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P is also for perception

October 11, 2012

I wrote a post a while back in which I said Mad Men’s Don Draper is a good guy, but he cheats on his wife. A reader took exception to this post, saying simply that Don is not a good guy. There’s a case to be made for that. Don isn’t really Don. He’s a guy named Dick Whitman who assumed another man’s identity when that man was killed in the Korean War. He is legally guilty of desertion. In the time he was married to his first wife, Betty, he slept with a Greenwich Village hippie, a department store owner, a rich free spirit, his daughter’s teacher, and a comedian’s wife.

Don and Betty Draper in a less-than-happy time.

He’s a damn sight better than his father, and except for the whole cheating on their mother thing, has tried with varying degrees of success to be a decent father to his kids.

I see things in Don Draper I would like to emulate. He has a swagger about him, a confidence in what he does. He gave perhaps the best sales pitch every recorded in a fictional TV show. And he’s done very well overcoming a past that could have crippled him. I can separate those things from his womanizing, which is really his worst ongoing sin.

But I’m a guy. In writing the blog post, I never seriously considered an alternative viewpoint. I got past the serial womanizing, and never considered that other people would not. (Please note, I’m not saying Don Draper is a role model, but the show’s successful in getting people to root for him as a character.)

I didn’t consider that a woman wouldn’t necessarily get past the womanizing. Similarly, in a post several months ago, I never considered that a throwaway line would cause emotional pain for people who’ve tried to have children and couldn’t.

I’m not wracked with guilt over either thing. I still believe that in the universe set up for Mad Men–a universe filled with chauvinism, booze, and womanizing, Don is among the better people. But as a writer, it’s incumbent on me not to dismiss out of hand different viewpoints. It’s incumbent on me to try them on and consider them, and to understand where the holders of those viewpoints are coming from.

By doing that, I can craft more believable characters.

I may even be able to craft characters that some people consider a decent human being with flaws, and other people consider a heel of epic proportions.


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