Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Kerouac’s On the Road---what fortuitous timing for those of us caught up in Don Draper’s mad world.
Several weeks ago we met Don in 1960, three years after he would have read Gilbert Millstein’s now-famous, glowing book review in the New York Times:
“The ‘Beat Generation’ was born disillusioned; it takes for granted the imminence of war, the barrenness of politics and the hostility of the rest of society. It is not even impressed by material well-being (as distinguished from materialism). It does not know what refuge it is seeking, but it is seeking.”
This is such a clearly articulated understanding of the new postWar consciousness. What would Don have thought of such a pronouncement when it stared him in the face in black and white?
Fans of Mad Men, among whom I don’t count myself, would say that the series is in fact the answer to that question—-and that at the root of the answer is fear. Don and his ilk are afraid that there is a new energy afoot that threatens their worldview, seen in the older ad guys' disgust that Kennedy doesn't wear a hat and Betty's "I HATE Kennedy" line. (They may also be afraid that they are missing out on something.) It’s a good thought—-I just don’t feel that the narrative is strong enough to play that idea out.
Tonight’s episode is “The Hobo’s Code.” Hobo is not a word of our time, but I just saw it in John Leland’s new appreciation called Why Kerouac Matters in reference to Neal Cassady: “Raised on Denver’s ski row, the son of a hobo, able to quote Schopenhauer and steal cars, Cassady was a fantasy they couldn’t act out themselves.”
So tonight the Beats are going to further rub up against Don’s life through his mistress Midge. Maybe Draper will get to shed the straightjacket of his perfect life to be with “the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live . . . .and burn, burn, burn.”
Isn’t it pretty to think so?
Pop over to newcritics tonight at 10:00 pm ET to join in the happening.