One of the most satisfying parts of early Mad Men is seeing the relationship between protagonist Don Draper and his protege in writing ad copy, Peggy Olson. It’s the pleasure of professionalism; Don is teaching us advertising just as much as he’s teaching Peggy, and we watch her grow from talented wannabe to expert. My favourite example of this has always been the conversation on ‘sex sells’; Don doesn’t shut her down for speaking her mind – in fact, quite the opposite, he’s pleased when she contradicts him, he simply clarifies where he’s coming from, and dismisses one rule that inhibits creativity – many more things sell than sex – for one that enables it – “You are the product”, meaning to tap into sincere emotion that she can use in her advertisements. This is the role he steps into, someone who provides Peggy with tools and a process she can use to create her own work independent of Don; within that scene she uses it to create a charming tagline, without, she becomes an industry titan.
The importance of this kind of relationship becomes clear when you compare it to one Peter Campbell has with absolutely nobody. Granted, Pete is a clown car of a human being, worse so for being in his late twenties at the beginning of the series, but the fact that he legitimately becomes good at his job through sheer tenacity can’t be ignored; how much of the destruction Pete caused on his way to the top could have been avoided if Roger’s treatment of him had been more ‘Don-style nurturing’ and less ‘getting his name wrong for shits and giggles’? Pete and Peggy were equally hungry for validation; Don just happened to be there to push Peggy in the right direction. In many ways, Don was an antihero, but his mentorship to Peggy was his most sympathetic and laudable aspect.
This is just one of many pop culture mentor/mentee relationships. What are your favourites?