Hang onto your scotch tumbler, Don Draper – you are about to get upstaged by the greatest stuffed shirt in American lit.
Let me explain. “Mad Men” is like crack cocaine to me. Every Sunday I plonk down in front of the telly, roll down my knee-highs, grab a pig foot and a jar of pickles, and tuck into a new episode. I am not exactly sure why. Nothing much happens, and most of the characters walk around looking as if they just got bad news from the doctor. Peggy is turgid and prim, Betty a withholding bitch. Joan has lost her joie de vivre. Even Megan and jolly old Roger are in a funk. The entire dramatis personae exist in a David Lynchian stupor. And yet I am totally gripped.
These blank and tedium-drenched characters pale in comparison to the Lord King Bore himself, Don Draper. Mr. Draper is stunningly morose, bad-tempered, and humor-impaired. He is a monosyllabic, unsmiling, ungiving dude with a nasty drinking problem. A real barrel of laughs. Imagine being stuck next to him at a dinner party.
Despite his lack of pizzazz, all eyes are on Don. Why? Because he is classically handsome. He is the man in the gray flannel suit, thus giving him carte blanche to be a black hole. Think about it: Would you worship Don Draper if he resembled, say, Buddy Hackett? No. You would accost him and say, “Listen buddy or Buddy, you are simply not handsome enough to be this dreary.”
Dapper plus grumpy equals compelling.
Schlumpy plus grumpy equals you better have some good jokes.
Which brings us to “The Great Gatsby.”
Jay Gatsby is the primordial muck from which all subsequent Drapers emerged. He is such a remote enigma that he makes our Don look like Rip Taylor. (I make no apologies for my habit of referencing old-school show-biz personalities. I am committed to keeping their names in the national conversation.)
So what, other than good looks, are the key components of the Gatsby/Draper paradigm?
So there it is. Sad but true, the sartorial, good-looking grumps shall inherit the Earth. I am not particularly happy about this situation. Having dedicated my life to being as folksy, bubbly and accessible as possible, I have a strong resentment for the adoration lavished on those attractive grumps. I take comfort from the fact they usually come to a horrible end. Watch out Don Draper. Better sleep with one eye open.