Guest post by Basketcase Frank Bullitt
In 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’
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 8 million YouTube views, the Commander knows what Don Draper doesn’t: that beauty means more when it’s shared.