The most unexpected and memorable part of the publicity barrage leading up to Sunday's long-awaited return of "Mad Men" has been show star's Jon Hamm much-quoted broadside against Kim Kardashian and the Reality TV crowd.
Hamm's comment that Kardashian is proof that being an "idiot is a valuable commodity" accurately, if indelicately, sums up the state of television at a time when it feels as if intelligent programs like AMC’s "Mad Men" are rare oases in a Reality TV desert wasteland.
But let's look at that oddly evolving landscape through "Mad Men" martini goggles: If Don Draper were a young media hotshot today, he'd just as likely be a reality show producer as an ad man. Jon Hamm may not like Kim Kardashian, but Don Draper would have loved her – or at least understood her value as a commodity.
Draper's mid-1960s world is one where image creation equals self-made reality and worth. He's a square-jawed, seemingly straight-talking salesman for an All-American life – one, that even if it ever existed, is crumbling all around him amid social and personal upheaval. But like today's reality show makers, Draper is expert at passing off shallow surface images as idealized authenticity – whether he’s hawking the Kodak Carousel of unreliable happy memories or selling himself on the phony life he’s constructed out of whole gray flannel cloth.
During last season's brilliant run – which began with a reporter asking “Who is Don Draper?” – we saw his world as a slick, lady-killing executive finally violently collide with his secret life as hardscrabble troubled former farm boy Dick Whitman, leading to a stunning, tearful breakdown.
But just when we thought that Draper/Whitman was starting to confront reality, Don dumped his beautiful, brainy shrink girlfriend, a woman who probably loved him for what he is – and, more importantly, was ready to help him journey beyond the unexamined life. He impulsively proposed to Megan, a secretary he barely knows – a pretty young cipher ready for a role on the 1960s Housewives of Scarsdale.
Their relationship would seem to loom large in Sunday's two-hour Season 5 premiere. It's a testament to “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner's gripping show that we're still entranced by Draper's life (or lives) after an absence of 17 months – long enough for seven Kim Kardashian 72-day marriages. As we wait to see whether Don and Megan will make it that long, check out a "Mad Men" preview below:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, milt-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.