How Conservative Is Don?
August 12, 2009
A lot of Mad Men is about the old resisting the new. Sterling Cooper, for all its success and respect, is considered an old fashioned advertising company. It’s rather fitting for Don-the-hard-worker-and-loyal-family-man to work there. After all, Don too can be very old school, like when Betty wears a revealing (for the time) bathing suit which Don scolds her about. And he also believes Betty is happiest when she’s at home, waiting on Don’s every word and whim and taking care of the children. As Jeremy said in an earlier post,
In Season 1, he initially refuses to work for a female client when she speaks out of turn. “I won’t sit here and let a woman talk to me like that,” he exclaimed.
He also feels that he’s free to be sexually promiscuous with other women on the side while Betty should be completely loyal —so loyal that she doesn’t even allow “strange men” (air conditioner salesmen) into her house. If that’s not conservative in the medieval sense, I don’t know what is. At the same time Jeremy astutely points out about Don:
Yet he is also the only man at Sterling-Cooper that wholeheartedly respects Peggy and her work as a copywriter.
In other words, Don isn’t completely conservative, in some situations he’s actually very antisexism. This goes beyond women though —although I think how he treats women is the key to the answer. Remember in episode one when he’s willing to talk to the black server (I cite this in a previous post, forgive me). Then there’s also the fact that Don eventually signs on to advertising for the Nixon Campaign (albeit with extreme hesitance). Don’s advertising style even applies to this rule. In a Salon.com article today Laura Miller writes:
In his presentation to Kodak for its new slide projector, he rhapsodizes over a parade of photographs of his own family, “This device isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine. It goes backwards. Forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called ‘the wheel.’ It’s called ‘the carousel.’ It lets us travel the way a child travels, around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.” Similarly, he tells a roomful of cigarette makers that “Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance: Whatever you’re doing, it’s OK. You … are … OK.”
So even when he’s pitching an ad Don prefers to look back and the status quo to the new and different.
But that’s the official Don, the family man Don. I would argue that Don’s affairs are not completely conservative given the character of the women he’s attracted to. Think about it. Every woman he’s had an affair with —the bohemian, Bobby, the Jewish store owner— are incredibly independent women and when he’s completely calm and clearheaded Don doesn’t object to their behavior, he actually encourages it.
I think the reason Don allows such a start hypocrisy has to do with his refusal to take a single identity. Beyond the fact that he’s both Dick Whitman and Don Draper, Don doesn’t settle on one type of women: he’s married to a pretty, delicate blond but he sleeps with independent brunettes. He objects to his wife showing off but then is willing to have raunchy sex with Bobby in his car or sleep with a 21 year old in California.
With this in mind, my prediction is that Don will both embrace change this upcoming season and resist it in a way only Don Draper can.
UPDATE: I just thought of another feature of Don’s that’s traditional/conservative/old school: his drink of choice, an Old Fashioned. Sure it’s not a huge aspect of his life but I think there’s a reason the writers chose that particular drink.