Monday, August 9, 2010

Who is Don Draper? My only Mad Men riff

Spotted on a fridge magnet today: "Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."* From the ground up, ex nihilo? Creating from what and with what? Who's doing the creating?

Similar questions confront me after watching Mad Men. Don Draper's presented as a self-made man, someone who made himself a new self, a 'personal brand', the self of his dreams, the kinds of dream that he, as an ad-man, is in the business of selling. He becomes an extension of this business, a made-up person playing at being a husband, a boss, a playboy, a player in everything he does.

What do authenticity and integrity mean for such a person? Draper's a good example of someone who lacks integrity in the rudimentary sense. His diverse roles aren't well integrated; in fact, he's riven by conflicting principles. He's not so much unprincipled as multiply principled.

Authenticity? Being 'true to oneself' in one's endeavours? In the moment of self-creation (if there can be such a thing) there's no self yet to which to be true. And it's unclear how any attempt at self-re-creation could escape the guiding influence of one's old self, the self that one found oneself already to have had when one first became able to entertain such questions.

I hope we learn more about Draper's upbringing, about the influences that shaped his principles.

* The saying is often attributed to George Bernard Shaw, but I'm not sure if that's accurate. I do know that Paris Hilton twittered this saying.

Update (Aug. 13): This is amazing: "The problem with the current season's approach to the characters is it's using them to describe the era, not using the era to describe the characters." Which reminds me of Northrop Frye's idea of displacement (applied to ideas more generally and not just to traditional mythology). The characters are less displaced, that is, they've become more one-dimensional and expressive of a particular idea or theme -- this guy is Sexism, this young lady is Moxy-But-Losing-Part-of-Herself-as-She-Makes-It-In-a-Man's-World, etc.

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