Mad Men and Ayn Rand parallels

13 Aug

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.


10 Responses to “Mad Men and Ayn Rand parallels”

  1. Christy October 5, 2009 at 4:12 pm #

    I’ve bookmarked this page so I can read it once I’m caught up with the series and avoid spoilers. Thank you for the nice words and the link to “Folly’s House of Mirth.”

  2. Amber February 3, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    This was an interesting read because I had the same theory when I started to watch Mad Men. I easily saw Pete as Peter Keating, but who wouldn’t? 😛 And Don is definitely Hank Rearden.

    Good observations on the rest of the characters too!

  3. Rick September 19, 2010 at 4:09 pm #

    After watching season 1, it became clear to me that the character of Peter Campbell is modeled after Peter Keating. Draper is too flawed to be the ideal Galt, but definitely fits the Hank Rearden character very well, productive, rational, successful. I couldn’t figure out who Peggy was though. Thank you for enlightening me, yes, it has to be Eddie Willers!

  4. John March 18, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    It just hit me after I watch an episode that Pete Campbell was Peter Keating. I googled Pete Cambell Peter Keating mad men and I found your blog .. thanks for your thoughts.

    • Gem March 16, 2012 at 6:20 am #

      I too googled peter keating/pete campbell and was led to your blog. Am currently watching season 3 of Mad Men (am catching up via box sets etc), and have only read The Fountainhead so far, so the Peter comparisons are all that I’ve noted, but I’m looking forward to reading Atlas Shrugged and studying the other comparisons that you’ve mentioned, Nice blog, will drop by again 🙂

  5. Stephanie July 6, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    Keating and Campbell – I recently got hooked on Mad Men and am currently finishing up The Fountainhead for the first time. Each time Keating appears, I couldn’t help but think of Peter Campbell each and every time. I’m so glad to know others recognize the similarities in these two characters. And I had forgotten about Cooper’s references throughout to Ayn Rand which makes it all make so much more sense now. A quick google search brought me here to your blog and I’m glad that it did. I look forward to exploring other similarities as I continue my exploration of Ayn Rand’s work. Thank you!!


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