Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Don Draper: Sociopath?

The fictional character Don Draper, from AMC's Mad Men, beat out Usain Bolt and Barack Obama as most influential and gets called out as a sociopath:
In a poll conducted by, readers have chosen Don Draper as the most influential man of 2009 — yes, that Don Draper, Jon Hamm’s 1960s ad man who coasts through Mad Men while cheating on his wife, changing his name, uttering horrible secrets about his (and your) childhood, and gently warming his kids to the idea of patricide. Now, you’re wondering: What can be the benefit of admiring this sociopath when we already trust the teachings of Dexter, The Joker, and Roald Dahl? AskMen has the not-even-joking explanation after the jump.

“Men are seeking the stability of tradition in the masculine qualities that they imagine their fathers and grandfathers to have had,” said James Bassil, AskMen’s editor-in-chief. “The character of Don Draper brings all these traits together, and in doing so speaks directly to the modern man. He’s a man whose time has come.”

Breaking: I actually prefer not to think of my grandfather as an unscrupulous asshole. Nor do I like imagining him treating my grandmother like an alcohol-powered parking meter. In sympathy with the voters, though, I do imagine that my grandfather had a desk.
Joker for sure is a sociopath, and Don Draper definitely shows leanings, but Roald Dahl?


  1. i'd have to agree.

  2. My first response to this was, who the hell is roald dahl? Then I remembered where I’d heard the name from. He’s the author of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factor”. I can kinda see it now. Some of those characters are hysterically anti-social, no? I haven’t had the chance to watch “Mad Men” yet, but now my curiosity is piqued. So far, I’ve enjoyed “The Wire”.

    This post does raise another point though. The media is fascinated with the anti-social, Machiavellian, socio/psychopath. And it’s not just the media of course. The public is just as fascinated judging by box office returns, book sales, TV show ratings and opinion polls. Why would characters like Dexter and the Joker be considered admirable by society when they are clearly and unequivocally anti-society? The guy who wrote the article referenced in the post might have had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, but there’s a kernel of truth in it. (Whether the media glamorizes and/or mischaracterizes sociopaths is another subject.) Is it as simple as projection? Do normals repress their more ruthless tendencies only to love them in someone like Dexter or Hannibal Lecter? Could it be mere wish fulfillment fantasies, as the public watches with barely contained glee as the ‘bad guy’ says and does the very things they’d sometimes like to do but won’t? Or is it a pragmatic appreciation for the character that doesn’t get lost in moralizing abstractions, who decides what needs to be done and does whatever is necessary to get it done? Or is it all of the above? None of the above maybe? As you can see, I have no idea. I’m just throwing the question out there because I’ve got nothing better to do at the moment.

    We’re often vilified and easily incarcerated. (Well, some of us are.) But there isn’t any doubt that the public finds people on this side of the personality spectrum absolutely fascinating.

  3. One more question. Is it true that some men connect Draper’s behavior to a so called by gone era of masculinity, where ‘men could be men’? If so, why? Why would they believe that amoral behavior is masculine? Or is it just more wish fulfillment?

  4. Funny, roald dahl was the only name I recognized. I guess I would have recognized the Joker, but I as thinking of real people roald dahl, Dexter sounds like a real person's name...I'm too lazy to google, but I think that dahl was a humanitarian of sorts, with some sort of children or puppies foundation.

    But I have always thought that Willy Wonka was more than just loony. But the real sociopath of that story was that bad egg Verruca.

    I have no idea about the Mad Men thing. But both women and men idealize the post-warII era. But that has more to do with the loose pharmaceutical standards that kept the uppers, downers and benders in a post-war surplus.

  5. I've recently been watching Madmen and I can see the influential aspect of the sociopath. He is basically, and fundamentally what men desire to be, not so much from a thoughtful perspective, but from an instinctive desire. Men, at their core, are ambitious, bold, out for their own well being, paternal, and providers. These are all goals that men in general as a sex have lost over the years. Society demands a sensitivity, and weakness causes them to be cowardly. Men gravitate toward things that defy their physiology, and Don Draper is an embodiment of thefunctioning, instinctive and sophisticated man. Any more, most men lose instincts with their "Sophistication".
    This also completely explains the female attraction to the sociopath. This is what makes it so easy for a sociopath to break hearts. He's not there for her emotional fulfillment, but for her protection and otherwise impregnation.

  6. And Sarah, again you don't fail to show your ignorance.
    The point of madmen is not actually to glamourize the post world war II era, but to show that nothing has changed with society since the post world war II era. SO it is not so much a cultural idealization, as any 60's movie will be, but a show relating the characteristics of the people to society today. It also, very unbiasedly, shows the cultural differences, but that human nature and "Society" are nothing different than, say, ancient Greece.

    Perhaps, as many have told you before, you should know something about what your talking about before you speak. The theme should, by now, be getting into your thick skull as a personal problem. You seem to have a habit of being ignorant so far. And since you like facts and examples, lets go with what you said about the culture of narcissism before you even knew what the book was.

  7. For the most part, I agree with this comment. I do think it’s easy for us to forget that we are in fact just another animal species. We’re certainly the dominant species and as far as we know, the smartest. But still, we are animals. Sure evolution “programmed” altruistic instincts into most of us, but before that, it “programmed” us with drives to survive, dominate, and reproduce plentifully. Those are the primal drives, so to speak, and our “higher brain” and it’s manifestation in civilization, seeks to keep those drives in check. Yes, before someone jumps on me, of course repressing the more primal drives has been a necessary evil when it comes to building civilization. After all, few people want to return to living in the jungles and cooperation of one sort or the other appears to have been necessary to build cities and states, hence the utility of altruistic instincts and the widespread bonding drive. Still, psychological repression also appears to have been necessary and repression almost always involves lying to yourself about who you are and what you feel. So when a Don Draper comes along in fiction, someone who isn’t lying to himself about what he is or what he wants, someone who goes after his goals and doesn’t let little things like morality or cultural mores get in the way, I could see how a people, especially men who spend their lives repressing their basic instincts, might admire that. So yeah jasnowflake, I buy your explanation.

    1. It comes across like you read too much Freud.

    2. Don's entire existence is built on lies. That's what makes him interesting. He's so dishonest he lives out his deceptions 24 hours a day and it breaks him.

  8. Thanks Daniel. I just finished reading a bit of Jung that cemented the idea a little bit for me. Surprisingly after I wrote this. The timing was superb. I recommend the Portable Jung.

  9. I am loving this show! I’m almost done with the first season and I just had to note that Don Draper has become one of my favorite fictional heroes. The similarities between Don Draper and Dexter Morgan aren’t lost on me either. They’re both far colder on the inside than the people around them know. They’re wearing masks, hiding in plain sight in suburbia, using lies to navigate a world that in one sense isn’t made for the likes of them and pretending to be someone they really aren’t, manipulative when necessary, amoral (or should I say, their own sense of morality is very iconoclastic?) and are playing “the game” to satisfy their own desires. I don’t know if they’re so called sociopaths or not, but eh, who cares? They’re great characters and great fun to watch.

  10. "This also completely explains the female attraction to the sociopath. This is what makes it so easy for a sociopath to break hearts."

    Wrong. None of the women Don Draper manages to seduce *know* he is faking (maybe only his wife, since she's a faker herself).

    He's a narcissist, in the psychiatric definition. He doesn't embody any of the things you mention. He *pretends* he does. That's why they fall for him.

    The only thing he cares about is this persona he created. Everyone around him is a character in his movie.

  11. You people are all disgusting.

  12. A variety of characters from Mad Men are clearly sociopaths; very efficient ones. Take the test which Mad Med are you at:
    The title of the series clearly states it Mad Men. You don't have to use violence to fit the sociopathic portrayal; intelligence is by far a most powerful weapon. A little advice don't let your so called sociopathic advantages over the empaths be your own downfall. Look at history, all the great conquerors in the world have tripped over the same rock, their ego, and their false sense of superiority..... Love is true power is what gives life a meaning. How much powerfully prevailing can anything else be?

  13. Now that it is 2013 and we see the journey of Don Draper wending it's way to a close I'd say he was never meant to be seen as a hero. He's a deeply damaged individual who has hit rock bottom. losing his second wife and his job to alcohol and lies. He's a car crash of a man and we can't look the other way.

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