Friday, August 6, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

‘Mad’ Washingtonians

Like many creative types working in media, I see myself as a kindred soul to Don Draper, the brilliant, philandering, cigarette-smoking anti-hero of AMC’s hit drama, “Mad Men,” a TV series following the comings and goings at a New York advertising agency.

Viewers familiar with the show might be asking themselves, ‘Why?’ since, strictly speaking, Don Draper is not what anyone would call a ‘good guy.’

Maybe the answer lies mostly in the world Don Draper inhabits, which I believe provides an intriguing counterpoint to our own far less confident, but just as uncertain era.

In the 1960s, much of that uncertainty was in the social sphere. African-Americans, women and the working poor all clamored for a more equal and just society. The sexual revolution was beginning to take hold, transforming popular culture, politics and the American family.

In our own era, our trials and tribulations are, of course, mostly economic. However, just as in the 1960s, our decade has already been one of tremendous upheaval, a cataclysm that has already transformed industries, small companies and, indeed, thousands upon thousands of lives.

And with the continuing economic gloom, including Friday’s jobs report which showed slower than expected private sector employment growth across the U.S., the future remains just as scary a place as it was for those living through the social and political chaos of the 1960s.

In this context, here’s what I really like about the character of Don Draper: instead of being afraid of the future, Don sees the opportunities that seem to come with changing times – and that with hard work, determination and plenty of good ideas, one’s personal economic recovery could be only a week, month or another fiscal quarter away.

Until then, we have the world of Mad Men, inhabited by men and women careening towards a fate they can only hint at – while we, stuck in an uncertain economic reality, look for clues to our own.