Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Imitatio project: so where was I?

Last Tuesday, I suggested that any attempt to make a more positive type of "Don Draper" than what Mad Men offers us is faced with certain limiting facts. And since I am starting something new here, I am going to assign these facts to a new fictional character with the initials J.A.C. They are:

  • JAC didn't have a strong father to provide him with a good example of manliness
  • He grew up in a feminized environment driven by social policing and dubious sexual morals
  • He has a drinking problem.
  • He has a a lot of romantic baggage that he brings along from the past.
  • The replacement he found for his first failed relationship is another weak and ineffectual woman who never grew out of her princess stage. 
  • He has burned some bridges by admitting publicly that he has a shameful past.
I'll deal with just the first two today.
  • JAC didn't have a strong father to provide him with a good example of manliness
  • He grew up in a feminized environment driven by social policing and dubious sexual morals
Let's begin with the show. It overdoes these things quite a bit. Dick's natural father is a hot-headed man prone to drinking too much. He also doesn't trust anyone. His adoptive father is a pimp. Dick's birth mother is a prostitute and his stepmother becomes a prostitute when times get hard. That's not just hard times, that's Dickensian!

With an important difference: Dickens had actually experienced hard times and Matt Weiner experienced a life of privilege from the very beginning. Weiner has no notion of what people are like. It's not inconceivable that a woman who says, "Communists have souls but they cannot be saved," would, in difficult times, resort to prostitution. But she'd be a lot sneakier about it than Dick's mother is in the story.

But it is extremely unlikely that  she'd do such a think in the first place.

A dishonest man lives here

The important thing to grasp is that Draper uses his past as a kind of mythology. Nobody else seems to have grasped this. They take his flashbacks as factual remembrances even though he couldn't actually have experienced some of the things he has flashbacks of (the most notorious of these being the flashback to his own conception).

And even this mythology isn't enough. Dick also has an encounter with a hobo who introduces him to "the hobo code" back in the first season (one of the best episodes ever, BTW). This hobo code is what gives him the basis of his own personal moral code. And the thing that code gives him is the warrant to reject his own father's morality.

When we reduce Dick to these essentials, I think we begin to see a fairly recognizable type. His parents both advocate strong morals but show little capacity for love and both show themselves to be hypocrites because they can't maintain their high moral standards in the face of life's vicissitudes. That sounds like, well, that sounds like a whole lot of people.

In other words, Matt Weiner has used all this mythology to take a pretty common childhood blight and distance it a bit so that it makes worthy fiction.

But what about the dishonest mother?

So these first two limitations are not limitations at all. That older Don retells the story of Dick's youth this way is a healthy and honest way to deal with parental relationships. Every young man (or woman for that matter) needs to confront their father's moral limitations.Father's have a tendency to sell you a moral code that is based on the way they wish life was rather than what they know it actually is.

No, Don's he problem is that he doesn't blow up the relationship he has with his mother. Weiner has a good thing but ruins with a lot of Freudian bullshit. His chief problem is that he is still fighting with his mother as an adult. He has relatively little trouble finding male father figures to relate to. It's his relationships with women that are a problem.

So our fictional character J.A.C. is still struggling with the his mother.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely, and I don't think that's so uncommon, even if your mother wasn't like Don Draper's or his stepmother. The mother/son relationship is fraught with difficulties, we're dependent on them but then at some point we have to become independent of them, so there's an ambivalence that can carry over into our relationships with women. That separation from the mother can be difficult and last long into adulthood, because "she's still my mother." If a mother dies in childbirth or turns to prostitution as Dick's stepmother did, there's already a built in conflict that can take a long time to resolve. The father/son relationship has its own set of problems, but they're of a different nature. I agree that Hobo Code was one of the best episodes in the series, and also agree that this is where the moral code of Don/Dick was formed.