AMC’s brilliant period drama Mad Men returned to television last night, reuniting fans with the inner workings of Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce after a 17-month hiatus. I won’t spend time summarizing the plot here, but suffice it to say that the 1960s were in full swing.
The complicated Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is the main character of the series, and he continues to intrigue. For the past four years, viewers have observed him in all his stoic and secretive ways. Branded very early on as a liar and serial adulterer, he is the anti-hero if ever there was one. Surprising, then, that good ol’ Don made it through two hours of screen time last night without cheating on his new wife once.
Has Don changed? That’s the question of the day. Unfortunately, the answer is “probably not.” In the run-up to the Season 5 premiere, Slate.com had an interview with the show’s creator, who said the following:
“What I like is that on our show the characters are really trying to change. I look at Don and I say he really wants to change. And events have happened. I’ve committed to change in a way that TV shows usually don’t…But one of the premises of my show is that people don’t change. Don Draper is certainly a creature of external change. He’s an imposter.”
While this certainly doesn’t bode well for Don, it also opens up the bigger philosophical question of how change really works on a personal, psychological, or spiritual level. Do people really change?
On the one hand, I believe they do. The whole Christian message is predicated on the fact that God can bring about some amazing changes in the live of individuals. Why else would Jesus use the evocative metaphor of being “born again” if not to imply that entrance into the Kingdom of God couldn’t be a more drastic shift? The Scripture–and history–is replete with stories of great change, and it is something I believe.
Yet at the same time we know that change is not easy. I know it isn’t for me. For some it really does seem impossible…and not just at the moment of religious conversion. In becoming Christians, for instance, some do change their belief systems but seem incapable of moving beyond inherited worldviews or family patterns or patterns of thought. Conversion happens on a formal level, but the effects of that change do not always work their way into the soul. Sometimes this inability to change has minor repercussions; other times it runs the risks of upending the whole enterprise.
Further, just as the Scripture relates the stories of those who do change and answer the call, so too we meet others who do not: innumerable Pharisees, a rich young ruler, and–indeed–most of humanity that would rather end Christ’s life than consider his radical life and message. Harder than going through the eye of needle indeed.
That’s why I think I admire most those individuals who have had the boldness and courage to convert as adults and/or radically revise their understanding of Christianity after years in the faith. Because of the baggage they carry with them and the radical revision of established life and relationships these changes require, theirs is many times the hardest decision of all.
What do you think? Is change really that hard? Is it impossible? How much to do most people really change? How much do we?