More people are writing about “Mad Men.” Obviously, part of a roll-out of the publicity campaign, which might even push viewers north of last season’s 1.5 million. However, no matter how mundane the reasons why the new spate of articles about “Mad Men” are popping up all over, the attitudes towards men, women, and the disconnected state of both in the modern world are revealing. America might still be saved, or entering a terminal decline, checking into the Hotel California. Ironically, the fate of John Edwards and his political career, or not, will likely signal the outcome.
First, let’s look at Newsweek’s Sarah Ball. Among her points is the following:
Why are we so wild for Draper? By any measure, the character’s a cad. He constantly cheats on his wife. He skips town for weeks and won’t write or call. He doesn’t talk much, and anesthetizes any feelings with copious amounts of booze. He’s an enigma, a locked box of a man who resists, maddeningly, easy explanation. And yet he excites an attraction among women—particularly ones my age, women in their late ’20s and ’30s who were born after the era that Mad Men portrays—that seems unmatched by any leading man on television today, with the possible exception of Lost’s con artist, Saywer (another strapping scoundrel with a deeply troubled soul). We describe our obsession in words that, like the show itself, are somewhat retro. “He is a straight-up man. He makes me feel like a woman via the TV.” “He’s a throwback to a time when men were men. “It’s the thickness of his body.” “Shoulders to cry on and a jaw that causes women to swoon.”
A man’s man. A virile man. A masculine man. Strong terms. And ones that would make our postmodern gender-studies professors blush. After all, we’re the generation of women who grew up beating the boys in math class, reading Judith Butler (by choice or by force), celebrating “Grrl” power. Traditional male-female roles were going out the window while we were still toddlers. And maybe that’s why we feel a little guilty when we stop to admit to ourselves why Draper excites us. Because we’re not supposed to be using those terms anymore to describe our desires. Those words threaten a backsliding—they hint at some deep, unspoken turbulence; that, as if by saying we want a “real man,” we threaten to erase all the gains our mothers made in terms of equality in the workplace and the home. After all, we don’t believe in that evolutionary “me Tarzan, you Jane” nonsense anymore. We’re supposed to want men who are sensitive and respectful; men who emote and help around the house, and talk openly about their feelings. And we do want these things. Don’t we? So then why are we fantasizing about Draper rather than Jim from The Office?
So we’ve been raised to marry different men. Men like our president, Barack Obama: supportive, mature, levelheaded, equal partners. A bit sexless, OK, but who these days still thinks that a gal can have it all? Better a sexless Obama than a philandering Bill Clinton (speaking of men who make powerful women simultaneously swoony and ashamed of said swoon). And anyway, there are so few men like Draper around that we’re not in any real danger of meeting one—at least not in the affluent, cosmopolitan jungles where Mad Men’s viewers are concentrated, and where smart young women flock to make their careers take flight. They’re a dying, if not dead, breed: these men who came back from the battlefields and settled down in whitewashed houses and were somehow expected to find the same visceral rush in office jobs and country clubs and nice, sweet wives that they gained from far-off adventures and wars. Men who couldn’t be satiated by these staid substitutions; men who were made caged animals by domesticity; men who unleashed their restlessness in ways both erotic and destructive. These types of men are not the men we marry anymore. But, apparently, they’re still the ones we love. [Ed: Emphasis added.]
What this says, about the writer, is that women of her class, generation, and background have no clue about masculinity, strength, or what indeed makes a man. It’s telling that while “Mad Men’s” bad-boy in adult clothing, Don Draper, creates a huge fuss among the show’s mostly female fans, and the female-dominated media, the example of male strength and compassion in last season’s “Life” (with “Band of Brothers” star Damien Lewis) had almost no reaction in either the press or female fans of a similar age and background (late twenties, to mid thirties female professionals). This despite the character being written and acted as a “Man’s Man” i.e. one with restraint, power, protectiveness, capable of being gentle and shockingly tough as the situation required, and with an air of mystery and semi-controlled anger underneath his seemingly good-willed charm. Moreover, a character that liked and respected his tough, independent female partner, found few takers among female fans and fewer champions in the feminized media. A failure that is both telling and depressing.
Don Draper is of course a woman’s idea of a masculine man, and bears about as much resemblance to reality as does the geek ideal of the waify, butt-kicking gal with superpowers, who has no annoying “girly” desires for shopping, friends, fashion, and family (her parents and siblings, or a desire for her own children). The waif-butt-kickers of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” or “Dollhouse” or “Firefly” are about as realistic a portrait of women as Don Draper is of men, and what makes masculine strength. Women of the particular age and class that Sarah Ball refers to, confuse aggressiveness, betrayal, high and unleashed sex drive, constant philandering, and drama, with masculine strength. Posing a false dichotomy between weak and feminized office drones like “Jim” from “the Office” to dangerous and loutish philanderers such as Don Draper or Bill Clinton. Or John Edwards for that matter. Only a comfortable, loft-dwelling hipster writer could refer to WWII or Korea as “adventures” instead of the miserable, terrifying hell it was. War is never adventure, merely survival. Update: That the foolish writer of would view WWII or Korea as “an adventure” and generating “sexy” men speaks to her own biases: one in favor of aristocratic, violent, and dangerous places, in place of “boring” men (and women) in safe, wealthy, Manhattan. I suspect she would not like adventure, or real-life “adventurous” men. At any rate, the men who survived WWII or Korea were not “sexy.” Decorated WWII and Korea Navy fighter Pilot Ed McMahon, or GUADALCANAL! veteran Don Adams, or D-Day and Malmedy survivor Charles Durning, or Navy Cross recepient (for his heroism at TARAWA!) Eddie Albert, along with 8th Airforce Veteran Jimmy Stewart, were typical of the survivors. Indeed most of them, tried their best to avoid war and conflict and like the real life “Band of Brothers” Maj. Ed Winters, settled down happily to quiet lives after experiencing real life horror. Only a profoundly immature writer would characterize war as “adventure”
Just as Hollywood creators such as Josh Whedon pander to fantasies of a butt-kicking waif who likes big explosions too! so do the nearly all female writing staff of “Mad Men” create a woman’s idea of a masculine man. With constant validation of his attractiveness by other women having sex with him. A Bill Clinton (or John Edwards) for our time.
Others have noticed this failure as well, that men in particular commenting on “Mad Men” fail to notice that the younger urban and professional crowd find Don Draper irresistible because as blogger Josh Xiong put it your average sexist, cheating, borderline alcoholic is very attractive to women in the SWPL class. Even the Wall Street Journal got into the act. Note the obligatory applause for the obligatory SWPL gay kiss between two men.
SWPL young women, of the urban professional class, have no clue and no mentors (among older women who used to fulfill this role) about what makes good or bad boyfriends, husbands, and so on. Without guidance and control, younger women simply confuse men being a jerk, self-destructive with substance abuse (either alcohol or drugs or both), philandering, with little self-control that marks the necessary but not sufficient qualities of a successful and strong man, as being “masculine.” In particular, these younger women deride the notion of control, confusing that with the overly feminized cubical dwellers who are “nice” and polite to them. Being so because this is what social messages have told the cubical dwellers to be: cooperative, team players, pleasant, and the sort of “supportive” men that feminists and women have declared they wanted, but really loathed. [Which explains much of the younger male anger, overt messages, ala PC and Multiculturalism, which must be ignored because they are completely false. Young women don’t want supportive men, and despise those who offer it, even as they demand it. Phony overt messages that must be decoded into what the speaker really wants, but won’t say, always generates anger, particularly when those receiving it take the overt message for face value for too long.]
Of these two fantasies, the Don Draper is by far the most destructive. There simply are no waify-butt kickers in real life, and while your average geek might yearn for a woman who likes “Mythbusters” and discussing the Linux kernel, he knows it’s a fantasy. There are however, many real-life Don Drapers, and the result is usually disastrous for both men and women.
The National Enquirer reports that John Edwards plans to move his mistress and love child to a mansion near his own, to keep an eye on them and be more involved. His wife, Elizabeth, dying of cancer, is said to be furious. As Caitlan Flanagan wrote in The Atlantic:
John Edwards—whose intelligence we are supposed to accept as an article of faith—has managed not only to wedge himself between two exceedingly powerful and angry women, but also to have scorned both of them. Nice one, John! On the one hand is his wife, whose suffering might have seemed impossible to multiply, but he found the perfect way; and on the other hand is his (former) mistress, a known hellcat who has been flummoxing boy-men since the ’80s and whose rage over Elizabeth’s book is held in check only (and here I’m admittedly basing my speculation largely on what I’ve come to learn about women’s dreams and desires) by her hankering to live in Tara. Hers is not an intelligence or an ambition difficult to plumb, and her dream is almost certainly to have Elizabeth shuffle off the mortal coil so that she can instate herself in the North Carolina pleasure dome and become the fun, hip, “Being Is Free,” bleached-blond, super open-minded, videographing, Power of Now stepmom, a prospect so hideous that it makes Elizabeth Edwards’s last-chance book tour look like what it is: a desperate attempt to protect her sweet, sad children from the influence of this erstwhile cokehead and present-day weasel after she has died.
These are the stakes, ultimately, for any woman betting it all and betting it wrong on a Don Draper: ending up like Elizabeth Edwards. Who in any case will have her own children supplanted by John’s love child with his mistress, alone and essentially parentless as their father betrays them as well with his new young baby. Because for those women who choose the Don Drapers, there is always a woman younger and with no regard for marital bonds, propriety, and much of anything else.
Today’s young, urban, hip, professional women have so much security, at ease-safety, and sense of belonging, that they yearn for any stimulation, excitement, or danger. Not knowing just how low the men who give them that sense of danger and excitement can take them. And their children. John Edwards says he is “tired of all the lies” and wants to acknowledge publicly his love child daughter. Mickey Kaus has blogged that Edwards still harbors ambitions and believes Bill Clinton’s example will allow him to continue his political career, perhaps with a stint as an appointed official in the Obama Administration. Kaus might be right. I don’t think even Elizabeth Edwards sad, tragic example, will deter excitement seeking young professional women from confusing men being an asshole with men being strong.
The good news is that while this SWPL female professional class is very strong in its presence and control of the media and entertainment, most women are vastly different. Most women, as a result of the birth dearth, are older. Most women love their “beta” husbands and sons, and find the idea of Don Draper repellent. Which accounts for it’s miserable ratings, and likely, Bill Clinton’s protege, Al Gore’s defeat to flub-tastic newcomer George W. Bush in 2000.
The danger is that, however, the SWPL girl-women who love Mad Men and swoon over Don Draper and Bill Clinton (and likely, John Edwards) are the wave of the future, even though there are a lot less of them than their mothers, they dominate the younger classes of women and are indeed the future. The younger women of this class are disconnected from older women who could give them solid advice on how to avoid the tragedy of Elizabeth Edwards, who’s particular form of betrayal was up to chance, but the general shape of it was sealed the moment she said “I Do.”
In this sense, the tremendous amount of publicity and attitudes expressed by women like Ball, or Sandra Tsing Loh in her article about passion versus the boring realities of married life or Cristina Nehring’s Vindication of Love (which advocates serial passionate affairs instead of boring marriage, and of course bad-boy lovers) are swords with two edges. On the one hand, they propel young women into more bad-boy chasing, which they are inclined to do anyway. The media taking over the position of older female counselor, but giving younger women horrible advice. The other edge of the sword being the male reaction, which has ranged from PUA (Pick Up Artist) of various stripes, to withdrawal to bromance and X-Boxes. Which gives women the choice of Don Draper, or no one at all. If 72% of married women considered leaving their husbands in the Woman’s Day survey, the next generation of women might not get any at all, not “Jim from the Office” or the “Kitchen Bitch” variety that Sandra Tsing Loh derides. Instead a nation of young men would make themselves into a Don Draper. Or as much as they can manage.
The saddest thing of all? John Edwards might indeed have a political career left. When a feminist like Cristina Nehring can defend Republican Mark Sanford in the pages of The New Republic, on the basis of “love” and “passion,” America’s young professional women might have a case of the terminal desire for Bad Boys. [It’s clear that older women, who love Sarah Palin, and detest the betrayal of Elizabeth Edwards, are very different socially and politically from younger women who seem to be the exact opposite: detesting Sarah Palin and at least, not despising John Edwards.]
If Edwards stays staked, like a destroyed vampire, never to rise again, America is saved for another day. If enough women of Nehring’s persuasion (most men loathe Edwards, for a variety of reasons but most especially for his betrayal of his wife which is unmanly in the traditional way of self-sacrifice for family) excuse his disgusting behavior to the point where he is “rehabilitated” then truly, we are welcomed to the Hotel California. Where you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. The only question then remaining is when America fully checks in.