The excellent Bill Simmons from ESPN was taking Q&A from readers the other day on the topic of Tiger Woods and his current troubles. A reader, Josh Simmons from Omaha Nebraska pointed to the incredible parallels between the Woods situation and the trouble hero Don Draper from the hit AMC show Mad Men. The commentary on that similar is fascinating (especially if you have been a Mad Men fan):
Q: The other night I was examining the Tiger Woods scenario, and it hit me. Tiger Woods’ situation is exactly like that of Don Draper in “Mad Men.” Both of their wives are beautiful. They both have kids. They’re both rich. Both women found out from outside sources (Betty from Jimmy Barrett, Tiger’s wife from his cell phone). Am I crazy?
— Josh Peterson, Omaha
SG: Over the past two weeks, maybe six readers made that connection, and every time I was furious I didn’t think of it first. It’s a mildly mind-blowing analogy. In Season 1, Don Draper was the golden boy with the perfect life on paper who thought the rules didn’t apply to him. In Season 2, everything fell apart and his web of secrets began to surface. In Season 3, the secrets finally came out. Humbled, he tried to pick up the pieces, lost his family, lost his mojo to some degree and eventually ended up taking a huge career gamble. Sound familiar? Like Draper, Tiger is the absolute best at what he does. And like Draper, no matter how much turmoil there is, he will survive. People will always forgive the best as long as they’re the best. That’s just the way life works.
Throw in the moral component (the husband and father who betrayed his family) and that’s where these things get dicey for fans. We only know Tiger the golfer. Really, that’s all we want to know. Whether his marriage heals or disintegrates isn’t really our business. But we are voyeurs when it comes to our favorite athletes. They thrill us, keep us guessing, keep us on our toes, keep us watching. During the average golf tournament, cameras capture every reaction and emotion from the closest of angles — triumph, anguish, fury, frustration, panic, you name it — which deceives us into thinking we know these guys better than we do. How many times did you hear someone say “Can you believe Tiger did that?” over these past two weeks. Like we knew him. And we didn’t.
During the last episode of Season 1, Don Draper gave a sales presentation to a camera company. At this point, through 12-plus episodes, the viewer was still trying to figure him out as a human being. What’s important to him? What’s his background? What are his morals? Does he live by any code? He’s a hero and an anti-hero, the leading man who might be leading us astray. Draper turns off the lights and shows a series of slides to the camera people, pitching them on an idea called “The Carousel.”
The angle is nostalgia. The slides are pictures of his family. Draper starts flicking through them, preys on their emotions and goes for the kill.
“In Greek,” he says, “nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound.’ It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine. It goes backward, forward. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again.”
Now Draper finds himself getting pulled into the moment. Here are these pictures of the perfect American family — his family — only he can’t feel any connection to them at all. Really, it’s more of a Perfect American Family On Paper. They might as well be a new Cadillac or a house with a fence. Just because your family looks perfect doesn’t mean you’re a family man. The realization makes his eyes glisten. Or so we think.
“It’s not called the wheel,” he continues, his speech slowing. “It’s called the Carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and around and back home again. To a place where we know we’re loved.”
Draper clicks through the last slide. It’s a picture of him and his blonde wife on their wedding day. The end. The rest of the room remains frozen in awe. Even Draper seems a little choked up. One of his co-workers (who was having problems with his marriage) hustles out of the room, fighting off tears. The lights go on. And just like that, Draper doesn’t seem so choked up anymore. There’s a hint of a satisfied smile on his face. Just for a second. Was it a performance? Did he feel the connection? Was it a little of both?
It’s the best scene in the history of the show. It tells you everything you would ever want to know about Don Draper. Only he knows how he felt, or if he was feeling anything at all. But he should have been feeling something. You could say the same thing about Tiger Woods, a public figure handling a decidedly private matter right now. He needs a Carousel. He needs to go backward. He needs to go round and around and back home again. And he can’t.