Ballad of a Mad Man

nothing’s happening and you don’t know what it is, do you, mr. draper.

Don Draper: tune out, turn off, drop in. Photograph: AMC.

“When did music become so important?” — Don Draper

One of the pleasures of the fifth season of Mad Men is how, thus far, nothing much is happening on the show. Yet this nothing—a kind of beautiful stasis that you know cannot last—is happening within a larger swirl of social transformation that was the mid-1960s. psychedelic LSD trips, changing family norms, ethnic and racial barriers being crossed, Weight Watchers as a proto-feminist space, rock music as more than just entertainment. It’s all happening. And yet, Don Draper remains almost motionless, aimless, lost in his very stability at the center of it all. As if the center of success was suddenly on the margins and, for a moment, the margins were at the center.

It’s a marvelous evocation of a certain kind of experience of historical change. As the very ground beneath Donald Draper starts to shift—tectonically, invisibly—he does not fall. It’s just that suddenly, the world starts to look and feel differently all around him. What mattered matters no more and new ways of being suddenly seem possible.

We shall see how he responds since, after all, tomorrow never knows.

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