Don Draper’s Inferno

(AP Photo/AMC Frank Ockenfels)

For National Review OnlineThomas S. Hibbs writes: With the conclusion of the first half of season seven on Sunday, May 25, Matthew Weiner’s acclaimed AMC series Mad Men has only seven episodes left (which we won’t get to see until next spring).

“…it is not difficult to see in the show’s unmasking of the illusions of the self-made man a critique of the world of capitalist advertising with its construction of images of happiness…”

Main character Don Draper began this season at the nadir of his career and personal life. The previous season began with Don on a beach with second wife Megan, now an actress. Reading the opening of Dante’s Inferno, he intones: “Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.” The book is a gift from Sylvia, a married neighbor with whom he is having a torrid affair but whom he tells at one point, “I want to stop doing this.” The despair in his voice indicates how incapable he is of freeing himself from something he knows is wrong.showsaboutnothing

[Order Thomas S. Hibbs‘ book Shows about Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from Amazon]

Season six proceeded to portray a descent for Don, perhaps reminiscent of Dante’s journey into the depths of hell: progressive alienation from his new wife, a heart-wrenching scene in which his daughter Sally catches him in sexual congress with Sylvia, and his self-destruction in the middle of a business meeting in which he breaks down and tells clients about his childhood in a brothel. The last move put him on an indefinite leave. Unlike Dante, however, Don has no clear path and no Virgil as his guide.

“…But Mad Men also manages to capture something of the attraction of the life of the entrepreneur.”

The question of season seven is whether, like that of Dante, Don’s descent will be followed by an ascent or at least a return to form as a Manhattan master of the universe. In the concluding episode of the first half, Don finds himself facing loss on multiple fronts: the end of his marriage, as he and Megan realize they have been leading separate lives; and the imminent loss of his job — especially with the death of Bert Cooper, who had reluctantly continued to support Don’s presence at the firm. But the episode ends on a high note, with Don’s job and his connections to the longest-standing members of the firm restored. In a final note of whimsy, Don has a vision of the now dead Bert doing a song-and-dance routine of “The Best Things in Life Are Free.” Is this a sign that Don is coming unhinged or that he has found his Virgil? Read the rest of this entry »


Story Lines, Not Party Lines

Story Lines, Not Party Lines

By Rod Dreher

Here’s a story for you. For years I devoted much of my journalism—op-eds, blogs, even a book about cultural politics—to lamenting the rootlessness of American life and prescribing solutions for it from within the conservative intellectual tradition. Yet I never quite found the wherewithal to live as I preached. It’s as if I didn’t find my own arguments convincing.

Then, from my home in faraway Philadelphia, I watched my sister Ruthie die slowly from cancer, cared for by family and community in our south Louisiana hometown. The doctrines and ideals I professed as true unexpectedly took concrete form in the heartbreaking story unfolding there.

When we arrived from Philadelphia for the funeral, my wife and I were overwhelmed by what we saw. At the little Methodist church where my family has been baptized, married, and given funeral rites for generations, over a thousand townspeople stood outside in the heat and amid mosquitoes to pass by Ruthie’s body and pay their respects. Many of them were my schoolteacher sister’s friends, colleagues, and former students. Nearly all had, in some way, helped support Ruthie and her family throughout her 19-month ordeal.

In that church, on that night, I had an epiphany. This is what community means. This is the way my sister lived: rooted in and faithful to the community that nurtured her, and that she in turn helped to nurture.

My wife and I experienced a conversion. Standing under a live oak tree in front of the church, we grasped that what the people in St. Francisville, Louisiana, had, we needed. The poetry of Ruthie’s passion and the drama of the characters that played their parts did for my wife and me what syllogisms and abstractions could not—change our hearts and, in turn, our lives. Days later, we went back to Philadelphia, told our friends goodbye, and soon thereafter moved to my Louisiana hometown.

What happened brings to mind Pope Benedict XVI’s observation that the most convincing arguments for Christianity aren’t propositional arguments at all but rather the art and the saints that the faith produces—that is, the stories Christians tell and live. Similarly, the ideals I held to be true did not speak to me with authority—at least, not authority sufficient to command me to pack up my U-Haul and drive—until I saw them lived out in my sister’s narrative.

Such is the power of story.

Read the rest of this entry »