Planet Earth is Blue

 Posted by on May 30, 2013 at 12:08 pm  Mad Men, Season 2, Season 6
May 302013

Guest post by Basketcase Frank Bullitt

Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 11.32.48 PMIn The Jet Set, Viscount Monteforte d’Alsace (Willy) asks Don Draper if he is an Astronaut. Five years later, PFC Dinkins asks Don the same question at a bar in Hawaii. This is an odd but understandable coincidence, given Don’s looks and demeanor. As examined in Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, the Astronaut is an American paragon of masculinity — and a good fit for Don Draper. 

The Astronauts of the late 1950’s and 60’s represented the American ideal: all were WASP’s, current or former military men, college educated, handsome, and at the very top of their very dangerous profession. The press portrayed them as fearless and driven by patriotism, not the almighty dollar. Some were motivated by expanding human knowledge and scientific curiosity; some just viewed space exploration as another step in their careers. All were highly competitive and would do anything to be the first (man in space, or the ultimate goal, man on the moon). These men exuded a confidence that made grown men and women weak in the knees. People could feel their presence.

The press protected their reputation, and there was an unwritten agreement that all would hide any of their faults. Astronaut wives were portrayed as happy homemakers, in total support and subordination to their husbands’ careers. None of them would consider divorce because they feared not getting a mission from NASA. Most of the Astronauts and their wives maintained these facades — while in reality, many of the Astronauts ignored their families, had girlfriends, and were disconnected from their families while active in NASA.

The answer to Willy and Pvt. Dinkin’s question is a qualified “Yes”. Don is technically not an Astronaut — but he is just like them. Don’s life, his family, and his identity are very similar to the “real” lives of the Astronauts. His needs always come first. He doesn’t know how to connect with his children, and he would prefer his wife not have a career so she can stay at home to care for his needs (don’t be fooled: Megan’s role at SCDP was “work wife”).

Despite the truth of the Astronauts’ lives, I still hold them in high regard and admire their accomplishments. The sacrifices and hardships these families faced were real, as was the courage and magnificence of the Astronauts themselves.

On a very literal level, Don is an Astronaut at SCDP. (Not the first, however. Ida Blankenship beat him to it.) He feels completely disconnected from the world around him, floating in his tin can, watching everyone else live their lives. People notice:

We’re all rooting for you from the sidelines. Hoping that you will decide whatever you think is right for OUR lives. – Joan, ‘For Immediate Release’


First Spacewalk, Ed White, June 1965 (taken by Commander McDevitt). NASA.

I hope that Don will be able to step back, find his place in the universe, and truly appreciate the beauty of our world. In our time, he might get there just by watching this video, from Commander Chris Hadfield, who returned to earth yesterday after five months on the International Space Station.

There is beauty in isolation. Still, after aggressive social media marketing and buying over 8 million YouTube views, the Commander knows what Don Draper doesn’t: that beauty means more when it’s shared.


  36 Responses to “Planet Earth is Blue”

  1. It would be interesting to collect the references to astronauts from Mad Men. There’s Bert’s touching eulogy for Ida Blankenship. There’s the Right Guard ad campaign in Season 1, and of course there’s “This device isn’t a space ship, it’s a time machine.”And from Tomorrowland, “I don’t want to ride an elephant, I want to fly a jet!”

    • George Taylor, the jaded astronaut/human protagonist of the Planet of the Apes.

      North American Aviation was the primary contractor for the Apollo Command and Service Modules.

    • I love astronauts! — Frank Gleason

    • Ken’s sci-fi stories. The color picture of Earth from space was a talking point some time back. The final baked beans image by Megan of a family living on the Moon. Hilton wanted the Moon.

      • Wow, I had no idea there had been so many astronaut/space references. I haven’t been paying enough attention, apparently!

    • Hilton Hotel on the moon, too.

  2. Roger’s disdain for John Glenn’s ticker-tape parade In Flight 1(Season 2). “It’s not like anyone was shooting at him.”

    • OK, the proper full quote courtesy of Basket of Kisses’ superb resource library!

      Roger Sterling (about John Glenn): It’s incredible what passes for heroism these days. I’d like ticker tape for pulling out of my driveway and going around the block three times. It’s not like people were shooting at him.
      Don Draper: I think he’s a winner. Square jaw, false modesty, it’s like he just took off his letterman jacket.

  3. Jon Hamm played “Young Pilot #2” in ‘Space Cowboys’ … kind of an astronaut.

  4. Frank,

    Meet John Glenn: Marine, decorated combat veteran with service in WWII and Korea, US Senator married to his high school sweetheart since 1943.

    I do not know which astronaut Don is like – but surely not Senator Glenn.


    • In the filmed version of The Right Stuff, weren’t there two chippy’s who made it their plan to boink all of the Mercury 7, and most likely succeeded? ( four down, three to go.) Including the hero Glenn?
      I’d say Fuckin’ A, bubba.

      • “Chippy” – that’s a good old-time term. I’ve only heard my father-in-law say that (born 1933). Rock stars have groupies. Jim Bouton referred to Baseball Annies in Ball Four. He said one, who lived in Chicago, went after ballplayers in both leagues.

    • You are correct – John Glenn is an American hero in space and at home. Major/Senator Glenn was also unlike any of the other astronauts (with the possible exception of Scott Carpenter). As Tilden mentions, the Mercury Astronauts had a Q rating in the early 60’s equivalent to Lebron James, Derrick Jeter and Tom Brady today. Most of the Original Seven had private lives in contra-distinction to the image portrayed by Life Magazine. These guys were like Jimmy Johnson’s Dallas Cowboys on a road trip. Many women looked at bedding one of the astronauts as the ultimate notch in their belt. Few of them could resist (Glenn being the only one).

      • Not accusing, but how do we know the young Sen. Glenn resisted?

        • We don’t know for sure but its a safe bet he did not stray. What is clear is that Glenn did not fit in with the other astronauts. He didn’t drink, chase women and race cars in his off time. He is a devout Christian and his bible-toting rubbed the others the wrong way – while the others were also portrayed as devout Christians, the reality was they believed they were “god” in the cockpit of a jet or a space capsule. This mastery of the universe often led to the own belief that the society’s rules did not apply to them. Tom Wolfe wrote that the only egos bigger than a test pilot/astronaut were those of heart surgeons, who held life or death in their hands. Paging Dr. Rosen.

  5. I have known a fair number of Navy pilots, test pilots, and I don’t think Don Draper has the physical courage displayed by any them. The pilots prayer? Oh god, I don’t mind dying, but please don’t let me f&#* up.

    • Don Draper is an astronaut only to the extent that his journey is a solo one and the image vs. the reality of his personal/family life is 180 degrees from the superficial perception the rest of the world has of him. Don does not have the courage, strength or discipline of the real astronauts only the look and projected confidence lisakaz mentions. To be fair, the beatings, both physical and verbal, he took as a child, would make cowards of us all (either that or a serial killer/rapist, and I am not trying to be funny).

      • You are exactally right, and frankly, in my estimation, Don has been an example of dogged ambition and almost mindless pursuit of a better life. I admire his courage in attempting to be something more than his background seemingly dictated. He will cut and run if things get bad, many examples of that, but to come from that background and be where he is now took some thought and action. So, as bad as he is as a husband and in some cases, as a person, when you consider his role models growing up, he is remarkable. And that is one of the things that keeps me watching this show. Look at Bob Benson, out of step, not fitting in, trying to get to the top. How hard this must be and how well has Don done this in 20 years.

  6. I hope that Don will be able to step back, find his place in the universe, and truly appreciate the beauty of our world.

    Ted basically said the same thing to Don. When they were in the plane together (Ted as a pilot is another reference to flying) commented that Don was a not appreciating “God’s majesty”and was instead reading a book (from his mistress.)

  7. Yes, on the surface, Don seems like an astronaut. He would fit nicely on the cover of LIFE with the Mercury or Apollo astronauts. Yet, he also knows it’s a facade, and his inherent insecurity about his true identity cannot be contained. In the S1 ep “Ladies Room”, he showed his disdain for Kinsey’s astronaut-themed Right Guard campaign…”Who is this man who flies around space and pees in his pants?”..”Bring it down to Earth” . On a primal level, Don fears the space program and the symbiotic relationship between the aerospace and military industries (S2, The Jet Set, the watching the slide show showing ICBM technology–right after that, Don bolted for Palm Springs)…we know that Dick Whitman did actually piss his pants in Korea before his fateful identity exchange. Forever inside the astronaut facade of Don Draper is Dick Whitman, who will always be that shy, scared, unloved farmboy. From barn to skyscraper…. as amazing as space travel.

    • Some astronauts found fame but others did not and had to deal with their demons. We assume that because someone is an astronaut they will find happiness in life.

      I have never blamed Dick Whitman for becoming Don Draper. It bought him a ticket home from Korea. I have never blamed him for conning Roger into hiring him. I am not going to blame Dick Whitman for his childhood. Don holds in contempt those who fit in; Pete and Roger especially. Don had contempt for Pete’s $5.00 haircut. He has held Roger in disdain for romp with the twins and many other things including firing Sal. I think that he feels that he is more clever than any of his copywriters. Don( Dick) is also arrogant. Sometimes I feel that Don uses sex for self stroking including Betty. This”farmboy” married Betty, Betty would have never married Dick Whitman. Don would have never been able to meet Rachel, Sylvia, Dr. Faye and others as Dick Whitman, maybe Suzanne or Bobbie Barrett would have been attracted to Dick Whitman. I am reminded of the episode when Lt. Don Draper is escorting the body of Dick Whitman home,after dropping the body off and avoiding uncle Max and Adam, Don finds himself being offered lunch in the diner by an attractive woman, that would have never happened to a lowly enlisted man like Dick Whitman. Mad Men is all about the images that are projected.When Dick became Don he became a status seeker; American Airlines was the route of the Astrojets, Mohawk was an airline who flew Convair 240’s to Albany. That would be a big jump in status.

      • I like what you’ve written here a lot – and I share your sympathy towards Dick becoming Don to escape Korea. The problem is that the idea that there are two of them – that Don and Dick are so different, when in reality it’s not black and white, and the two overlap. Do dualities ever make sense when we’re talking about personalities? It’s not just Dick the ‘weak’ uncultured farmboy and Don the ‘strong’ ‘astronaut’ – is it? Or maybe it is, and Don is hypocritical in condemning the perceived weakness in others, when he has those weaknesses himself and is just able to hide them more effectively. Or perhaps he thinks he can hide them, and has been a master of hiding them – but you can’t hide something forever without the cognitive cost of that burden. The irony is of course that it is all about the images that are projected – images on a screen, but if you look behind the screen there’s no substance to them. Perhaps Don realizes that Don is an image, a facade, and something he’s built up but can’t stand up behind and live as if he’s been a Don his whole life – because his history was as Dick, too. How do you reconcile duality, or realize there’s overlap, and that one is both weak and strong at all times?

        I keep thinking of that scene with Betty and Don and the desk when Don realizes Betty knows about his identity – and the look of fear in his eyes, and the camera focusing on his hand as he drops it (with the key to the drawer?) in it. Sadly I can’t find this online anymore, but for some reason with the shadow of death hanging over the series more and more, that moment of fragility seems far more foreboding lately. I hope the falling in the credits is just a metaphor.

      • Hence the “barn to skyscraper” line, the American Dream…one of the best of the many great lines of the show. Of course, no one would “blame” Dick for becoming Don, given his circumstances, and he remains one of the most interesting many-sided characters. Of course he disdains the silver-spooned entitlement of Roger and Pete; his upbringing was the polar opposite of theirs his ascent to being a partner was far riskier. Don/Dick is the perfect fit in a field for his talents, insights and uncanny ability to sometimes find depth and the gist of things that will appeal to people’s often subconscious desires–formed out of a life of living his own projected identities. Of course, the LIFE magazine astronauts were also real people, who understood that they were public icons, but also knew damn well the risks they were taking as test pilots, as well documented by Tom Wolfe, who, despite his wonderfully snarky writing, did finally appreciate their Right Stuff and the necessity for society to have ideals and icons, . Exploring, risk-taking, innovation…astronauts were the personification of the American Dream, and so is Don Draper.

      • Aside from the complications of having deserted, Don could have done everything as Dick Whitman. Who would have blocked him on discovering that he had a rural backround and was a private in the army?

  8. All season Pete has had a copy of Life Magazine on his coffee table in his apartment. I am pretty sure that it’s the May 19 1967 edition. The cover is a photo of Apollo Astronaut Wally Schirra. It was there this week in the conversation with Duck so it’s been there for a while.

  9. Every time I see the title of this blog entry I’m reminded of the song “Love Is Blue” which was the end song a couple episodes back.

    • When I viewed Commander Hadfield’s version of Bowie’s Space Oddity (link is in the post), the isolation of the lyrics and the visuals from the International Space Station evoked Don Draper’s journey through this world. Don Draper = Major Tom

      I have this haunting image of all of the people trying to be close to Don Draper (Betty, Megan, his kids, Anna, Adam and Peggy) singing “Can you hear me, Major Tom? Can you hear me Major Tom?”

      BTW – I wrote this post a couple of weeks back Major Hadfield returned. Over 15 million have now viewed the video.

  10. “Choices,” a Goldwater ’64 campaign film came up today on Metafilter

    Astronauts at the 6 minute mark + lots of stuff relevant to 1960s constructions of the American Dream and the anxieties that produced a President Nixon

    Plus, this is an example of the battle Stan was engaged in before he ended up at SCDP

  11. “This is an odd but understandable coincidence, given Don’s looks and demeanor.”

    Aside from the fact that anyone who’s met a lot of astronauts could tell you he’s *way* too tall to be an astronaut. 🙂

    • Most of the original astronauts (the original 7, the next 9 and the third group of 16) were all average to short in stature – avg. height was 5’9″ maybe 150 lbs. As you point out, they had to be that size to fit into the sardine cans of the Mercury and Gemini capsules. The tallest astronaut of the first three groups was Marine major C.C. Williams, who was exactly 6′ tall, the absolute limit for astronauts at that time. “Way” too tall was literally an 1/8th of an inch. Prior to his initial interview & medical exam, Major Williams spent the night jumping from his top bunk to compress his spine. He measured exactly 6 feet the next day and was accepted into the program.

      Major Williams was eventually assigned to be the Lunar Module pilot for Pete Conrad’s crew (which eventually became the Apollo 12 mission). Unfortunately, Major Williams died in a plane crash in 1967 and never flew in space. Pete Conrad, Apollo 12’s commander, decided to honor his fallen comrade. The Apollo 12 mission patch shows a Yankee Clipper ship, orbiting the moon. Four stars are visible, each representing Pete Conrad, commander; Dick Gordon, command module pilot; Al Bean, lunar module pilot (C.C.’s replacement) and C.C. Williams, the original LMP. The Clipper represented the crew also – they were the first and only all Navy crew to fly to the moon.

      Thank you for providing me an excuse to write about Major Williams, a Marine long since forgotten in history and whose service to our country should never be taken for granted.

    • Oh, I almost forgot – Jon Hamm is 6 feet even :-).

  12. Last night I noticed the side of a plane on the wall when Bob was approaching Jim standing at the window? Bothered me so much, kept rewinding.

  13. They weren’t quite all WASPs. One received the Host on the moon.

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