From the very first season, Mad Men had its characters, most notably the dashing Don Draper, cheating with pretty much everything that moved. Despite having what appeared to be a picture-perfect family at home, a doting, although messed up (being complicated is bad, you guys) wife and an income that was to die for considering that time in history, the man couldn’t keep it in his pants, as they say. And when you look like Don Draper, it’s not as though you’re out trying to get laid; the ladies just throw themselves at you. But Don wasn’t the only one fornicating on the side of his marriage.
Roger Sterling, Layne Price, Sal Romano, and most recently in the last few seasons, Pete Campbell, have all had their dalliances with ladies that were not their wives. Call it the trick photography of Hollywood, or maybe just the simple fact that everything seems far more acceptable in perfectly fitted suits, but doesn’t cheating in the world of Mad Men look rather glamorous? Isn’t there something sort of lovely about sipping martinis during a long lunch then gallivanting off to The Plaza for some mid-afternoon delight? Or is this the view of a misguided woman who thinks Don Draper can do no wrong, and has yet to feel the infinite pangs of being betrayed so severely?
Truth be told, we like our characters in movies and on TV a little bit on the bad side. Even Jessica Paré, who plays Megan Draper, admitted that the audience loves to see Don stumble and fall into his bad habits again and again. As she told the New York Post, “There’s something so darkly satisfying about that, when Don’s acting that way.” And so for many seasons, it was something we expected to see episode after episode.
But then what was once charming in that Hollywood way became a reality when Campbell’s flavor of the moment was beaten by her husband and she came running to his home for help, all of a sudden cheating no longer had the same glitzy appeal. It was disgusting, deceitful and behavior in which no reputable person would want to engage. Or at least that’s how it seemed until the camera panned to Don in bed with his neighbor yet again. Immediately, your opinion on the matter is forced to question what you thought on the matter just seconds before.
As a woman who has yet to marry, I find some sort of decadent thrill in the idea of cheating, but that’s just the idea of it. In reality, I imagine that if my husband were cheating, or I hurt him because of my own infidelity, it would be less fantastic. It would more likely mirror a messy Pete Campbell situation, than that of Don Draper who manages to get away with everything he wants, and somehow makes even his biggest mistakes seem pretty.
Cheating is nothing new. Cheating is the lowest of the low when it comes to the destruction of marriage vows, but still, doesn’t Mad Men somehow make these horrible actions appear glamorous? Or at the very least OK? Are perfectly fitted suits to blame for everything bad in the world looking stellar and shrouded in sequins? Maybe. But this isn’t 1960-something, and you’re sure as hell not Don Draper. Don is a fictional character on a TV show, and fictional characters don’t feel remorse, guilt and they certainly don’t bleed — that’s the curse of being human.