Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Don Draper: Mad (White) Man

The real question, I thought, as I watched the "Mad Men" season 4 premiere on Sunday night, is: What are they mad about? AMC's smash hit debuted Sunday to its highest ratings ever, with 2.9 million viewers tuning in to revel in the exploits of the enigmatic Don Draper. This is 5% more people than tuned in to the season 3 premiere last summer, and proves that the show is continuing to draw new viewers. Now, sure, the title is supposed to be a play on the fact that they are ad men, and that these men are impetuous and lacking in moral clarity, therefore, a little "mad" (as in the crazy sort). But, if we look at the portrayal of Don Draper and his cohorts of mischevious misogynists, could the "mad" in the title really being referring to the impending loss of white male power in the 1960s?

Could "Mad Men" be a reflection of white male angst in 2010, the same kind of angst they felt in the early 60s as they stood on the precipice of the massive social change that would ultimately challenge their exclusive social supremacy? We are living in a mad world right now, with economic hardships, the first African-American president, and unemployment fanning the flames of racial conflagration at every turn. The news is rife with stories of racial tension in cities all across the US, and the Tea Party has turned their paranoid delusions of "reverse discrimination" into a white, disaffected rallying cry.

Yet through all this, Don Draper struts around, posing and grinning, as his marriage crumbles and his assumed identity slowly unravels; and we love him for it. We love his stoicism and feigned strength, even if it is all an illusion. AskMen.com published the results of a survey on the most influential man in America last year, and Don Draper was number one, ahead of Barack Obama or any other living man who has beaten the odds and overcome adversity or worked to improve the planet. American men today want to be like Don Draper.

A lot of people defend the show, saying that it is an accurate portrayal of its time. I guess that's because Draper's ad agency is run by white men who walk into the office and immediately pour themselves a drink and light a cigarette. The women on the show are nothing more than pretty little accessories, who answer phones, have babies, and swoon over Draper. What would this show look like if it were told from a woman's point-of-view? It would probably look a lot more like "Revolutionary Road" or "Mona Lisa Smile" than James Bond.

This is pure white male fantasyland. Don Draper assumes an identity; he's a cipher on which disaffected white men can project their idealized lives. American men (white, affluent American men) are hearkening back to "simpler times," when their identity was constructed around their libido and they reigned supreme in society. The women stand around looking pretty, providing Don with numerous chances at infidelity, and therefore, power; all other races are nonexistent. If Don Draper is supposed to be on the verge of some kind of moral crisis in season 4, he's certainly having a lot of fun getting there. American history has already been told from the rich, white male perspective. This story is redundant and needs another point-of-view.

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