Paper View: In praise of bad men

April 11, 2013

A glass of Scotch, a pressed designer suit, oodles of witticisms oozing with creative confidence. Don Draper, the anti-hero of AMC’s Mad Men, is the symbol of masculine perfection. Hairy chest? Check. Commanding presence? Check. Insanely rich? Marry me.

Gaggles of adoring fans—both the women who want him and the men who want to be him—gathered this past Sunday for the sixth season premiere of the Emmy Award-winning drama. And we settled in to see what has befallen Sterling Cooper Draper Price, and more importantly its most dapper founding partner, Draper himself.

In a two hour dragfest, we find that in the world of Mad Men, history repeats itself. To our dismay, the loveable Don is still up to his old tricks, cheating on Megan with the wife of his newfound friend. It’s not just that he’s cheating on his lovely wife, however; it’s that he has the affair after the two couples have spent an evening together eating fondue and sharing photos from Don and Megan’s getaway to Waikiki.

If only this were a new low. Sadly, we all saw it coming. Don’s cheated again and again. One only need look to the broken women he’s left behind as evidence.

The season six premiere continues to portray Betty as the damaged goods of Don’s betrayal. Her fluctuating weight and perverse fantasies about watching Henry rape Sally’s friend Sandy tell the story of a woman who’s completely lost touch with her former self. Don’s rejection of Betty’s beauty, the materialistic shell around which she based her identity, continues to scar her to this day.

Yet despite this trail of tears from lovers’ past, despite his incessant condescension toward Pete, and despite his layered misogyny exerted toward Peggy, everyone loves Don.

One of Mad Men’s signature strengths has been its ability to critique modern society through the straightforward portrayal of the past. “Look how misogynistic they were back then,” we point out, only to realize that many parts of the world we live in are just as easily mocked.

Don was supposed to be an emblem of that notion. The “gosh, could he really be that awful to women?” asshole. But he’s not.

Whether it’s because of the casting of the loveable Jon Hamm or the apologetic writing, Mad Men doesn’t get its viewers to dislike Don. Girls love him for his good looks. Guys see him as what it means to be a man: strong, confident, and the ultimate ladies’ man.

A 2009 poll by Ask Men ranked Don Draper as the most influential man in the world, on top of non-fictional people, like any president, business leader, or anyone who’s accomplished something in the real world.

Such praise for a fictional misogynist isn’t just surprising, it’s alarming. A character intended to satirize has instead inspired. A few scrolls through the Don Draper tumblr is more than enough evidence to prove that perhaps AMC’s anti-hero is being received as more of a Superman than a Dexter.

This isn’t to say that the writers aren’t trying. “Look,” they point out in the premiere, “Don’s still cheating. He’s still a bad guy. He’s never going to change.” Apparently, the opinions of viewers are just as immutable as Don’s promiscuous proclivities.

In an ironic way, though, perhaps the universal adoration of Don is what we ought to expect in a world still structured along misogynistic and gender-normative lines. The still rampant existence of anorexia suggests that girls still, like Betty, place beauty and pleasing men above finding self-worth. The hyper-masculinization of the American male, which Don continues to embody, manifests itself in the pervasive bro culture of today.

Of course, Don has his great qualities. He’s a creative genius and a smart businessman. But overlooking Don’s misogynistic character flaws and cheering for him anyway is inexcusable for anyone who claims to care about women. It doesn’t matter how pensive he looks while reading Dante’s Inferno on a Hawaiian beach.

Keaton Hoffman
Former Editor-in-Chief of the Voice and "Paper View" Columnist


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