Don Draper Is America

Don Draper is a dead man.

Don Draper is an ad man who is an ad for an ad man which is an ad for a man. All the men I speak to want to be him but it’s hard to emulate someone who is emulating an image of something that doesn’t exist.

Don Draper is dead. Don Draper is the name of a dead man.

The name “Don Draper” is the scaffolding with which a man, whose given name and biography is kept secret, constructs a world which leads him to The American Dream. His life, by necessity, must be compartmentalized. Since we don’t know who the real man is, we might as well call him Don Draper. Maybe the “dream” is real, but Don Draper isn’t.

Don Draper IS America: living the dream of starting over, inventing a “new” self, collecting the symbols of happiness America promises to “the successful.” But Don Draper is smarter than that: he knows The American Dream isn’t real because he is the one creating it (in his office, at a bar, in bed with a woman who shall soon be replaced by a similar version of whoever she is attempting to emulate.)

Draper says, “What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.”

Women say they want Don Draper. But Don Draper is incapable of having a relationship. His mother, a young prostitute, died giving birth to him. He is looking for a mother. He has found one in Anna, the wife of the dead man whose name he stole. She is the only one who ever really knew him, he has said, many times. She’s also the only woman who has never had sex with him. Good for her. Because Don gets sick of all the women he sleeps with. Seeking the mother he never had, through sex, is a nauseating enterprise.

Regarding love, and the inability to feel it, Draper says:

The reason you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons.

Women are as uncomfortable with Don as they are with those nylons.

What we inherited from Don Draper is plastered all over Facebook, Twitter and countless blogs of self-promotion.

Draper is obviously a man of heart. He loves his children. When he holds them, you can see how much he wants to love them. But he’s a workaholic, a sexaholic, an alcoholic. Half his life is spent passed out.

Don Draper is said to be a creative genius. But he is neither very creative nor a genius. True, the image of him jotting notes on a napkin, as he drinks himself into oblivion, reflects the iconic image of the lone artist. But that is only an image. His actual ideas are flat, and reflect none of the ingenuity present in the ad world at that time.

Don Draper is the image of a good provider and family man, though his wife divorces him. He loves his daughter, but also sleeps with his daughter’s beloved elementary school teacher, Suzanne. One can’t help but feel Don must love Suzanne. They even planned to run away together. But Betty, his picture-perfect wife, decides to stay home, after all, so Don’s stuck starring in the same old show, leaving Suzanne waiting for him in his car.

He remembers to call her the next day.

This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened, is probably the most self-reflective truth to ever come out of Don Draper’s mouth.

Don Draper is exhausted.

He is an artist at heart. He even starts to record his thoughts, late at night, in his (of course) Greenwich Village apartment, after his divorce. The Village is where the real artists live.

If only he had more time to write in that cheap spiral notebook of his, whose pages can be torn out so easily. If only he could express some of what he’s truly thinking and feeling.

Don wants something else from life, something to make him feel more real. That’s why he impulsively proposes to his secretary, Megan, someone he hardly knows, someone completely replaceable, like all his secretaries have been. There is something he sees in Megan. He might feel he is living more authentically since her teeth are crooked. His first wife was flawlessly beautiful. It only makes sense for his next wife to have a visible flaw. “I love your teeth,” he said to her when she told him she couldn’t get an acting job because of her crooked teeth. But no actress ever gives up acting. She is auditioning for a role. “I know you,” she said, in bed, in response to his making a statement to the contrary. Don should have listened to himself. But he had a hangover.

In the last episode of Season Four, Don proposes to Megan, maybe because Anna left him her wedding ring after dying from cancer. The Mad Men staff writers shocked their audience with this proposal. But Mad Men viewers shouldn’t be shocked. His proposal was provoked by Megan’s calm way of wiping up spilt milk.

Don was furious with his kids for making a mess but Megan stayed cheerful and calm, so unlike his first wife, Betty. Don sees Megan as the completion of the ad campaign he designed, called “Happily Ever After.”



—Photo  The Official CTBTO Photostream/Flickr

About Bobbi Lurie

Bobbi Lurie is the author of three poetry collections: Grief Suite, The Book I Never Read, and Letter from the Lawn. Her work has appeared in numerous print and on-line journals, including Otoliths, New American Writing, E-Ratio, Counterexample, The American Poetry Review and Big Bridge. Dancing Girl Press will be publishing her chapbook, “to be let in the back porch,” later this year. Her fiction can be found, or is forthcoming, in Noir, Dogzplot, Pure Slush, Wilderness House Literary Review, Melusine, Camroc Press Review and others. Her essays have been published in Gnosis, Inner Directions, Wordgathering, The Santa Fe Reporter, Craft International and other publications in the U.S. and Great Britain.


  1. Bobbi Lurie says:

    Metrosexy–well, it’s over now. Last episode last night. Here’s a writer from Slate who calls it as it is:

  2. Bobbi Lurie says:

    You are right, Joe. For me episode three was the redemption you refer to.

  3. You want to maybe give it more than one episode before you declare the whole thing irredeemably ruined? I remember feeling like season 4 wasn’t up to scratch until “The Suitcase” aired.

  4. Bobbi Lurie says:

    Marie, no. I meant he was happily submissive. (I didn’t know historical facts. He just seemed like the man version of the woman tragedy.) Megan is Delilah to Don’s-once-Samson. She was answering to “the philistines” and wouldn’t let it go until she found out Don’s secret strength. She found out his secret. She knows how to cut at it, like a scissors to hair. Suddenly, he’s weak. Rather than letting Don die, in a dignified way, “they” (the “writers”) ate away at everything that made Don Draper=Don Draper. We are left with this shell of a man who smiles too much. My face hurt after the two hours of (probably) mirroring facial expressions projected from T.V. set.

  5. Very interesting article. Thanks for posting it. When you say that Don Draper has turned into a Stepford husband, do you mean that he is completely dominant? In the town of Stepford, there were Stepford wives who were so happily submissive. So that means that in the town of Stepford, there had to be Stepford husbands who were so happily dominant.

  6. Bobbi Lurie says:

    I feel a need to follow up on the piece I wrote above about Don Draper.

    I am surprised and saddened that reviews I’ve found, so far, of Episode One of Season Five, seem to be positive.

    My opinion: that show was terrible.

    Episode One of Season Five of Mad Men was a shockingly bland, socially unaware, sequel to something great, which can never return. The spell is broken. Writers matter. Matthew Weiner single-handedly destroyed a cultural icon and took away, from some of us, the only television show we could stand to watch.

    Matthew Weiner turned Don Draper into a Stepford Husband.

    The racism in this show was beyond offensive and the characters’ lack of awareness of The Civil Rights Movement or The Vietnam War was ugly.

    The characters in Season Five of Mad Men are characturtures of characturtures of self-centered, self-created, artificial images, which no longer work.

    Don Draper is dead. The end of an era.

  7. Sylvia Schwartz says:

    Part of our fascination with Don is that he has a self-destructive nature, he doesn’t care about the consequences. The viewer sees only the boldness of these outlandish actions, actions they would never dream of taking themselves, and admire him for taking them. Yes, we know he’s troubled — and unhappy — but we choose not to focus on that, instead waiting to see what he’ll do next, like watching a wildly funny drunk and knowing we don’t have to wake up with the hangover.

  8. Hot damn. The more I read about this jackass character, the more repulsive he becomes.

    Why, exactly, is everyone fixated on this vile critter? You can’t really call him a man because it sounds like he has zero positive relationships with any other male, including his own self.

    It’s just an… it.

  9. “What we inherited from Don Draper is plastered all over Facebook, Twitter and countless blogs of self-promotion.”

    Ah, so true! I hate to admit my guilt in this as well. I have bought Don Draper’s product.

  10. QuantumInc says:

    This is what people forget about Don Draper, that even if you set aside the fact that he’s a fictional character, almost everything about him is a lie. People might look to him for an example of masculinity that can’t be faked, but the whole point of the show is that he is indeed faking it all.

    How totally awesome would it be to be Don Draper?! Not awesome at all, it apparently kinda sucks.

  11. Can we get more Don Draper stories on this site please? Theres only been 6 in the past 3 days.

    • We’re having a themed section for the premiere. I liked this one by Bobbi Lurie a lot.

      I think it’s worth talking about that we’re all so into a guy that none of us seem to like.

  12. bobbi Lurie says:

    Metrosexy–well, it’s over now. Last episode last night. Here’s a writer from Slate who calls it as it is:


  1. Metrosexy says:

    […] You might have thought, that now we are onto the fifth season of Mad Men, the media would have calmed down about this ‘retrosexual’ TV show. Not a bit of it. The new series has been greeted with the usual giggling excitement from UK papers such as The Guardian, and the American website, the Good Men Project. […]

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