Fifty Shades of Don Draper
Mad Men offers viewers a dystopian view of sex and relationships
Posted Apr 17, 2013
Hey, is that Mad Men’s Don Draper, or Christian Grey of "Fifty Shades?"
EL James writes about sado-masochism in modern adult relationships, and throws in sex toys and instruments of torture for good measure. There is little doubt as to what accounts for the enormous popularity of these novels. Sex sells. Some may enjoy reading the trilogy to live out a fantasy about power and dominance. For others, scenes of bondage offer an escape from jobs, chores, second shifts, and modern demands—the sex and romance provide a (pardon my pun) release for women who are overtaxed and all-too exhausted to engage in the “lean in” debate. Plus, there is the appeal of the popular fantasy of fixing a damaged man, as Anna manages to do by the conclusion of the series.
Which brings us to Don. What does the success of James stripped down,in-your-face sadomasochism mean for him? Watching his suffering and psychologically-driven missteps, viewers wonder just what he will do next. This season he’s not just getting slapped by a prostitute or sleeping with his kid’s teacher, he’s forking over money after an assignation with Sylvia Rosen, the wife of friend and neighbor Dr. Arnold.
Don's confusion stems from the fact that he was burdened as a boy, exposed to primal scene overstimulation when he witnessed Abigail Whitman, his pregnant step- mother, trade her body for room and board. In other words, Don received the message that all relationships are economic; everyone cheats and sleeps around. This view is even narrower and more dystopian than the age-old construct of the Madonna-Whore complex, in which women are fantasized to be either one or the other, mommy or sex object. Now it seems that in poor Don’s world there are no Madonnas--all females trade on their bodies; this seems to be the only currency they have.