company picnic, would you think he was a real man?  Would you want to emulate him?  Would you want to take over his body and life? 

"Well, certain characteristics..."  Now you're almost there.  You want to be an a la carte version of Don Draper.  You want to pick and choose the good parts.  When he's voted Most Influential, they mean only the iceman, suave, sly, creative, "masculine" Don Draper.  That's not a person, that's a brand image.   If you hired an engineer from Dell because you like how they built the monitors, you hired the wrong guy.


"But I want to be a ladies man like Don Draper.  Back then it was easier, because affairs were more acceptable."

No they weren't.  Leaving aside morality, cheating on your wife means that you haven't fully connected to her, or have lost some of that connection.  You don't have to be Don Draper to pull that off.   "Well, I want to be as suave as he is, I want to pick up girls like he can."  It's the same disconnectedness.  You could do it, too,  then you'll lose the ability to be deeply connected to someone.  You can't do both simultaneously.

Consider a guy in 2009 who says he can't meet women in bars.  The biggest mistake guys make when trying to meet women is being overzealous, overinvested.  They are unable to differentiate a one-night-stand from a full relationship.   They approach both in the same way.  When you're trying to get laid, you can't be trying to show her your soul, and you can't be trying to see hers.  It has to be light, fun.  The "pick-up tricks" work because they delay the guy from doing what comes naturally, which is being stupid, dropping all 52 of his cards in her lap and saying, "see?!  I'm worth it, I think!"

This is why many men who actually get what they think they wanted are still unsatisfied.  They meet a hot girl and it turns into a relationship, and they're upset they can't get one night stands.  But if they got a one night stand, they'd be upset they couldn't convert it to a relationship (and of course it would be her fault for being a slut, not knowing what she wants, etc.)  You can't have it both ways. 

Here's how the logic disintegrates:  if you're at a bar and see a woman with a tattoo on her tailbone and big hoop earrings, we can all agree, given the right circumstances, she'd probably be up for a one night stand.  "Yeah, but she only wants a guy who X---" Maybe, but she'd probably settle for you.  "I don't want her to settle for me, I want her to want me."  Then you don't really want a one night stand, do you?

She already knows all of this.  Just as you think you can tell those are implants, she's has you sized up from 100 paces.

Here's how you succeed: you have to have confidence in yourself, while simultaneously accepting that it could just as easily have been some other guy.  If you're not comfortable with that, get out of the bar.


"But it's the whole idea of Don Draper-- that kind of man, living in that kind of time, where men were men... it was more acceptable to have affairs, drink all day... The old days, men could act like men, even if they were flawed."

Draper can seduce women easily because he has both confidence and also lives, perpetually, in that state of emotional disconnectedness that let a girl know you're not going to get all mushy on her.  But that means he also doesn't connect with his wife, nor she with him; that's why the affairs "aren't a big deal."  It has nothing to do with the year being 1960. It's just a bad marriage.

You should note that his disconnectedness doesn't make his wife less connected to him (though it doesn't help.)   His disconnectedness lead him to marry a woman who was not likely to be able to fully connect to him.  Many times, you get only the relationship you're ready for.

This isn't unique to Draper.  Look at Campbell.  He can cheat on his wife with almost no guilt because he's disconnected from her; but of course she is just as disconnected from him.  She doesn't love him, she needs him as a supporting cast in her "perfect wife and mother" movie.

The show doesn't depict a "different time;" it depicts a (somewhat improbable) scenario where everyone in a 200 mile radius is a narcissist.


Shakespeare created a lifelike, realistic character named Hamlet.  Every actor who plays him, from Richard Burton to Mel Gibson, reinterprets Hamlet differently.

What no one does is try to emulate Richard Burton playing Hamlet.  You're not playing a character, you're pretending to be someone else.

In the 2009 movie Star Trek, Captain Kirk was played by Chris Pine.  But Pine wasn't playing only Captain Kirk, he was playing William Shatner playing Captain Kirk, i.e. using Shatner's same staccato delivery and other mannerisms.  Any accolades Chris Pine gets-- "he was great in Star Trek!" refer to his ability to imitate William Shatner, not be Captain Kirk.

When you say you want to be like Draper what you are saying is you want to be the person Draper is pretending to be in a specific context.  That's not real.  Given that Don Draper is a character acted by Jon Hamm, then you're saying you want to be what an actor is pretending to be pretending to be.  If you even try this for Halloween, they're going to lock you up in a lunatic asylum.


What you want, really, isn't to be Don Draper.  What you want is to live in Draper's world: where it is almost acceptable to have affairs; where you can drink all day and not get drunk; where you can say whatever is on your mind and not have it offend people; where creative men have some outlet for their ideas, and at least get paid really well instead.  Where you can eat any kind of food you want and not get fat.  Where you can act like you want to act, act like what you think a man acts like, and people will admire you.

In other words, what you want is to be the main character in your own movie.

part 2 soon




Can, or how can, a person b... (Below threshold)

October 15, 2009 6:30 PM | Posted by Mark V Wilson: | Reply

Can, or how can, a person be deeply connected to more than one person at the same time?

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wait, who is don draper, an... (Below threshold)

October 15, 2009 7:40 PM | Posted by anon: | Reply

wait, who is don draper, and why do i care?

and maybe, following obama, there was noone good enough, so they had to pick a fictionary character.

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more on the pickup!... (Below threshold)

October 15, 2009 7:49 PM | Posted by Philip: | Reply

more on the pickup!

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"noone""fictionary"<... (Below threshold)

October 15, 2009 7:56 PM | Posted, in reply to anon's comment, by some "jerk": | Reply



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How do you have time for bo... (Below threshold)

October 15, 2009 9:38 PM | Posted by depot_haldol: | Reply

How do you have time for both pop culture and all that rum?

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why are you following miche... (Below threshold)

October 15, 2009 10:26 PM | Posted by haunter : | Reply

why are you following micheal jordan on twitter?

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Perhaps you've said, but ar... (Below threshold)

October 16, 2009 12:19 AM | Posted by PCD: | Reply

Perhaps you've said, but are you a man or a woman?

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How do you know he's a narc... (Below threshold)

October 16, 2009 12:26 AM | Posted by Honorius: | Reply

How do you know he's a narcissist?

I don't even know what show he's in. How do you pick up a narcissist from someone with a solid sense of self?

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i never understand why peop... (Below threshold)

October 16, 2009 6:30 AM | Posted by derrick: | Reply

i never understand why people would post a comment boasting how they don't know something instead of using google to find out.

Fuck you, honorius. Fuck. You.

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You're cute. Quest... (Below threshold)

October 16, 2009 9:51 AM | Posted, in reply to derrick's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

You're cute.

Question is still valid. I would not know how to pick up a narcissist from someone that doesn't try to build a fake identity unless they were really oblivious and I have no choice but to encounter a lot of them since narcissism is supposed to be "the disease of our time".

My point is this: I'm watching excerp right now and I know I would have missed it. This dude doesn't strike me as anything particular, that might be a problem.

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Alone's post can best be un... (Below threshold)

October 16, 2009 10:53 AM | Posted by Jack Coupal: | Reply

Alone's post can best be understood by reading Harvey C. Mansfield's excellent book: Manliness (2006; Yale Univ. Press).

Masculinity is a term popularized by feminists. It is NOT meant to be a compliment.

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He evolves in the later ... (Below threshold)

October 16, 2009 11:38 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Alone: | Reply

He evolves in the later seasons, but as a "pointer in the right direction" ask yourself if a person who doesn't have a good job and a family could ever successfully be a Don Draper. He can barely pull it off, and he has the physical anchors.

As I said, this post isn't for everyone, some are just going to say, "it never would have occurred to me." But there are a lot of people looking for some kind of role model (hence: Most Influential)-- and this would be a catastrophic choice. You don't want to be like him, you want women to be like them. More coming in part 2.

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I liked this blog. I even p... (Below threshold)

October 16, 2009 1:29 PM | Posted by Gerri: | Reply

I liked this blog. I even printed to read again.

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Tiny nitpicking, unrelated ... (Below threshold)

October 16, 2009 2:47 PM | Posted, in reply to Alone's comment, by rath: | Reply

Tiny nitpicking, unrelated to this post:

Concerning your subtitle: It should be "darüber" and proper German punctuation defines a full stop at the end of sentences containing a verb.

I want to add that I very much like your blog.

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And some girls know exactly... (Below threshold)

October 16, 2009 5:09 PM | Posted by KD: | Reply

And some girls know exactly how to pick up the guys who read AskMen:
Treat them as if their created identities were real. Then be able to fit the image of a woman who reflects the story they want to be (even vaguely).

Then leave a week later because you can't suppress the eye-rolling instinct. Oh, I was supposed to believe that shit about you and your mad skillz? Would Don Draper have said "mad skillz"?

I stopped doing this in college because it was worsening my spontaneous dissociative episodes. It was manipulating me as much as I was manipulating others. And, I didn't want to become dependent on an identity-plasticity that was basically making me very cynical about human relationships.

If I had continued, I would have either acquired a PD...or become a celebrity. Maybe both.

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Very apropos:<a hr... (Below threshold)

October 16, 2009 5:48 PM | Posted by Rudd-O: | Reply

Very apropos:


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Oh, c'mon. Tell me "fictio... (Below threshold)

October 16, 2009 10:57 PM | Posted, in reply to some "jerk"'s comment, by Jane: | Reply

Oh, c'mon. Tell me "fictionary" isn't a charming almost-word.

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He uses both to save time! ... (Below threshold)

October 16, 2009 11:34 PM | Posted, in reply to depot_haldol's comment, by spriteless: | Reply

He uses both to save time! D=

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"Fictionary" is a word game... (Below threshold)

October 17, 2009 9:38 AM | Posted by Jack Coupal: | Reply

"Fictionary" is a word game that you can buy, so it's an almost-word that's a real one, when capitalized.

noone = no-one, or "no one"

Jane and spriteless are correct.

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“The definition of a narcis... (Below threshold)

October 17, 2009 3:39 PM | Posted by bob watson: | Reply

“The definition of a narcissist is one who creates an identity and prizes it above all other things, every moment of existence is spent perpetuating that identity, trying to get everyone to believe it.”

I find it difficult to see the difference between this characterization and the following, that I found in Richard Rorty, but that he says is Freud’s view, not just of narcissists, but of what everyone is doing all the time:

“By seeing every human being as consciously or unconsciously acting out an idiosyncratic fantasy, we can see the distinctively human, as opposed to animal, portion of each human life as the use for symbolic purposes of every particular person, object, situation, event, and word encountered in later life. This process amounts to redescribing them, thereby saying of them all, ‘Thus I willed it.”
Seen from this angle, the intellectual (the person who uses words or visual or musical forms for this purpose) is just a special case – just somebody who does with marks and noises what other people do with their spouses and children, their fellow workers, the tools of their trade, the cash accounts of their businesses, the possessions they accumulate in their homes, the music they listen to, the sports they play or watch, the trees they pass on their way to work. Anything from the sound of a word through the color of a leaf to the feel of a piece of skin can, as Freud showed us, serve to dramatize and crystallize a human being’s sense of identity.”

Is there a difference here that I’m missing?

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I think you're right, Bob. ... (Below threshold)

October 17, 2009 4:44 PM | Posted by fivebells: | Reply

I think you're right, Bob. Everyone's a narcissist, except possibly for the Buddha and Alone. :-)

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I leave this tab open and p... (Below threshold)

October 17, 2009 5:30 PM | Posted by i r baboon: | Reply

I leave this tab open and press F5 while I browse other things every hour or so.


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This blogs good stuff. ... (Below threshold)

October 18, 2009 10:28 AM | Posted by Emp: | Reply

This blogs good stuff.

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Surely though everyone 'inv... (Below threshold)

October 18, 2009 10:46 AM | Posted by Emp: | Reply

Surely though everyone 'invents' an identity? (This is in reply to your thoughts on what you call narcissism in this and other posts.) Surely everyone loves themselves for that matter (or should anyway)? I suppose it's a question of degree, but it seems that looking at things so much in terms of narcissism isn't actually so useful.

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Oh, I hadn't even noticed B... (Below threshold)

October 18, 2009 10:49 AM | Posted, in reply to Emp's comment, by Emp: | Reply

Oh, I hadn't even noticed Bob Watson's post above. I echo it.

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Some people just are. They ... (Below threshold)