MADMEN – a period piece beginning in 1960.
Don Draper. He reminds me of the Marlboro man. Somewhat aloof, but smiles often enough to draw you in.
I remember taking a class in psychology in college. The semester was broken into 6 week intervals, dabbling in different areas of psych, giving you a taste of each – to see if you were interested, I suppose. Actually, I was in the education program, and it was a requisite since we would be working with students, so naturally, we would need to know something about the nature of the human. In this particular section, we learned about motivation, rewards, and consequences versus punishment.
The idea of intermittent reward works the best, if you’re using any reward system. That’s why gambling is such a draw for people, because they never know when the reward is coming. There is literally brain chemistry to support this idea. I was introduced to the idea that constant reward can actually make good behavior decline, because it comes to be expected. This was clearly demonstrated one day when I was a Girl Scout leader and we were at a 3 day retreat. The directors gave us rolls of pennies to give to the girls whenever we saw them doing something good. At first, it worked great. The girls would do almost anything we asked of them. At some point, however, the girls wouldn’t move a muscle unless we promised them pennies.
Back to Don Draper. Suave, impossibly good looking, poised, confident. You can’t imagine him ever being vulnerable or weak, but you know he must have a soft spot somewhere. Everyone wants his approval. Granted, he is the director of the creative department, and they don’t want to lose their jobs, but every woman swoons when he walks into the room, secretly hoping he will choose her when he cheats on his wife. And every man wants either to please him or be him.
But wait! Don Draper appears to be stoic, with an impenetrable veneer, smiling occasionally and laughing rarely. So, that’s the intermittent reward every character is waiting for – the smile. The chuckle. The approval that their work was worthy.
Even the audience waits in anticipation of Draper’s tenderness, waiting for him to get real, believing that he cares about every woman with whom he sleeps. We love that regardless of his debauchery and excessive drinking, he is still a loving father who cares deeply for his children, in the way that fathers of the 1960s did. Although the show Mad Men is interesting in and of itself, the character of Don Draper carries the show.