Mad Men and the Anti-Hero – Why Christians Can Love Donald Draper

There is no other show that does what it does better than AMC’s Mad Men. And amongst all the wonderfully painted characters in the show, the lead character shines brightest: Sterling Cooper’s creative director, Donald Draper. His talented work and insight into human behavior coupled with his own domestic and psychological demons creates the most interesting dichotomy on television.

However, in my own circle of friends, many haven’t watched the Mad Men series under the objection that the lead character is an alcoholic serial adulterer. He’s too brash, too harsh, too unlikeable (what!?), and/or too hedonistic. (See the past two posts to get a our opinions on why these are bad reasons not to see a piece: Part 1 here and Part 2 here.) They don’t like him. He makes them feel… icky. 

But here’s the thing: I don’t believe people can’t watch characters like Don Draper. They do it all the time. What’s uncomfortable for them is that Don Draper is the protagonist. He’s supposed to be the good guy, but he’s a bad guy. They’re used to someone like him being the villain.  How could they root for someone like him? How could we wish good upon someone who unapologetically cheats on his wife?

Enter the anti-hero.  It’s been a sexy fad for hollywood recently (See Breaking Bad, Dexter, House of Cards, and Game of Thrones) and the audiences seem drawn to these shows.  In this archetype we see main characters who lack conventional attributes of a protagonist. Most notably, a lack of morality. For Don Draper, he lacks quite a bit.

So why do millions watch this show? Why do we shower the program with accolades? How can an anti-hero be so popular? And specifically, why should a Christian love (to watch) Don Draper?

Don is relatable. He has two sides to him: The side he lets people see, and the side that he stashes away for no one to witness. He keeps secrets.  He hides in his work. He doesn’t fully understand who he is.  He constantly decides whether to do what’s right, or to do what he wants to do. He does good things for bad reasons. He does bad things for good reasons. Raise your hand if any of these things apply to you… Okay, put them down.

“We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what he had.” Season four, The Summer Man

Don is what we could be. We can relate to Don, but most of us aren’t quite at that level of depravity… yet.  I believe deep down we have similar, if not the same, negative desires that Don does.  We possess a selfishness that we frequently suppress in order to appear moral or to win affection or admiration. Many times, it’s not pure. Neither is Don’s, he just chooses to ignore his filter sometimes. Imagine if you ignored yours. Christian, imagine if you didn’t know Jesus, how closely would you follow Don’s route? How closely are you following it now?

“This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.” Season two, New Girl

Don has to cope with the past. Whew, and does he have a past! No spoilers here, but the man had it rough. It’s shaped him, and he’s constantly looking over his shoulder to either bring closure or relive his history. Lots of it is painful. Much of it influences what he does in the show.  Does your past influence your present? I believe it’s difficult to let the past go much less preventing it from affecting your life now. Is it okay to completely ignore your childhood? Eesh. I don’t know. This is stuff I wrestle with all the time.

“We don’t know who he is yet, and who he’s going to be, that’s a wonderful thing.” Season three, Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency

Don struggles with death. This guy plays basically makes his career off of the fear of death. He knows that people don’t want to die alone. They want to stay young and be surrounded by people that love them. He knows this because he struggles with it too. He desperately runs from this fear, but its so deeply rooted in his psyche that he doesn’t know how to cope with it.  Will death solve his problems? Are you afraid of dying? How is that motivating or affecting you and/or the people around you? Christian, are you afraid of dying? If you believe that Jesus has conquered death, why are we still scared of dying?  Is anything that Don says about death true?

 “It’s your life. You don’t know how long it’s gonna last, but you know it doesn’t end well. You’ve gotta move forward … as soon as you can figure out what that means.” Season two, Six Months Leave

Don needs and desires a savior and not religion.  Don repeatedly confronts his depravity.  He knows he does bad things. He chooses to ignore his feelings and crushes it deep down in his brain like you would a full trashbag. But we get these rare glimpses of the pain he harbors, the desires he has for reconciliation, for justification. He can’t stand the church, the preachers, the hypocrites, he views them as boring band-aids.  He wants a deep cleansing and renewal. For the Christian, we see this and know that what he really desires is a savior.

“I was surprised that you ever loved me.” Season three, The Gypsy and The Hobo

That last line KILLS me every time I hear him say it. Guys, he is, without a doubt, my favorite television character. He’s far from perfect, he wants what he can’t have, and he needs Jesus, just like me.

So please, don’t shy away from the anti-hero. Look at them and then Look at yourself. How much holier are you than them?

I’ll leave you with some of my absolute favorite Don Draper scenes from Mad Men. On the last video you might want to grab some tissues. Enjoy.

“I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.” Season one, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

“What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness… ” Season five, Commission and Fees

“…Nostalgia: it’s delicate, but potent. In Greek, ‘nostalgia’ literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone…” Season one, The Carousel

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