With “Man Men” coming back to air for Season 3 this Sunday, I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the parallels between the AMC series’s characters and those in Ayn Rand’s fiction. The eccentric Bertram Cooper, after all, spends most of his time on screen handing out copies of Atlas Shrugged to his employees.
Watch out for spoilers below, by the way:
Pete Campbell and Peter Keating
I started watching “Mad Men” online this last spring, and after a recent re-read of The Fountainhead, the similarities jumped right out. Both men excel at using their youthful good looks and charm and/or personal connections to bring work to their respective firms (Campbell and the Clearasil account, for example, or Keating and… well… all of his commissions). Campbell even tries to blackmail Don Draper about his false identity, in a misguided attempt to ascend to Creative Director himself. Fortunately, Bertram Cooper doesn’t give a damn, and Campbell’s efforts are less successful than Keating’s foray into blackmail, in which he induces a stroke in Lucius Heyer, and so makes partner.
Moving on to his personal life—Campbell makes a Keating-like choice when he marries the wealthy, well-connected Trudy (and then admits to Peggy Olsen that he chose “the wrong girl”); Keating had the same motives and regrets when he chose Dominique Francon over Catherine Halsey. Though, to her credit, Peggy seems to be a much stronger character that Katie… then again, she doesn’t have an Ellsworth Toohey breathing over her shoulder day in and day out. Cue shudder.
Don Draper and Hank Rearden
I’ve heard a lot of discussion about this recently, and I’m inclined to agree that the comparison is apt—even his fellow AMC characters (Cooper, at least) agree.
Laconic and extremely good-looking, Draper, like Rearden, has what society would consider the ideal life and the perfect wife—two things he’s rather indifferent to. But both are self-made businessmen with ignominous origins and incredible professional integrity. Like Rearden, Draper painfully maintains the pretense of a good husband and provider, upholding the system and age of conformity he lives in—even when he gets no return in happiness or enjoyment from it.
Of course, what does seem to provide him some pleasure are his sundry extramarital affairs with (shocker) beautiful, driven, successful women. Most notable is probably Rachel Menken, the head of a major Jewish department store, who insists on the same respect as any of Sterling Cooper’s clients even if she is a woman. Compare with Rearden and Dagny Taggart’s affair, Dagny being “the beautiful woman who runs a transcontinental railroad,” demanding a similar respect in her line of work, also dominated by men.
Peggy Olsen and Eddie Willers
If Don Draper is Hank Rearden, then his former secretary Peggy would no doubt match up fairly well with Rearden’s omnicompetent secretary Gwen Ives. Peggy, however, does not have a static career—
Somewhat naïve but unfailingly hard-working, Peggy reminds me more of one of my favorite characters in Atlas Shrugged: Eddie Willers, Dagny Taggart’s devoted assistant. Like Eddie admires Dagny, Peggy clearly has very high regard for Draper. And while their relationship is (like Eddie and Dagny’s) strictly platonic, Draper, notoriously secretive, seems to trust her more than anyone else in his office. After all, Peggy was the one Don Draper called to bail him out of jail while he was being held on drunk driving charges. Not that I think Dagny Taggart would drive drunk or anything…
In any case, I’m very much looking forward to the return of the series this weekend—no less because it looks to be, as Folly’s House of Mirth very wittily commented, something along the lines of Ayn Rand fanfiction.