Saturday, April 14, 2018

"Don Draper sure has a lot of power for a fictional character"

Yes, I'm still on the subject six years later.

The quote in the header is from Ann Powers and the article that follows it doesn't actually give any evidence of Don having any actual power. Other, that is, than the power to really mess with Ann Powers mind.

Powers, as rapidly becomes obvious from her bio, is a geek. The sort of geek who doesn't actually live life but experiences it by proxy through the lives of the superheroes she obsesses about. Her superheroes are not X-men and their not fantasy fiction figures. No, like geeks of my generation, she's five years younger than me, her superheroes are musicians. So when cool-daddy Don didn't get the Beatles, she was thrown into turmoil and had to write about it and prove that he would indeed have gotten the Beatles. Her entire mythology was on the line.

Now it's worth reminding ourselves of the chronology. I was 11 years old when the Beatles broke up and Ann Powers was 6. Like most boomers, neither of us experienced this stuff. It was a  story we were told, not the life we lived. And it was a highly mythologized story right from the beginning. The Beatles were big during the 1960s but they got much bigger in retrospect than they actually were at the time. Think of Donald Trump by way of analogy. He's a big figure in the news right now but what will history think of him? The honest answer is, I don't know. Likewise the Beatles in 1966.

What Ann Powers wants, needs even, is to have her 1960s mythology validated by Don Draper and he won't do it.

I'll return to that, but, for now, let me leave you with a possibly disturbing thought. Here's the concluding paragraph to the Powers piece.
As an inventive, highly competitive trend-chaser, Don Draper would have loved the Beatles from the minute they hit Ed Sullivan. Besides, we already know he's scored tickets to the band's 1965 Shea Stadium concert for his daughter Sally. A more likely response: he would have pulled Revolver out of Megan's manicured grip and said, "Honey, you stick with the crazy stuff, I'm a big fan of 'Paperback Writer!'" Heck, he probably would have used Lane to get a lunch with Brian Epstein. The "meh" he tossed "Tomorrow Never Knows" was just not believable. Now, if Megan had left him with a copy of the Sylvia Plath poem that gave the episode its name — that might have actually shocked him into silence.
That is her mythology on full display. Notice the sudden shift at the very end where Sylvia Plath comes up. Now that is interesting. The poem is indeed disturbing. It's the work of a genius but a very troubled genius. To be blunt, "troubled" here means manipulative, self-destructive and a high-maintenance nightmare. Like the Beatles, Plath is a cultural icon whom many people have idolized. Read the poem, though, and ask yourself what it must have been like to have been married to a woman like that.

Don Draper is a flawed character but he is the hero of this story. At this moment he is in his second bad marriage. One way you might describe his quandary is that he keeps trying to live according to a script. Here, his script has been upset by another script, Megan's script that life should be lived according to the demands of art. She isn't so crazy as Plath was but there is a parallel.

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