The Don Draper-William S. Burroughs Connection



Mad Men is not coming back till July 25, but there's no reason we can't start talking about it now. So let's discuss this latest theory: Don Draper is actually a St. Louisan.

We know his body (well, Jon Hamm, anyway) is from here. But a blog post from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer website last week argues that his soul comes from St. Louis as well. Nancy Mattoon delves into some heretofore unexplored links between the mad man and St. Louis-born writer William S. Burroughs whose best-known book is Naked Lunch. (Yeah, he got out of here as soon as he could, but he still has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame, okay?)

William S. Burroughs and Don Draper: They're one, but they're not the same. - IMAGES VIA
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  • William S. Burroughs and Don Draper: They're one, but they're not the same.
Actually, Mattoon's argument is more that Burroughs and Draper are a study in contrasts, two sides of the same coin, as it were. So here goes:

Burroughs and Draper were rough contemporaries, although Burroughs was older and also real.

Burroughs' background -- trust fund, boarding school, Harvard -- was everything Draper, actually the son of a prostitute, pretends to have.

Both make their living from words. But Burroughs' work challenges the American Dream while Draper's invents it.

Both were "created" by tragedy. Draper, of course, stole the identity of the real Don Draper, killed in an accident in Korea. Burroughs claimed his accidental murder of his wife Joan during a drunken game of William Tell (only with a shot glass instead of an apple) was the catalyst that turned him into a writer.

Mattoon concludes, rather floridly:

Insiders wanting out, outsiders wanting in. Flamboyantly embracing the outlaw life, desperately seeking status. Life on the junk, life selling junk. Creating a nightmarish truth, concocting a glamorous lie. Writing to save your soul, selling your soul to write. Spectacularly surrendering to the siren song of smack, self-medicating with scotch and soda to maintain the social surface. The psychotic outlaw-addict and the man in the gray flannel suit. Both hell bent on that great American pastime: reinvention. But the artistry of the addict betrays the poetry in his soul. And the Marlboro Man has a cancer at his core. Neither Burroughs/Lee nor Don Draper can escape the one thing they're trying to outrun: themselves.

There you go. As if Mad Men is not literary enough. There is the germ of an American Studies Ph.D. dissertation right there.