11 November 2009

Why I Love Paul Kinsey

Like most fans of quality television, I am an avid watcher of "Mad Men," which just ended its third season with a solid finale that saw its cast finally shake off the ennui and kick ass. It did, however, leave me feeling trepidatious about the potential future of one of my favorite minor characters on the show, Paul Kinsey, wonderfully played by Michael Gladis.
By all rights, I shouldn't give a twopenny fuck for Mr. Kinsey. He received very little screen time over the last season and for good reason - he's a pompous ass who condescends to those he perceives to be less educated or intelligent, a wannabe bohemian who still tries to hide his presumably poor New Jersey upbringing. Most of the time he does little work, preferring to goof off and play pranks while bemoaning the fate of an artist stuck in the soulless advertising industry. And yet when it's time to let people go, he clings to his job and momentarily forgets his creative aspirations. He's the type of person who manages to be very smart while simultaneously being very dumb.
But I identify more with him than any other character. Season Four could open with Betty Draper's plane nosediving into the Nevada desert and I'd still impatiently demand to move on to Kinsey. (I think January Jones is great in the part, but the show could dump ol' Betts and I wouldn't lose any sleep.) I think this attachment comes from equal parts recognition and alarm: Paul is the person all us writers fear we really are. To put it into Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck terms, if Don Draper is who we want to be, then Paul is who we see in the mirror everyday.
From the glimpses we have of his working existence, Paul appears to be the copywriter who fills in the words at the very bottom of the medicine ads. While more talented people get the grand ideas, he is left to perfect the minor details no one cares about. He is probably extremely knowledgeable about grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and "proper" English usage, but he cannot write anything that moves an audience, not even in "Death is My Client" and other extracurricular creations. Worse yet, he realizes this, and can do nothing but hope and pray the muses strike him with inspiration.
It's no wonder he was left behind when Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce was formed. When he sees the remains of Peggy's office, he knows he wasn't wanted or valued, a wrenching revelation. It's a cosmic comeuppance Paul doesn't deserve - he may be a prick at times, but he's not an outright asshole like Pete Campbell or Don (please keep in mind that I actually like and enjoy those characters), and he's the only one in the office who went down South to fight for the civil rights movements. Paul may parade around his African-American friends in an attempt to be hip, but at least he tried to do something good. (Speaking of which, when is Carla going to be more than a one-dimensional stereotype?)
Any writer who hasn't "made it" (and likely those who have as well) recognizes some aspects of his or herself in Paul Kinsey, and so we cheer for him and wish him well, even if he's talking down to Achilles the Janitor after getting high and touching himself inappropriately in his office. I'm not looking for wish fulfillment, though. Kinsey could toil in obscurity for the rest of his days and I would be happy, so long as we see him doing it. If he's one of the characters who doesn't make it to the fourth season, it would feel like the show is doing what most of society does to the real Paul Kinseys, tacitly acknowledging "You don't matter." But if we stick with him and watch him fail, it would be some sort of validation for all those who, for whatever reason, never see the fruition of their own dreams.


  1. Do you identify with him because you also masturbate to your best work?

  2. All the time. Really, my only motivation to create anything is to have new things to masturbate to. "Duly Noted" only lasts you so long.