If you read my "Why we should all be watching Mad Men" post, you know that I've gotten hooked on Mad Men lately. I'm almost finished with season two, and soon I'll be able to start season three—the one that's currently showing on AMC—which I've been recording on my beloved DVR since August.
There's a lot to dislike about Mad Men's Don Draper, head of Sterling Cooper's creative department and the show's lecherous protagonist. He's a serial cheater, constantly spending the night in Manhattan with voluptuous women while his loyal wife sits at home in New Rochelle waiting . . . waiting for his return, for his love, his lovemaking, and, more importantly, for her real life to finally begin. He's also possibly one of the most vain and self-absorbed characters you can find in contemporary film and television—save possibly Deadwood's Al Swearengen. And, of course, as befits a person with these qualities, one of the most tragic.
But despite all of this, the viewer can't help but love Don Draper in all of his narcissistic glory.
Why do we love him? It's simple. Don loves himself—if not, the inner Don Draper (who isn't really Don Draper at all), but the image of himself that he presents to the world. He loves the way he looks, the way he dresses, the way he holds himself. And why wouldn't he? When Don Draper walks into room, it's hard to look at anything else. It's not just that he's good looking—because though he is very handsome, he is not as singularly beautiful as say a young Paul Newman or Robert Redford—it's that he's supremely confident and almost absurdly self-assured.
In an episode I watched this week, Don decides to travel to Los Angels for business after having a falling out with his fed-up wife. On the flight west, the viewer senses that Don is going to LA to commit his favorite sin—get in the sack with a gorgeous woman who isn't his wife. And you can't help but wonder: will Don Draper really be as lucky in sunny, optimistic California as he is in gritty, cynical New York? But when he walks into the pool at his hotel—gorgeous women lounged on every chair—Don immediately catches the attention of the most beautiful (and the youngest) woman on the scene. Hardly a dozen minutes pass before one of her friends approaches Don on her behalf. And when the woman finally moseys across the patio to meet Don, she tells him that she simply had to meet a man who could look so comfortable standing all by himself. And even though I knew it would happen, I'm still shocked by the fact that Don Draper never goes a night without a beautiful woman on his arm.
Right now you're probably wondering why the heck I'm writing about a man who is—on paper, at least—one of the most offensive characters to ever cross the small screen.
And here's why: even though I loathe Don Draper in some ways, I also admire him. I admire that he is as comfortable with himself as this woman describes. No matter where he is—standing in front of a conference room full of advertising executives, sitting in the dining room with his wife and kids, or waiting by the pool of a Los Angeles hotel where women half his age are lounging in almost nonexistent bikinis—he is perfectly at ease with himself. A character in Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons says that being cool is about detached confidence, and nobody captures detached confidence as well as Draper. And it hit me in the past twenty-four hours, that that confidence, that ease, is really the key to it all. If we can feel that comfortable with ourselves, if we can accept ourselves the way we are and truly like ourselves, then the world will be ours—not in the sexual sense a la Don Draper, but in all the important ways: in love, with family, at work. To put it simply: in life.
And so I vow to start channeling my inner Don Draper. To feel as confident and assured as he did standing next to a dozen bathing beauties. Just watch me.