Thursday, August 5, 2010

Thanks. I Needed That

It’s been a week since the prostitute slapped Don Draper across the face, but I’m still in wonderment. It’s not the slapping that’s got me interested but people’s opinions about why a man like Draper needs someone from the weaker sex, as women were thought of back then, to abuse his handsome face.

Sex workers, like Xaviera Hollander
a k a The Happy Hooker,
on right at the Museum of Sex in Manhattan,
have been hired by many a man in need of pain.

It’s only TV, I understand, and “Mad Men” is a period piece, to boot. What could possibly be inferred from scenes depicting a good-looking man decades back in time ordering, not a martini, but a rather impatient sex worker to just do it, for god’s sake. Slap me, he orders. Again. And again.

Draper didn’t look good in the season premier. Way before the slapping ensued, the man looked sallow, wiped out, bedraggled. Even his attire seemed slightly less fastidious. I guessed that it had been an exhausting hiatus between seasons. Perhaps he’d made a couple of movies instead of hanging at a pool. Draper didn’t project the ruddy glow I admired when we recently watched Season 3 on DVD.

The slapping incident provoked a lot of discussion in my household, where two 6-foot, 5-inch men (Jim, the father and his 42-year-old son) told me why they thought men, especially men who are important bosses, want dominatrices to slap them. As far as I know, they are not speaking from personal experience but that doesn’t stop them from proffering conjecture. And though I haven’t slapped any man myself, it hasn’t stopped me from countering their conjecture with some of my own.

According to Jim, the greater your altitude on the corporate ladder, the greater your need to be slapped into submission. A man bosses people and wants some bossing in return. Thus, the necessity of the dominatrix. It’s simple.

Maybe, but that’s not what’s happening to Don Draper.

Draper hates himself. Some of us, in fact, have a love/hate thing going with Draper as well.

He’s responsible for his brother’s death. He cheated on his wife so often it got boring, even to him. He’s awfully mean to wonderful Peggy, the one person with real talent at the firm. He just stole a lot of customers from his former employer. He sulks for reporters. And he has hissy fits with important clients. Of course he needs a good slap.

Frankly, he probably didn’t need to pay for it. There are plenty of people at his new company who would relish the opportunity.

Here’s where I differ with the CEO-needs-subjugation theory. Draper is not likely to relinquish control. The most he’ll do, probably, is get naked, flop over onto his back and let the goddess he pays handsomely for take the power position.

“Do it,” shouts the commander. And she does it. Whap. “Again,” he demands. Whap again. She looks disgusted. Well, there’s physical pain and emotional pain. He’s so bad he requires both kinds.


Gosh. That looks like it hurts.

Good, thinks Draper. This is all good. There’s enough pain generated here tonight for another round or two of ethically questionable shenanigans. Rest assured, folks. There will be a Season Four.

We humans do engage in all sorts of self-inflicted pain. In Draper’s case, he pays for it and he asks a woman — a gender of lesser value to him — to hit him. He gets the full gamut of abuse, from the slap to the humiliation.

Some people cut themselves, eat to excess or put themselves in harm’s way with a mate who’s abusive. There are all kinds of ways we can hurt ourselves. Eating a few too many Big Macs is harmful. But the kind of hurt Draper craves, requiring a witness and a violent act, pulls the self-loathing from some dark well in the psyche to the light of day. The sting is akin to comfort. It puts Draper in touch with his feelings of guilt. It’s the closest he gets to cause and effect.

When, in all the affairs we’ve seen him engage in, did he evidence the slightest twitch of discomfort? Never.

Draper takes his medicine and gets on with it. It feels like confession — a brief encounter with an arbiter and then you’re off to live your life in much the same ways you did before. A slap is recompense. The permanent loss of something valuable, like your family or your competency, is more cathartic. But Draper is not ready to change.

Advice to Draper: Get a facial. That face workout seems to be turning your skin to leather.


  1. Still, it's such a cliche -- the man who is powerful in society paying to be dominated and humiliated -- there must be some truth to it. Wonder if it also holds true for men who are in powerful positions that require unending, strenuous physical labor. Know any boss lumberjacks? (And some men find a way to punish themselves, e.g, General Snake-Eater McChrystal.) And yeah I noticed how generally terrible Don looks this season. Figured it was deliberate, to reinforce the fact that he has lost a lot of his carefully- constructed-facade life.


  2. Thank you for this great comment. There probably is truth to the cliche of the powerful CEO needing humiliation and domination. But Don gave the order to be slapped. He still maintained control. But I've missed two episodes because of traveling and by now he may be tied up to some bedpost awaiting who knows what.


  3. My interpretation is that he has numbed himself so thoroughly -- both emotionally and alcoholically -- that he needs pain to feel anything, and he knows that what's missing in his life is being able to feel. Maybe I'm overinterpreting...?