What Makes 'Mad Men's 1960s Villain Don Draper, Played By Jon Hamm, A Proper 21st Century Hero

What Makes 1960s Villain Don Draper A Proper 21st Century Hero

As the great ode to Manhattan's ad men of the 1950s, 'Mad Men' is everyone's favourite nostalgia-fest. And such is the attention to detail of creator Matthew Weiner's masterpiece, that whole fashion and furniture lines have been inspired by the show since its inception in 2007 . It's not hard to see why, with its 1960s setting - when cars were colourful, rooms full of smoke, women's lipstick stayed on, and you could set your watch by the sound of a chink of ice in a glass.

Jon Hamm plays Don Draper, an unknowable, unforgivable, one-man charisma magnet

But, at the show's core is Don Draper, brought into being by Jon Hamm, whose great paradox is this. That, despite his ability to fit seamlessly into a world before JFK and protest marches, the reason for his enduring appeal and fascination is that he's a man cut from from distinctly 21st-century cloth. How so?

Don Draper's Style

From our very first scenes with Don Draper, perfectly lit by the rays gleaming through the Venetian blinds in his office, we see a study in perfection, and precise attention to detail. There isn't a hair out of place, his suit is immaculately pressed, the handkerchief just so, the shoes unscuffed. It is immediately clear that this is a man whose exterior is as carefully constructed as his insides.

Of course, we take all this masculine sartorial care for granted now. Just think of whom we hold in esteem… model David Gandy, designer Tom Ford, Daniel Craig when he's being Bond, George Clooney when he's being George Clooney and, of course, the preternaturally preened David Beckham. Even the likes of Colin Farrell, Matthew McConaughey and Robert Downey Jr have all seen the light and tidied themselves up. Slick is the new black, and Don Draper makes it all look expensively effortless on screen.

Don' Draper's Place At Work

When we first meet Don, he's holding his own as an executive at the advertising firm Sterling Cooper. This isn't a lawyer, an accountant, a doctor, but a new profession for a new era, akin to start-up dynamos today.

It soon becomes clear, too, that Don hasn't made it to his sleek office via some old school network or influential father. Instead, his journey has been built on bootstraps, merit and wit. The respect accorded him is hard-earned.

Another traditional concept soon blown away is the idea of a job for life. Don is an ambitious lone wolf, who plays his cards close to his cufflinks, ready to jump when the moment is right, as he does by the end of Series 3.

Don Draper's Family

There is none, or at least that Don hasn't purposely created. His birth family, he shuns, when his brother finds him and his two worlds collide. Instead, he has Betty and the children Sally, Bobby and Eugene, but home looks like a tableau of what perfect life should be, and it unsurprisingly falters.

For the nearest Don gets to real companionship, for long whisky-sharing nights, you'd have to look to Roger Sterling, the man who 'discovered' Don and gave him a job. How did they meet? Roger was buying a fur for his mistress. Turns out they're just as flawed as one another. No wonder it works so well.

Don Draper And The Women In His Life

Shall we just call him untraditional and be done? As a friend of mine once defended Mick Jagger, "when they're that attractive, it's kind of impressive the numbers aren't more." From prostitute to client, via his married neighbour and his daughter's teacher, Don's had 'em all. He's a man with needs, and he ensures they are fulfilled, landing on every pair of bright eyes in his vicinity, and discovering they are as modern-minded as he. Yet, as with his staff, he shows moments of extreme generosity and dignity, and when he's waiting the birth of his third child, he tacitly agrees with another father-to-be that it's time to be a better man. This acknowledgement of the chasm between aspiration and reality is a modern one, and it's complicated.

Don Draper's Moral Compass

Everything that glistens is not gold, and Don Draper most certainly glistens. His daily dalliances with women not his wife prove to be mere capers compared with how dishonourably he conducted himself in the Korean War, assuming the identity of a dead comrade and bagging the Purple Heart while he was about it. Yet, and yet… further episodes reveal how hard he had it as a child, born to a prostitute and an alcoholic, beaten by an aunt. And, back in the present day, he is capable of surprising kindness, for example, his support of assistant Peggy. Bizarrely, for one so louche, he insists on integrity and chivalry in the dealings of his colleagues. With his ambiguity and unpredictability, Don Draper belongs to a growing group of television anti-heroes, ripe for audiences who've moved beyond the 'who' and 'how' of murder mysteries and romances, to a world of human complications and 'why'?

So there we have it. Did you know that AskMen magazine in 2009 voted Don Draper to be the most influential man in the world, ahead of such real-life characters as, say, the US president? While this remains as fantastical as Don Draper's own self-creation, it does shine a light on just how potent a figure he presents, in all his contradictions, as a man of both his time and ours.

'Mad Men' Series 1 to 7A is now available on DVD Box Set and Download. Some final pictures below...


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