What’s to become of Don Draper?
With the 1970s quickly approaching, we continue to reflect on what it looks like to die. Better than any show I have watched, Mad Men accurately captures and plays out the biggest fear of the collective human experience with subtlety and brutal honesty. With casually good looks, over indulgence in smoking and drinking, affairs, and a multitude of slowly disintegrating social taboos, Don Draper is leading us down the rabbit hole of what the aging process is. The fears of being rendered obsolete in the face of newer models comes to permeate the surface of Mad Men and seeing Don Draper approach the dawn of the 1970s has made that more clear than ever.
Don Draper is Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray.
As Don Draper uttered his new year’s resolution, “I want to stop doing this,” we could take the New Years Resolution at face value to mean that he really wants to stop cheating on Megan or it could mean something deeper. Don remains virtually the same in look and demeanor as he was in 1960; a figure imprinted on a time, all while the times around him change. Draper, along with Roger Sterling, present two men who are beginning to realize that time does not slow down and even as they remain the same, the times determine whether they are relevant or irrelevant.
I am always rooting for Don, as I believe everyone who watches him is. Despite his many shortcomings, nothing feels as good as seeing him at home in his work, in a board meeting convincing people of what they want.
But, those moments are slowly disappearing and Don, like Roger, is becoming a relic. We, along with Don, can see that despite him remaining untouched by time, (only eight years, but still, eight years) time waits for no man and neither does irrelevance nor does death.
And Don wants out. He wants to stop doing this. This thing we are all doing. He wants to be Don Draper forever, but time would never allow that.
As the 1970s approach, we can still expect Don to be relatively on top of his game. He’s not afraid of the counter-culture, he smokes weed, he let’s his wife follow a passion (even if he watches her like a hawk), he doesn’t support the war and he seems to not care about race or sexual orientation so long as it doesn’t affect the agency.
(I’m still wondering what happened to Sal).
On paper, Don seems to have a casual embrace of the changing times, but he doesn’t have an embrace of his own changing age. He is not ready to admit that he is not Peggy or Michael Ginsberg. Despite not showing any sign of aging, Don is no longer the youth and slowly he sees his world being replaced by edgier and more compelling ideas (think of Ginsberg’s inability to hold in his “darker” idea for Butler Footwear). Don is not ready to admit that the one thing he does right is slowly being stolen away from him by powers out of his control and he can never stop it.
Each year, along with Don, we grow older too and we see ourselves in the characters. I don’t care how young you are, Mad Men can make anyone feel like they are sprouting a few gray hairs. Don Draper will continue to face the 1970s in a nice suit, with neatly combed over hair. He will never smile. But, he will begin to acknowledge that the world is not his world anymore.
Like The Picture of Dorian Gray, Don Draper will look the same but the world around him will not and he will slowly drown while no one is watching. His clothes scattered on the beach, leaving everyone to wonder: What became of Don Draper?