Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Imitatio project: Don Draper's Guide to picking up women

It's a pretty safe bet that anytime someone tells you that a sketch on Saturday Night Live was hilarious the actual sketch will be lame. That's mostly because Saturday Night Live is usually lame. Here's a clue people: it's Saturday Night and you're sitting at home watching late-night television! That's what losers do. Late night Saturday, anyone who isn't a loser is either out on the town or in bed.

Anyway, Don Draper's Guide to Picking Up Women wasn't funny even though I kept reading people saying it's brilliant. You can watch it yourself at this link until the copyright enforcers find it.

I've transcribed the four easy steps:
  1. When in doubt, remain absolutely silent.
  2. When asked about your past, give vague, open-ended answers.
  3. Have a great name.
  4. Look fantastic in a suit, look fantastic in casual wear, look fantastic in anything. Look good, sound good, smell good, kiss good, strut around with supreme confidence, be uncannily successful at your job, blow people away anytime you say anything, take six hour lunches, disappear for weeks at a time, lie to everyone about everything, drink and smoke constantly, basically, be Don Draper.
It's the last one that does all the work trying to be funny and it is telling that they are trying too hard, which is why it isn't funny. And they are trying so hard because they are intimidated. I'll go at these one at a time.

But first, a question: Does Don Draper pick up women?  Obviously, he ends up with quite a few but he doesn't pick them up. That's the first thing to note about his approach: he doesn't have one. Okay, the script is on his side and that is why women approach him but there is a lot to be said for this. The last line of the joke is, "basically, be Don Draper". If you look at the way the role is played, however, you'll notice that is what he does.  He doesn't go after women so much as he goes after the role. He is always trying to be Don Draper and he is always trying to be Don Draper because he is not, in fact, Don Draper.

As I've said before, this makes him like a Greek hero. Read the Iliad and you will see that Hector worries about being Hector. He has a role and he knows he has to live up to it and he worries about falling short of it. That's the opposite of what we are told today. We are told to be yourself and then we are advised to go out and pick up women, working with "a wingman" and a whole lot of other bullshit.

Okay, back to the four steps.

The first is actually really good advice. As a man, you should just shut up when in doubt and the world would be a better place if more of us did. Talking too much is asking for it. Don't do it.

The second isn't quite accurate. Don Draper does give vague, open-ended answers but that is because he doesn't talk about himself much. And that, again, is very good advice.

The third is kind of funny in a way that the writers at Saturday Night Live didn't intend. "Don Draper" is actually a very plain WASP name in an era when people have been trying very hard to have exotic names like Laetitia, Beyonce, Jay-Z and the like. There is a lesson here.

The final bit of advice is just lame but there are some telling mistakes in it. Don Draper would never say "kiss good" or use "basically" as an introductory clause. He usually speaks correctly, elegantly and simply. If he does something else for effect, it really has an effect because it is rare for him to do so. A related point, Don Draper not only wouldn't say "kiss good", he wouldn't say "kiss well" either because he is a man and not a fourteen year old girl.

Take away the inflation and deflation that fails to make this funny, and Don Draper is the strong, silent type and that is a good thing to be.

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