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