Mad Men’s anti-hero Don Draper is a pure 1960s villain of the most urbane order. Draper, who drapes himself around the offices of the Sterling Cooper ad agency in the series depicting the heady times of New York adland in the '60s, is an unreconstructed bad boy archetype. He oozes bottle-up tension, projected fantasies about the female of the species and a serious case of un-diagnosed PTSD. But all those flaws and 20th century clichés add up to a character who’s a true 21st century hero.
The view of adland in Mad Men might be a touch revisionist, and a little heavy on the gorgeous décor, hair-dos and outfits, but 20th century Don has some real lessons for 21st century us. We’ve got a lot to learn from that repressed dapper chap.
We’re not talking about his stunted relationship skills, his inability to talk it out when he has a massive, all-consuming life issue or a deep dark secret that ought to be discussed. Here’s why Don is your go-to guy for present-day life lessons:
1. Don takes his fate into his own hands and smokes like retaining the agency’s cigarette client depends on it. Fatalist Don knows we’re all going to die, and Don is aiming to choose how.
2. Don is a man, an adult man, in the face of many, many modern boys. He isn’t Instagramming his way around pop-up donut shops and queueing for burgers in a onesie. He’s an adult, a grown man, in a suit. He’s had a shave and he takes care of his hair. Don teaches us to get your suits tailored (always), shine your shoes and get a real hair cut.
3. Don is an individual, and he doesn’t crowd-source approval and an endless stream of external validation of his every move. No likes, hearts, shares for Don. He is the honey badger of fictitious midcentury men. He don’t give a f*ck, he’s balls-out, difficult and un-apologetically his own man.
4. Don demonstrates the end of patriarchy, a lesson we all need repeating as often as possible. When the world is run by Don and his boys club, it’s unfair, unequal, presents limited opportunities and makes your wife go off with a shotgun and a sly old silver back. The end of Don is the end of a world that worked for the few, and not for the many.
5. Don teaches us to aim for the corner office. Are you happy in your cubicle? Truly? No you’re not. Fix up, look sharp and make your moves towards a role that includes a nice office, a big desk, a whisky decanter (or green tea, whatever floats your boat) and a sofa to entertain guests.
6. Don is flawed, and we all are, so embrace it. Don doesn’t talk about it, but he’s a great big mess of a man, and who isn’t? It’s fine to be a walking disasterpiece, just make sure you package up that pathos into a sharp look, ideally into a sharp-cut, tailored, single button suit and slim tie.