ArticlePDF Available


Don Draper's character on Mad Men appears to be Ayn Rand's heroic being sprung to life. Far from a pure celebration of Rand's objectivism, however, Mad Men shows the cost of embracing selfishness as a virtue. The show demonstrates the inherent tension between unfettered freedom and social relationships.
This article was downloaded by: [University of Nebraska Kearney], [Christie Maloyed]
On: 01 May 2014, At: 10:36
Publisher: Routledge
Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41
Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
Journal of Popular Film and Television
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:
Mad Men and the Virtue of Selfishness
Christie L. Maloyeda
a University of Nebraska Kearney
Published online: 29 Apr 2014.
To cite this article: Christie L. Maloyed (2014) Mad Men and the Virtue of Selfishness, Journal of Popular Film and Television, 42:1, 16-24,
DOI: 10.1080/01956051.2013.787041
To link to this article:
Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the “Content”) contained in the
publications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make no representations or
warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinions and
views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by
Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should be independently verified with primary
sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs,
expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with,
in relation to or arising out of the use of the Content.
This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction,
redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly
forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at
lead character of Mad
Men, is the epitome
of the self-made man.
From his roots as a bastard child forced
to live in a poor and abusive home on
a Midwest farm, he successfully rein-
vented himself into the creative director
at a top New York advertising agency,
Sterling Cooper. As the show’s antihero,
Draper is driven exclusively by his own
interests and values, but his personal life
is in a state of constant flux as he strug-
gles with his identity, family, and work.
Draper’s unbridled pursuit of self-
interest is deeply rooted in the libertar-
ian philosophy of Ayn Rand. What may
have once been considered a minority
group within the American conserva-
tive tradition, the libertarian movement
has received increased attention in re-
cent election years. From its early in-
volvement in the Tea Party in 2008 to
the election bids of father and son Ron
and Rand Paul, the libertarian message
of reducing government spending and
increasing protections for individual
liberty has proven appealing during the
most recent economic recession (Fish-
man). Libertarianism often traces its
intellectual roots back to Thomas Jeffer-
son and the Anti-Federalists, but within
the past several decades, the American
novelist and political thinker Ayn Rand
has become the patron saint of libertari-
anism, with the sales of her books tri-
pling since the early 1990s (Babek and
Rand is known as the moral apologist
of self-interest, arguing that the pursuit
of one’s own happiness is the highest
virtue. Her novel, Atlas Shrugged, has
been promoted as mandatory reading
by conservative political pundits such
as Glenn Beck and has received signifi-
cant financial support from groups such
as BB&T Banking Corporation, which
has donated millions to American uni-
versities to make Rand’s works required
readings (Lubove and Staley). Perhaps
it is of little surprise that her ideas
have also permeated American popular
culture from a film adaptation of her
novel Atlas Shrugged to a fitness com-
and the Virtue of Selfishness
Abstract: Don Draper’s character on Mad Men appears to
be Ayn Rand’s heroic being sprung to life. Far from a pure
celebration of Rand’s objectivism, however, Mad Men shows
the cost of embracing selfishness as a virtue. The show
demonstrates the inherent tension between unfettered freedom
and social relationships.
Keywords: Don Draper, libertarianism, Mad Men, objectivism,
Ayn Rand
Mad Men
Copyright © 2014 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
DOI: 10.1080/01956051.2013.787041
Downloaded by [University of Nebraska Kearney], [Christie Maloyed] at 10:36 01 May 2014
Mad Men (AMC) Season 4
(2010). Shown: Jon Hamm (as
Don Draper). Photo courtesy of
AMC/Photofest. (Color figure
available online.)
Downloaded by [University of Nebraska Kearney], [Christie Maloyed] at 10:36 01 May 2014
18 JPF&T—JournalofPopularFilmandTelevision
pany that produces yoga gear that bears
Rand’s brand. Most notable is that her
libertarian philosophy has been a driv-
ing force in Mad Men.1
As a show that turns on the pursuit
of self-interest, the free market of ideas,
and the creative spirit of American capi-
talism, Rand is a natural fit. Far from
an enthusiastic endorsement of Rand-
ian ideals, Mad Men expresses a ten-
sion within the conservative movement
that has been keenly felt in recent years
between libertarians and social conser-
vatives. While the show celebrates the
values of independence, creation, and
productive achievement, it also demon-
strates that independence often comes at
the cost of family and community. From
the seemingly unending parade of par-
ties, affairs, lies, and profit, the viewer
receives a firsthand look at the opulence
and excess of Madison Avenue. Part of
the appeal of the show comes in push-
ing the audience to consider the costs
and benefits of these behaviors (Men-
delsohn). In inviting the audience to re-
flect on whether selfishness is a virtue,
Mad Men repeatedly invokes the work
of Ayn Rand to drive home the point.
In the Hobo Code (1.8), Bertrand
Cooper, the eccentric senior partner
of the advertising firm, invites Don
Draper into his office to give him an
unexpected bonus. Cooper inquires
of Draper: “Have you read her? Rand.
Atlas Shrugged.” Cooper, a devotee of
Rand’s philosophy and apparently her
acquaintance, believes he and Draper
share an adherence to Rand’s principles,
although Draper unwittingly so. Cooper
explains to Draper why he believes they
share a Randian approach to life: “I be-
lieve we are alike … By that I mean you
are a productive, reasonable man, and
in the end completely self-interested
Take a $1.99 out of that $2500 and
buy yourself a copy (gesturing to Atlas
Shrugged).” Draper, in a genuinely in-
terested tone, replies that he will.
While Rand is explicitly and repeat-
edly mentioned in the show, Mad Men is
not simply a retelling of Atlas Shrugged
in the universe of the 1960s New York
advertising scene. Furthermore, al-
though many of Mad Men’s characters
resemble particular Randian characters,
the show does not try to make perfect
matches. Rather, Man Men offers a
meditation on the merit of Rand’s ethical
theory, and libertarian political thought
more broadly, and provides a sophisti-
cated consideration of the costs and ben-
efits entailed with pursuing selfishness
as a virtue. Bert Cooper takes indepen-
dence, productivity, and self-interest to
be the quintessential Randian virtues,
and as such, it is worth considering how
these virtues play out in the show for its
main characters. Moreover, these virtues
continue to strike a cord with the current
libertarian movement’s emphasis on in-
dividual liberty, especially in the realm
of social and economic policy. While
the show certainly celebrates aspects of
Rand’s philosophy, it also cautions that
the pursuit of absolute individual liberty
and self-interest comes at a severe cost.
Rand and the ViRtue
of SelfiShneSS
Ayn Rand, a Russian-born Ameri-
can immigrant, made her name first as
a novelist and later a philosopher. Her
two hefty works of fiction, The Foun-
tainhead and Atlas Shrugged, were both
philosophical expositions that criticized
collective societies and governments
and celebrated the individual and capi-
talism. As Rand succinctly summarizes
her ethical theory: “My philosophy, in
essence, is the concept of man as a he-
roic being, with his own happiness as
the moral purpose of his life, with pro-
ductive achievement as his noblest ac-
tivity, and reason as his only absolute”
(Atlas Shrugged 1070). Her aim is to
reclaim the word selfishness and place it
among those virtues necessary for a ful-
filled life. Selfishness, in her language,
is in its purest sense “concern with one’s
own interests” (Virtue of Selfishness xi).
Selfishness is not a license for one
to do as one pleases, nor should one
expect others to sacrifice their own in-
terests; rather, by emphasizing rational
self-interest, Rand aims to have indi-
viduals behave in a way that is moral,
but that privileges neither sacrifice nor
individual desires as the basis of moral-
ity. To be moral (i.e., to live a life that
is fulfilling), one must be independent,
productive, and self-interested. These
three values are on full display within
Mad Men.
Over the course of the first five sea-
sons of Mad Men, one of the most persis-
tent themes has been Draper’s struggle as
head of the creative department against
the corporate and political interests that
dominate the agency’s overall viability.
While Draper and his creative team are
as interested in making a profit as any-
one else, the characters must wrestle
with how much of their creative vision
they are willing to sacrifice in the name
of the business. This particular con-
flict comes to a head in the first season
when senior partner Bert Cooper offers
to make Draper a partner. Draper has
only one stipulation, he refuses to sign
a contract, giving him leverage over the
company should he choose to leave at
some point in the future. Cooper smiles
knowingly at Draper, and chuckles: “Be-
Far from an enthusiastic
endorsement of
Randian ideals, Mad Men
expresses a tension within
the conservative movement
that has been keenly felt
in recent years between
libertarians and social
While Draper and his
creative team are
as interested in making a
profit as anyone else, the
characters must wrestle with
how much of their creative
vision they are willing to
sacrifice in the name of the
Downloaded by [University of Nebraska Kearney], [Christie Maloyed] at 10:36 01 May 2014
Mad MenandtheVirtueofSelfishness 19
ware the nonconformist.” He pauses just
before leaving the office and looks back
to Draper: “I’m going to introduce you
to Miss Ayn Rand. I think she’ll sali-
vate” (1.11). When Bert Cooper praises
Draper for being a reasonable and self-
interested man, he is complimenting
Draper not only on his ability to think
rationally but also for his talents as an
independent, creative businessman who
refuses to sacrifice himself to corporate
In contrast to Draper, Pete Camp-
bell, one of the young account manag-
ers employed at Sterling Cooper, brings
in a new account in the Season 1 finale.
Cooper rewards Pete with a bonus and a
book by Ayn Rand—virtually the same
reward that Cooper gave Draper just a
few episodes earlier. Because the gift
is given off camera, the viewer does
not know whether Campbell received
a similar speech praising him for his
Randian qualities. Nevertheless, Camp-
bell notes that he hopes landing this ac-
count has reassured management that
he is deeply invested in this company.
Looking for some confirmation, Camp-
bell tells Draper directly, “It matters
to me that you’re impressed.” Draper
reassures him that he is. Pete smiles
with a sense of deep satisfaction: “Self-
worth and status. You said it” (1.13). Of
course, Campbell has revealed an im-
portant detail about himself in this ex-
change. His self-worth is not based on
a self-evaluation of his performance; it
is entirely dependent on the approval of
others. Later in the episode, Campbell
feels that he has been besmirched when
he learns Peggy Olson, an office sec-
retary who has recently been promoted
to copywriter, will be assisting him on
his new account. Dismayed that he will
have to work alongside “some little
girl,” he claims he will lose the account.
Draper chides him that if that happens,
“you’ll have to give back that copy of
Ayn Rand.”
Whereas Draper shines as Rand’s he-
roic being sprung to life, at least in the
eyes of Cooper, Campbell has a long
way to travel before he can claim that
mantle. What Campbell fails to exhibit
in the episode is the virtue of indepen-
dence, instead placing the judgment
of his own self-worth in the hands of
others. According to Rand, indepen-
dence “means one’s acceptance of the
responsibility of forming one’s own
judgments and of living by the work of
one’s own mind” (Virtue of Selfishness
28). Rand often makes distinctions be-
tween two types of characters in terms
of the virtue of independence: creators
and parasites. As Howard Roark, the
gifted, independent architect and hero
of Rand’s The Fountainhead, explains:
“The creator lives for his work. He
needs no other men. His primary goal
is within himself. The parasite lives
second-hand. He needs others. Others
become his prime motive” (712). When
others become the primary motive for
one’s own existence, in terms of motiva-
tion or self-worth, it is impossible to live
an independent and rational life.
In his study of Mad Men and Ayn
Rand, Robert White has argued that
Campbell is not the only character on
the show to suffer from a lack of inde-
pendence. White goes so far as to sug-
gest there is not a single example of an
independent character: “Most, if not all,
the characters in Mad Men live second-
hand lives….Draper and the other char-
acters…are united in their rejection of
independence. They are all primarily
oriented to other people, not to reality”
(90–91). Although White provides sev-
eral compelling instances in which char-
acters on the show demonstrate a lack
of independence, his examples treat the
characters as static beings, incapable
of developing or changing over time.
If this same analysis were applied to
Rand’s own characters, Hank Rearden
Ayn Rand’s
The Fountainhead photo.
Courtesy of the
Ayn Rand Institute.
Downloaded by [University of Nebraska Kearney], [Christie Maloyed] at 10:36 01 May 2014
20 JPF&T—JournalofPopularFilmandTelevision
would have to be deemed as lacking in-
dependence, given that at the beginning
of Atlas Shrugged, he allows his family
to influence his values concerning work,
productiveness, and marital fidelity.
Just as Rearden is transformed over
the course of the novel into an indepen-
dent, honest, and fully rational being, at
least some of the characters of Mad Men
grow in similar ways over the seasons.
For example, whereas Peggy Olson is
quiet, timid, and unsure of her creative
abilities and worth in the first season,
she becomes assertive and self-assured
by the end of the fifth season, taking a
position as creative director at a rival
firm. It is interesting that many of the
exemplars of independence on the show
are women. Similar to Dagny Taggart,
heroine of Atlas Shrugged, these women
are independent creators, heads of their
respective businesses, and equals with
Draper; from Rachel Menken, the head
of business for a major New York de-
partment store, to Faye Miller, a consul-
tant for a consumer research company.
This is not to say that White is entirely
in error in his analysis. There is no shin-
ing example of a character on the show
who perfectly embodies all of the Rand-
ian virtues, especially of independence.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that
the characters are failures in the eyes
of Rand; rather, it suggests two points.
First, the practice of these virtues takes
cultivation, and second, that cultivation
takes time.
The show often paints characters who
have earned their own success and live
independently, or at least relatively in-
dependently, as the most complex and
often the most appealing—including
Draper, Cooper, Miller, and outside of
the advertising firm, hotel mogul Con-
rad Hilton. However, there is a clear
price to be paid; each of these charac-
ters lives a life of isolation. While they
enjoy professional success, they find it
difficult to make connections with oth-
ers beyond their professional dealings.
Cooper spends most of his time isolated
Mad Men (AMC) Season 6 (2013).
Shown: January Jones (as Betty Francis),
Kiernan Shipka (as Sally Draper), Jessica
Pare (as Megan Draper), and Jon Hamm
(as Don Draper). Photo courtesy of AMC/
Downloaded by [University of Nebraska Kearney], [Christie Maloyed] at 10:36 01 May 2014
Mad MenandtheVirtueofSelfishness 21
in his office separated from his busi-
ness associates and employees; Miller
chooses not to have a family or close
personal relations so she can pursue her
career; Hilton has no friends or family
because of the attention he invests in his
business. Rand’s heroes often suffer a
similar outcome, whereby the practice
of egoism and independence separates
them from society. Rand would suggest
this is a laudable outcome because it is
better to live a principled and indepen-
dent life than one that depends on others.
The show’s writers take a more ambiva-
lent approach, showing the downfall of
being overly dependent on others while
also depicting the cost of independence.
As much as one must be independent,
Rand argues that being productive is
equally important. The struggle to be
productive, at both an individual and
corporate level, is a main focus of Mad
Men. In Season 4, Draper and his part-
ners buy out the shares of their partner-
ship from their parent corporation and
begin a new and improved advertising
firm: Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price.
Despite the thrill of finally having full
control over their own company, the
firm quickly finds itself in dire jeop-
ardy after the loss of their biggest ac-
count. When most of their attempts to
bring in new business prove impotent,
Peggy eagerly asks Draper what she and
the rest of the creative department can
do to help. Exasperated and despon-
dent, Draper replies: “We’re going to sit
at our desks and keep typing while the
walls fall down around us because we’re
creative—the least important, most im-
portant thing there is” (4.12). As Draper
often emphasizes throughout the show,
despite being underappreciated, the cre-
ative department is the nucleus of the
agency; without them, their energy, and
their product, the agency would have
nothing to sell. When criticized for being
indolent, unproductive lushes, Draper
defends the value his team brings to the
business, despite his seemingly lax ap-
proach to managing them: “You came
here because we do this better than you,
and part of that is letting our creatives be
unproductive until they are” (3.5).
What Draper, Peggy, and his team
recognize is that there is a necessary re-
lationship between productiveness and
creative ability. In order for the busi-
ness to be productive, they must be free
to create according to their own vision.
When Cooper praises Draper for be-
ing a productive man, he is referring to
Rand’s understanding of productiveness
as a virtue:
The virtue of Productiveness is the
recognition of the fact that productive
work is the process by which man’s
mind sustains his life…. Productive
work is the road of man’s unlimited
achievement and calls upon the highest
attributes of his character: his creative
ability, his ambitiousness, his assertive-
ness, his refusal to bear uncontested
disasters, his dedication to the goal of
reshaping the earth in the image of his
values (Virtue of Selfishness 29).
Rand’s description of productiveness
reads like a blurb of Draper’s character:
ambitious, assertive, uncompromising.
Although Draper works as part of a
creative team, the viewer is frequently
reminded, often by Draper himself,
that he is the creative department, and
the viewer is well acquainted with his
creative portfolio. In the pilot episode,
the audience is first treated to Draper’s
creative genius. With Lucky Strikes
cigarettes facing rising awareness of the
harmful side effects of smoking, Draper
transforms the image of the company. As
the corporation’s executive describes the
process for making cigarettes, Draper
stops him, walks to his chalkboard and
silently writes, “It’s toasted.” “But ev-
eryone else’s tobacco is toasted,” pro-
tests the owner. “No.” Draper replies,
“Everybody else’s tobacco is poison-
ous. Lucky Strikes is toasted” (1.1).
Senior partner Roger Sterling stops the
meeting, seeing no need to continue fur-
ther: “Well, gentleman, I don’t think I
have to tell you what you just witnessed
here.” Of course he doesn’t, the audi-
ence just witnessed an act of creation.
From the Lucky Strikes campaign to
reinventing the Kodak Wheel into the
Carousel (1.13), Draper’s independence
and productivity as the head of creative
is what distinguishes his character and,
in many ways, the show.
What Draper lacks for the first three
seasons of the show, however, is true
creative freedom. Although he is person-
ally independent, as a partner to Sterling
Cooper, he serves at the leisure of his
parent corporation. At the end of Sea-
son 3, Draper finds himself at the mercy
of others: He had just lost his personal
biggest account, Hilton Hotels, and sub-
sequently discovers that McCann Er-
ickson, an advertising conglomeration,
is buying out Sterling Cooper and its
parent company. Draper sees an oppor-
tunity to seize independence and makes
a pitch to Cooper that they buy out their
own corporation. Cooper laments that
he is too old and cannot understand why
Draper would be interested in pursuing
such a risky move. Draper looks at the
man who first pitched him Rand’s phi-
losophy with absolute bewilderment:
“I’m sick of being batted around like
a ping pong ball! Who the hell is in
charge, a bunch of accountants trying
to turn a $1.00 into a $1.10? I want to
work! I want to build something of my
own! How do you not understand that?
You did it yourself 40 years ago” (3:13).
Draper’s pitch is successful, and by the
end of the season finale, he has created
something of his own, a new corpora-
tion where he has free license in the
creative department: Sterling, Cooper,
Draper, Price.
“Who is Don Draper?” is the ques-
tion that introduces Season 4, which
begins one year after the creation of the
new company. This is a question that
has plagued Draper, his fellow char-
acters, and viewers for the previous
three seasons, but is also a specific al-
lusion to Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. That
novel opens with the question, “Who is
John Galt?” It is a refrain that is echoed
throughout the novel, a phrase that
comes to represent the uncertainty and
resignation experienced by the inhabit-
While they enjoy
professional success,
they find it difficult to make
connections with others
beyond their professional
Downloaded by [University of Nebraska Kearney], [Christie Maloyed] at 10:36 01 May 2014
22 JPF&T—JournalofPopularFilmandTelevision
ants of Rand’s dystopia. Only near the
end of the novel does the reader learn
the identity of the mysterious Galt, who
is revealed as the destroyer and soon-to-
be savior of the defunct society. Draper
finds himself in a similar position; he
has successfully destroyed the old cor-
poration and can finally pursue his own
creative vision, but his ability to realize
that dream successfully is anything but
Draper fumbles with the question of
his personal identity and equally strug-
gles to give an identity to the new com-
pany. When a reporter runs an unflat-
tering story in the paper about Draper’s
new advertising firm, Draper protests
to his partners that there was little he
could have done differently in the inter-
view: “What am I supposed to say any-
way? My work speaks for me.” Cooper
sharply reprimands him, “Turning cre-
ative success into business is your work.
And you failed” (4:1). Soon thereafter,
Draper makes a pitch to a potential cli-
ent that specializes in women’s swim-
wear. When the advertising proposal is
revealed, it is clear that it goes against
what the customer explicitly requested
and instead represents Draper’s vision
of what the swimwear company should
do. While Draper’s colleagues try to
be reassuring that this advertising pro-
posal is only one option among many,
Draper demands the client leave the
office immediately, then schedules an
appointment with a Wall Street Journal
reporter. Rejecting the idea that he must
cave to the opinions of others, including
his clients and partners, Draper tells the
reporter that he is the man who defines
Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price; and, in
a stroke he embraces Rand’s ideal of the
independent, productive man whose pri-
mary concern is the act of creating his
own work.
But what exactly is being produced?
Rand’s novels feature characters who
produce tangible goods for society: build-
ings, coal, railroads, metals, engines, and
so forth. Draper considers himself a pro-
ducer alongside the ilk of Rand’s heroes,
but his product is less tangible. In a tell-
ing conversation with a female client and
soon to be lover, Draper inquires why
she has not married. She claims that in
addition to her business interests, she has
never been in love. Draper candidly re-
plies: “The reason you haven’t felt [love]
is because it doesn’t exist. What you call
love was invented by guys like me to sell
nylons” (1.1).
What Draper produces are feelings
among consumers, but it is unclear
whether these feelings are genuine. In
an encounter with the friends of his bo-
hemian lover Midge, Draper is attacked
on exactly these grounds. Midge’s friend
charges that what he is creating is both
dishonest and unnatural: “You make
the lie. You invent want.” Draper curtly
rebuffs the young man: “Well, I hate to
break it to you, but there is no big lie.
There is no system. The universe is in-
different” (1.8). Robert White has sug-
gested that Rand would sharply disagree
with Draper on this point; that Rand ac-
cepts that the universe is knowable and
thus benevolent, not indifferent (93).
This misses Draper’s point, which is
that individuals are capable of not only
knowing reality but also creating reality.
He never denies that he creates want, or
that he produces desires in consumers
that they would not otherwise have; he
only denies that doing so is a lie.
Draper essentially claims that what he
creates is desire, but that desire is real,
it comes from within the creator. He
councils Peggy that this ability to create
genuine feelings is what separates them
from the other advertisers: “You are
the product. You feel something. That’s
what sells. Not them. Not sex. They
can’t do what we do and they hate us
for it” (2.1). Those feelings are nurtured
by making the consumer feel happy and
safe. In the pilot episode, Draper, seem-
ingly non-ironically, claims that “Adver-
tising is based on one thing: Happiness.
Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s
freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the
side of the road that screams with reas-
surance that whatever you’re doing is
okay. You are okay” (1.1).
In many ways, Draper’s understand-
ing of happiness comports well with a
Randian view, which emphasizes that
happiness is rooted in one’s own values
and is achieved through productive ac-
tivity. As John Galt explains in his fa-
mous speech in Atlas Shrugged:
Happiness is not to be achieved at the
command of emotional whims. Happi-
ness is not the satisfaction of whatever
irrational wishes you might blindly at-
tempt to indulge. Happiness is a state
of non-contradictory joy—a joy with-
out penalty or guilt, a joy that does not
clash with any of your values and does
not work for your own destruction, not
the joy of escaping from your mind, but
of using your mind’s fullest power, not
the joy of faking reality, but of achiev-
ing values that are real, not the joy of a
drunkard, but of a producer (935).
While Draper may legitimately achieve
personal happiness through his creative
activity, the charge still remains that the
feelings he creates among consumers are
based on emotional whims and irrational
wishes; he invents want where it does
not objectively reside. It is tempting to
agree with Draper’s bohemian critic; to
conclude that when Draper recreates the
image of Lucky Strikes as “toasted,” he
has done little more than lure custom-
ers into consuming a poisonous product
based on a dishonest appeal to their ir-
rational desires. Perhaps. Another possi-
bility is that advertising is an inherently
self-interested business, and that to be
effective, appeals must be made to inher-
ently self-interested customers. So long
as what is being produced is driven by
the rational self-interest of the producer
and consumers, then it would perfectly
fit with the values of Rand’s objectiv-
ist philosophy. Understanding how this
interpretation of self-interest connects
with Rand’s values requires examining
nuances between unbridled, self-inter-
ested whims and rational selfishness.
On a business trip to California to
visit an aerospace convention, Draper
encounters an intriguing young woman
who is aptly named Joy. Just before a
meeting with General Dynamics, a po-
tential new customer worth millions,
Joy serendipitously sees Draper as she
Draper fumbles with
the question of his
personal identity and equally
struggles to give an identity
to the new company.
Downloaded by [University of Nebraska Kearney], [Christie Maloyed] at 10:36 01 May 2014
Mad MenandtheVirtueofSelfishness 23
waits to pick up her convertible on her
way to Palm Springs. She invites Draper
along, but he hesitates knowing that Pete
Campbell is waiting for him to begin the
business meeting. Joy playfully leans in
and asks Draper, “Why would you deny
yourself something you want?” (2.11).
Why indeed, Draper seems to ask him-
self, before he joins her in the car and
abandons Campbell to carry on the busi-
ness meeting alone.
This type of self-interested behavior
is the hallmark of Draper’s character
– placing his own immediate desires
above those of others. For critic Jesse
McLean, it is exactly this type of ruth-
less refusal to deny his own desires that
makes Draper an exemplar of Rand’s
idea of self-interest (80-85). This view
mistakenly conflates Rand’s virtue
of selfishness with base self-interest.
When Rand advocates selfishness as a
virtue, she emphasizes the importance
of rational self-interest, not a hedonis-
tic dedication to whatever makes one
happy. As Robert White has correctly
argued in this regard, “Draper is not at
all self-interested. He represents the op-
posite of Randian self-interest; in fact,
he embodies the conventional image
of self-interest Rand sought to chal-
lenge through her novels and nonfiction
writing” (80). According to Rand, the
conventional philosophy of utilitarian-
ism mistakenly assumes that happiness
is the basis for determining whether a
particular action is good. For her, indi-
vidual desire is not equivalent with ra-
tional self-interest. As Rand explains,
“the mere fact that a man desires some-
thing does not constitute a proof that the
object of his desire is good, nor that its
achievement is actually to his interest”
(Virtue of Selfishness 57). To practice
the virtue of selfishness means to live
according to rational self-interest.
In order to examine the difference
between selfishness, which Rand com-
mends, and brute self-interest, which
she condemns, consider the virtue of
honesty. For Rand, to live honestly one
“must never attempt to fake reality in
any manner” (Virtue of Selfishness 28).
The necessity for honesty flows from her
objectivist philosophy because to be dis-
honest is to corrupt reality, to deny what
actually exists. Unlike many ethical phi-
losophies, Rand believes that “honesty
is not a social duty, not a sacrifice for the
sake of others, but the most profoundly
selfish virtue man can practice: his re-
fusal to sacrifice the reality of his own
existence to the deluded consciousness
of others” (Atlas Shrugged 933).
On the whole, honesty is not the
forte of most of the characters of Mad
Men. Take the show’s most prominent
example, Draper, whose entire identity
is based on a lie. In order to escape the
Korean War, he switched dog tags with
a dead soldier named Don Draper, as-
suming his identity. Back in the States,
Draper lies to everyone to protect his
true identity (he was born Dick Whit-
man) and avoid the consequences of
his desertion. This lie eventually costs
him his marriage and a prime business
account with the U.S. military. While
Draper generally enjoys professional
success, his lie causes his personal life
to fall into shambles and places stress on
a number of his business relationships.
Draper is not the only character who
struggles with honesty. Peggy Olson,
arguably the hero of the show, begins
work at Sterling Cooper in Season 1 as a
hopelessly naïve office secretary. After
a brief tryst with Pete Campbell, Peggy
refuses to admit to anyone, even to her-
self, that she is pregnant. Her act of
Joy playfully leans in
and asks Draper, “Why
would you deny yourself
something you want?”
Mad Men (AMC) Season
1 (2007). Episode: Long
Weekend. Airdate: September
27, 2007. Shown: Jennifer or
Jill Fouts, John Slattery. Photo
courtesy of AMC/Photofest.
(Color figure available
Downloaded by [University of Nebraska Kearney], [Christie Maloyed] at 10:36 01 May 2014
24 JPF&T—JournalofPopularFilmandTelevision
self-deception leads to a mental break-
down. Peggy eventually recovers from
the shock and depression and returns to
her job, with help from Draper. How-
ever, Peggy leaves the baby with her
mother and sister for them to raise. Al-
though she visits them often, she refuses
to acknowledge the child, which unsur-
prisingly causes tension between her
and her family. Nevertheless, over the
course of the show, Peggy enjoys con-
siderable professional success, which is
made possible by her willingness to dis-
tance herself from her child and family.
These two cases, Draper’s identity and
Peggy’s pregnancy, do not meet Rand’s
standard of selfishness because they
both perpetuate lies and “fake reality.”
Consequently Draper and Peggy suffer
under the emotional and psychological
strain; yet, their deceptions allow them
to achieve professional success that they
could not have otherwise. Had Draper
not stolen the identity of the dead soldier
he likely would never have been able to
become one of the top ad men in Man-
hattan. Likewise, had Peggy decided to
raise her child, it seems she would never
have risen to the position of copy-writer
let alone creative director on an advertis-
ing firm. That their professional careers
required dramatic sacrifices in their per-
sonal lives marks a significant break in
how the virtue of selfishness is treated
in Mad Men. Rand argues that selfish-
ness never requires the sacrifice of any
human good. In Mad Men, however,
characters can have a professional career
that gives them the ability to be creative,
independent, and productive, but only at
the cost of sacrificing some values, such
as honesty, and giving up the opportu-
nity to have relationships with their col-
leagues, friends, and family. The price of
liberty, therefore, is a sense of belonging
to a larger community.
No character on Mad Men is the per-
fect embodiment of virtue, Randian or
otherwise. The audience watches a pa-
rade of indulgent, self-interested, and
exploitive behavior as the main charac-
ters teeter between self-destruction and
wild success. While the show at times
glamorizes destructive behaviors, it also
showcases moments of creative genius.
Draper is a true antihero, with the audi-
ence feeling as much shock as admira-
tion for his actions. His brilliant talent,
and that of the rest of his creative team,
is the driving force of the show, depict-
ing the power of independent, creative
action in reshaping the world.
At their best, the main characters ex-
hibit a fierce dedication to their creative
vision and their right to pursue it unim-
peded in order to be productive. Today’s
libertarians champion a similar set of
principles. Following in the footsteps of
Rand, they stress individual liberty as
the backbone of their political message
and pride themselves on their unwilling-
ness to compromise their values. While
theirs may be an internally consistent
position, it does not easily fit with the
wing of the conservative movement that
is more focused on social issues and
family values (Russello).
As a television show that reflects
current American social and political
culture, Mad Men does not necessar-
ily reject either end of the conservative
spectrum; rather, it repeatedly stresses
the inherent tension between the two.
For most of the main characters, includ-
ing Don Draper, Bert Cooper, Peggy
Olson, Conrad Hilton, and Faye Miller,
the pursuit of their own interests re-
quires sacrifice. This sacrifice goes
beyond the well-trod theme of mak-
ing choices between whether to spend
time at the office working or going
home to spend time with family. These
characters abandon not only family but
also normal friendships, in or outside
of the office, and any involvement in
their community beyond what benefits
their self-interest. Their independence
is purchased at the price of isolation.
Writ large, this is not solely a problem
for the characters on the show but soci-
ety in general. In this regard Mad Men
can be understood as a critique of the
contemporary conservative movement,
which aims to champion simultaneously
the importance of individual liberty and
of family and community. If individuals
pursue their own self-interest and take
independence as the highest value, they
may achieve success in terms of cre-
ative ability and productivity, but they
are more likely to be disconnected, un-
sociable, and separated from their larger
communities making discourse difficult
if not impossible.
This article was presented at the Midwest
Political Science Association Conference
in Chicago, IL in March 2011. The author
thanks the other panelists at the conference
for their feedback and Kevin Guilfoy for his
helpful comments as discussant. The author
also thanks Kelton Williams for reading an
early draft of this article.
1. To date, Mad Men has aired for six sea-
sons (2007–2013) and received consecutive
Emmys for its first four seasons in the cate-
gory of Outstanding Drama Series. The sixth
season will begin airing in Spring 2014.
Babek, Marc E., and Tim Pollak. “Atlas
Shrugs Again.” Forbes n.p., 28 Sept. 2007.
Web. 28 Jan. 2013.
Fishman, Ethan. “American Conservatism
2012: A Historical Perspective.” Perspec-
tives on Political Science 41.1 (2012):
38–40. Print.
Lubove, Seth, and Oliver Staley. “Schools
Find Ayn Rand Can’t Be Shrugged as Do-
nors Build Courses.” Bloomberg Markets
Magazine n.p., 4 May 2011. Web. 21 Jan.
Mad Men: Seasons One–Four. Dir. Matthew
Weiner. Lionsgate Television, 2008–2011.
Mad Men: Season Five. AMC. 2012. Tele-
McLean, Jesse. Kings of Madison Avenue:
The Unofficial Guide to Mad Men. New
York: ECW Press, 2009. Print.
Mendelsohn, Daniel. “The Mad Men Ac-
count.” The New York Review of Books
n.p., 24 Feb. 2011. Web. 23 Jan. 2013.
Rand, Ayn. Atlas Shrugged. 1959. New York:
Signet, 1992. Print.
———. The Fountainhead. 1943. New York:
Plume, 2002. Print.
———. The Virtue of Selfishness: A New
Concept of Egoism—Centennial Edition.
New York: Signet, 1964. Print.
Russello, Gerald J. “The Tea Party and the
Future of the Libertarian-Conservative Al-
liance.” Perspectives on Political Science
41.1 (2012): 41–44. Print.
White, Robert. “Egoless Egoists: The Sec-
ond-Hand Lives of Mad Men.” Mad Men
and Philosophy: Nothing Is as It Seems.
Eds. James B. South, Rod Carveth, and
William Irwin. New York: Wiley, 2010.
79–94. Print.
Christie L. Maloyed is an assistant profes-
sor of political science at the University of
Nebraska Kearney. Her research interests
include the history of political thought, re-
ligion and politics, and American popular
Downloaded by [University of Nebraska Kearney], [Christie Maloyed] at 10:36 01 May 2014
... Tomando como referencia a otra producción audiovisual, quizás el personaje de Don Draper, de la serie de televisión Mad Men (Weiner et al., 2007(Weiner et al., -2015, representa más al inversionista exitoso. En el texto "Mad Men y la virtud del egoísmo", Christie L. Maloyed (2014) subraya que el egoísmo no es una licencia para hacer lo que le place a uno, tampoco significa esperar que otros sacrifiquen sus propios intereses. En cambio, al enfocarse en el interés propio racional, Rand busca que los individuos se comporten de una manera moral, sin sacrificios entre estos. ...
La inversión en la bolsa de valores se ha interpretado por algunos como unaactividad con daños colaterales en detrimento de las masas. Considerando lasrazones del por qué esto ha ocasionado un sentimiento de indignación en muchos,este texto busca identificar el tipo de inversionistas que se encuentran enWall Street —se inicia con el Übermensch, de Nietzsche y se finaliza con el empresario productor de Ayn Rand—, y qué tan justificado es el resentimiento que se ha generado en contra. Asimismo, dada la llegada de múltiples inversionistas no institucionales al mercado accionario durante el 2021 —quienes publicaban en redes sociales el objetivo de impactar a los fondos de inversiones—, se investiga si lo que se generó fue un movimiento social en contra estos y, al llegar a una decisión negativa, se concluye con las deficiencias de estas acciones que previenen que sean consideradas un movimiento social.
El presente artículo propone un acercamiento a la serie de televisión Mad Men (AMC, 2007-2015) del guionista, director y productor norteamericano Matthew Weiner. Primeramente, el análisis se enfoca en el relato como suceso y como discurso. Esto quiere decir que considera tanto la instancia relatora –quién o qué narra- como los aspectos que competen a la recepción de la serie –a quién o a qué le narra- y, por tanto, a las diversas propiedades narrativas orientadas a la construcción de la mirada. En segundo término, el ejercicio analítico discurre sobre tres grandes ejes temáticos que, para quién escribe estas líneas, organizan buena parte de la estructura que compone el mundo representado. Estos ejes son: la prostitución como marca (identitaria y corporativa), la maternidad como obstáculo y la mujer como relato masculino. Aunque el artículo tiene sentido en sí mismo, se constituye como la continuación de un trabajo anterior que versa, grosso modo, sobre los espacios, las temporalidades y la forma del relato.
The emergence of the Tea Party has set off a new round of speculation on the “future” of the conservative movement. This essay discusses two issues, defense spending and immigration, on which the Tea Party may fuse a conservative-libertarian approach that might distinguish it from earlier conservative political movements. The essay notes that the twenty-first century has a developing school of conservative thought that can provide the intellectual groundwork for such a political combination between conservatives and libertarians. This school opposes both mainstream liberalism and mainstream conservatism and attempts to rework the conservative tradition to face contemporary challenges.
This essay examines the peculiar history of American political thought to seek a possible explanation for why conservatism in the United States remains a movement without a spokesperson or a platform to which all citizens of this country who describe themselves as conservative can subscribe. The primary cause of these problems appears to be a serious mismatch between the traditional conservative traits of caution and limits and the historic American spirit of dynamic change and boundless optimism.
Schools Find Ayn Rand Can't Be Shrugged as Donors Build Courses Bloomberg Markets Magazine n
  • Seth Lubove
  • Oliver Staley
Lubove, Seth, and Oliver Staley. " Schools Find Ayn Rand Can't Be Shrugged as Donors Build Courses. " Bloomberg Markets Magazine n.p., 4 May 2011. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.
Maloyed is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nebraska Kearney. Her research interests include the history of political thought, religion and politics, and American popular culture
  • L Christie
Christie L. Maloyed is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Nebraska Kearney. Her research interests include the history of political thought, religion and politics, and American popular culture.
Egoless Egoists: The Second-Hand Lives of Mad Men
  • Robert White
White, Robert. "Egoless Egoists: The Second-Hand Lives of Mad Men." Mad Men and Philosophy: Nothing Is as It Seems. Eds. James B. South, Rod Carveth, and William Irwin. New York: Wiley, 2010. 79-94. Print.
Mad Men has aired for six seasons) and received consecutive Emmys for its first four seasons in the category of Outstanding Drama Series. The sixth season will begin airing in Spring 2014
To date, Mad Men has aired for six seasons (2007–2013) and received consecutive Emmys for its first four seasons in the category of Outstanding Drama Series. The sixth season will begin airing in Spring 2014. WOrKS CiTED
Kings of Madison Avenue: The Unofficial Guide to Mad Men
  • Jesse Mclean
McLean, Jesse. Kings of Madison Avenue: The Unofficial Guide to Mad Men. New York: ECW Press, 2009. Print.
The Mad Men Account The New York Review of Books n.p., 24 Feb
  • Daniel Mendelsohn
Mendelsohn, Daniel. " The Mad Men Account. " The New York Review of Books n.p., 24 Feb. 2011. Web. 23 Jan. 2013.
Schools Find Ayn Rand Can't Be Shrugged as Donors Build Courses
  • Seth Lubove
  • Oliver Staley
Lubove, Seth, and Oliver Staley. "Schools Find Ayn Rand Can't Be Shrugged as Donors Build Courses." Bloomberg Markets Magazine n.p., 4 May 2011. Web. 21 Jan. 2013.