The Day I Realized The Bad Guy Isn’t All Bad

When we’re children, we think of our parents as idols. My dad is the strongest, my mom is the prettiest. But that fades away over time, as we realize our parents are flawed human beings. They’re people with many facets; they have sides good and bad, and so does everyone around us. I remember my professor at NYU saying, “People are not all good nor all bad.”

The day I found this out was when I discovered my friend’s grandfather was a Nazi. I remember being told, frozen at the news, thinking of the fragile old man sitting in his wheelchair. He seemed so sweet and gentle. Then I kept recalling more memories of him, the accurate ones, where he was sweet and gentle, but he barely uttered a word, even to his grandchildren. The blanket pulled over him, I observed the faraway look in his eyes. What was he thinking about?

I only saw the man a few times, since he never left the house. Several years later, his past was discovered in a town that was heavily populated by Jews, some of them Holocaust survivors. Many wanted him tried and deported. That was the last I’d heard of the man, and today, I’m sure he’s passed away.

I wonder if the man was brainwashed, as many of the Nazi youths were. Did he not know right from wrong? Or should all human beings innately understand right from wrong? All these questions and no answers, except one: The bad guy isn’t all bad.

I’m sure the man loved his family and they loved him; they loved him enough to keep him in “hiding” and protect his reputation. And they were good people. They certainly weren’t villains, nor did they possess Nazi-like qualities.

The few times I met him, I wasn’t scared of him. I just thought, “What a sweet old man,” as he nodded to recognize my existence.

Now, as an adult, I know that bad guys aren’t all bad. For example, Malcolm X became militant out of self-preservation, Genghis Khan treated his soldiers fairly well and even Hitler loved his German shepherd.

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What Don Draper Can Teach President Obama

Don Draper is back (after a long hiatus), and he’s ready to teach lessons. For those of you who watch the AMC hit show Mad Men, you know Don Draper isn’t your average protagonist. He’s complex, dark and he blurs the lines of good and bad, right and wrong. At some points, he’s almost a villain, but to me, he’s a teacher.

Though the show takes place in the 1960s, Draper teaches lessons for today, and more importantly, he teaches lessons that our own President Obama can learn. First off, what do Draper and Obama have in common?

Both are unlikely success stories.

Both are unlikely leaders.

Both are not easily understood.

What I believe Draper can most teach Obama is how to stand his ground. Many voters elected Obama, as if he was Jesus Christ coming to save us all, but in reality, he’s a person. Yet a person can wield power and influence if asserted in the right way. After nearly four years in office, Obama has proven that even the president of the United States can be steamrolled by his own party.

Don Draper would never allow that.

His colleagues fear him a bit (sometimes a good thing), and they know who is boss. Draper tells them what to do and how to do it, especially since he’s the talent behind the company. Even when a very rich client demands that she is right in keeping the tainted name of her dog food brand, Draper tells her any ad agency who agrees to her bad decision is stealing her money. And she leaves.

Sometimes Obama needs to stand up to the rich client.

Draper is also innovative. He shows his innovation by going against the grain and refusing to write ads for the tobacco companies. In the 60s, it was all about smoking, so to not advertise for it, you’re a freak. But an innovative freak. And Draper’s bold moves pay off as season four closes with a client who wants an anti-smoking campaign. As Draper’s colleague Peggy says, “If you don’t like what they’re saying about you, change the conversation.”

Can Obama change the conversation? If he’s elected for the next four years, will he become the unlikely leader, innovator and presidential success story many Americans have hoped for?

I’m not sure. But I am sure that Don Draper will continue to lead, surprise and succeed in this next season of Mad Men, and I’m curious to see what new lessons we can all learn from him.

~ Jennifer Ciotta, author of I, Putin


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