Stoicism as Seen in Mad Men
Stoicism, dating back to as early as 301 BC when Zeno of Citium was preaching it from his “painted porch”, is a school of thought which recognizes and condemns (destructive) emotions as results from errors in judgment. A stoic is one who openly displays no emotions, entertains a large amount of self- control, and prizes, above all, fortitude. Stoics persistently keep in mind what is and what is not within their control.
To a stoic, the outside world is a hostile and completely uncontrollable environment. Their own thoughts and beliefs, however, are entirely within their power. With this state of mind, they can more easily focus their energy on their thoughts and cope more wisely with the obstacles thrown at them. As ancient as stoicism is, American pop culture, to this day, still employs many of its fundamental tenets to movie plotlines, fictional television characters, song lyrics, etc. The Emmy Award winning television drama, Mad Men, intensely portrays stoic beliefs through its main character and quintessential stoic, Don Draper. Don Draper, an executive in the fictional 1960s advertising firm Sterling Cooper, conceals, as any stoic would, all of his emotions.
In such a high position in a freshly started firm in a business where competition is so cutthroat, the work pressure on Draper is unrelenting. Draper spends nights in his office and goes days without eating a proper meal. Draper’s wife, Betty, and two children are another workload placed upon his shoulders. Also, the massive secret Draper hides, which has the potential to destroy his life if the wrong people find out, does not take away any stress from his increasingly dynamic life. This amount of ferment would normally be enough to make the average person go insane.
Draper, on the other hand, remains firm as the outside world spirals around him. He situates himself in the eye of the hurricane. He realizes he cannot change what other people do or think; he can only change his thoughts and actions. This calmness and disregard of the outside world’s changeful disposition is what allows Draper to succeed in both his personal life and work life. As a result of his stoic actions, Draper’s secret never catches the light of day, and Draper rapidly moves to higher positions in the firm with greater bonus checks, eventually allowing him to found an independent firm.
The name “Don Draper” is actually false identity. Richard Whitman is Don Draper’s real name. During an accident Whitman causes, the real Don Draper was killed. Whitman then assumes his identity. This is a secret that Whitman never tells anyone fully.
Whitman always keeps a stone cold front, not letting out any emotion or weakness. A secret this large jeopardizes Whitman’s entire life. No matter who threatens to expose him or tries to pry information from him, Whitman stands his ground. When asked about “Don Draper”, coworker Harry Crane replied, “Draper? Who knows anything about that guy? No one’s ever lifted that rock. He could be Batman for all we know.
” This aspect of stoicism, the therapy of not displaying any emotions, allowed Whitman to keep his secret and, indirectly, save his own life. Stoics are immune to change, so is Don Draper. When Draper and his wife are going through a divorce, Draper maintains his cool and understands that his wife, a part of the outside world, is out of his control. He lets her and her new lover take the house he paid for with the children he raised and starts to channel his energy towards work. A divorce and change in residence would normally severely disrupt one’s schedule but for stoic Don Draper, it did next to nothing. Post-divorce, Draper shows up to work, woos clients, and earns even more respect from his colleagues.
As Draper watches the love lives of his coworkers tear them apart, he simply stands aside and utters the single phrase that most perfectly captures the ideals of stoicism, “Change is neither good or bad; it simply is. It can be greeted with terror or joy. A tantrum that says ‘I want it the way it was,’ or a dance that says ‘Look, something new.'” Don Draper is a self-built success. Through flashbacks in the show we learn that Draper grew up in extreme poverty with no resources or means for him rise to power.
Draper is born to a 22-year-old prostitute in Illinois, who died giving birth to him. Draper is then raised by his biological father and abusive stepmother. Stoicism, a lifestyle Draper never strayed from, was the key to his success. With his stoicism, Draper was able to trudge through all the darkness in his life. Pete Campbell, an employee at Sterling Cooper, stagnantly works under Don Draper for years.
The reason Campbell fails to succeed in his career path despite his Ivy League education and powerful family backing is that Campbell, unlike Draper, is not at all a stoic. Campbell lets outside distractions such as his feelings for coworker Peggy lead him astray. His focus is on matters far from his own thoughts and self-control. As portrayed in Mad Men, the difference between success and failure, between Draper and Campbell, is stoicism. Mad Men’s Don Draper is a fictional character who is clearly shaped by stoic doctrines. Stoicism is not only a school of thought but a way of life lived out in full by Draper.
Draper goes through life exercising a large amount of self-control over his own thoughts and actions. As a result, he is more able to aptly manage daily obstacles. Despite having suffered a prodigious amount of criticism for being a womanizer, self-centered businessman, and identity thief, Don Draper’s success is inevitable. Without Draper, Sterling Cooper would not even be on its feet. Draper is a character who shows that no matter how complex and messy one’s personal life may be, one can still prevail through the darkness to find the light.
In Draper’s case, the dark is his gloomy childhood and dangerous secrets, and the light is his expertise in creating advertisements. As ancient as stoicism is, it is still extremely prevalent in pop culture today. Stoicism has clearly influenced many television shows, pop songs, films, etc. and will continue to do so as long as successfulness, strength, and fortitude are laudable qualities.