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Look How Far We’ve Come

I love television. I love stories. I love to enter the world of make-believe and live in it for a while. Every now and then, I pick a show I haven’t seen before and watch it from beginning to end. I put my life on hold and become fully engrossed in the story. I feel with the characters. I dream about their world. It’s like taking a vacation from your life without ever leaving home. I’ve done this several times with some pretty addictive shows. I won’t list them all lest you think me a loser.

A few of the stories I’ve lived in are: Gilmore Girls (wanted to move to a small town and possibly adopt a teenager), 24 (fell in love with Jack), Friday Night Lights (wanted to become a quarterback), The Wire (snooped across the street at my neighbors trying to catch them scoring a dime), West Wing (applied to work in the White House…FOR REAL), Downton Abbey (spoke with an English accent…in my head), and my latest obsession…Mad Men.

Ah, Don Draper. If you haven’t seen the show, let me catch you up without spoiling any of it…hopefully. Mad Men is set in the 1960s. Don Draper is the entire show. I’ve heard certain men described as ‘Women want him, and men want to be him.’ I’m usually left baffled and thinking, “I’m a woman.  I don’t want him.” But…that line is true of Don Draper. He’s irresistible…to women AND men. Women want him to fall in love with them; men wish they could be even a sliver of him.

Yes, he’s handsome, but that is just the beginning. He’s cool as a cucumber, and always seems in control. He manages to remain a mystery to the majority of the people in his life. He’s unattainable. He’s an alpha male and vulnerable all at the same time. He owns every room he walks in. And yes, sometimes he’s an utter A-hole (my mom reads my writing and has asked me to refrain from cursing as it is unbecoming), but right when you think he’s scum, he does something endearing that makes you want to hug him. (Sidebar: fellas – please do not try to imitate Don Draper by adopting all the characteristics I just listed. We’ll know!)

Just as you’ll find that in real life no one is perfect, this TV dream-man-of-the-60s isn’t either. He smokes cigarettes as if it’s as harmless as chewing gum. I suppose the writers want us to believe people in the 60s would have never believed sucking down poison and tar is harmful. Back to Don Draper. He’s kind of an alcoholic, if one could be only a little bit of such a thing.

One of my favorite lines of his: “They say as soon you have to cut down on your drinking, you have a drinking problem.” He’s also a tormented soul who, like a lot of adults, never learned to process his past. Oh, and one other thing that contributes to his imperfection: he’s a womanizer. Yes, I know that’s a biggie. No woman dreams of a man who’ll cheat on her. Cheating is truly a horrible thing to do to someone. But….

I’m not defending or condoning cheating at all; however, in this fake world of Mad Men, Don Draper seems to find himself partnered with women who are a total drag. As little girls, we’re taught to dream of a world where we’re pretty, have a nice good-looking husband who provides for our children, and live in a cute house.

Granted, that’s not exactly what I dream of now, but if I’m honest, it’s in the ballpark. Don Draper’s women have “the dream,” yet they’re still unhappy. Maybe it’s because they don’t have a career that makes them feel whole, and find themselves defined as “Mrs. Draper.” Or maybe it’s because they realize Don isn’t as perfect as he seemed. Regardless, they’re beautiful women who are simply miserable. I suppose the subliminal message here comes from the song that says, “If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty girl your wife.”

Aside from loving this imperfect god-among-men, the nagging thought that kept on coming to me while watching all five seasons back-to-back is this: not much has changed in the last five decades. Yes, we now all know the effects of smoking, drinking and driving without a seat belt. In our world, calling women at work “sweetie” or “honey” is a no-no. Racism in the workplace has been diminished…at least overt racism. Women can choose to be stay-at-home moms or work. Men no longer stand up when women want to leave the table or pull the chair out of us (that just seems like a disaster waiting to happen anyway…I can easily imagine myself missing the chair and falling to the floor.) But mostly, things are the same.

Like Peggy (Don’s protégé), many women still have to play like men to keep climbing the corporate ladder. Men still outnumber women in executive positions. Working in the corporate world is still hard work. You don’t get to the top without sacrifice, and that sacrifice is often your family. Affairs still happen. We still let wars happen. Racism still exists. The Beatles are still popular.

Maybe the big things haven’t changed, but I’m glad I don’t have to wear hosiery to go grocery shopping.

Featured Image Clem Onojeghuo by Unsplash

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