Watching the final episodes of series two of Borgen, the Danish political drama that’s been a hit for BBC4, it occurred to me to wonder why so many fictional spin doctors are – in some way or another – crippled.
The idea wasn’t prompted by Kaspar Juul’s appearance on crutches due to damaged tendons.
True, his arrival was part of a beautifully played scene that showed us just enough of Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg’s character to set us up for what followed: her struggle to reconcile her public ambition with her family’s very private needs.
What struck me was the way in which – like Madmen’s Don Draper – Kasper Juul is not just physically injured, but emotionally flawed. Even quite horribly damaged.
Don’s false premise
Don Draper – as Madmen fans will know – assumed another man’s identity and, using his own charm and persuasive guile, managed to get a job as an advertising copywriter.
Since then, as the creator of numerous imaginative ad campaigns, he has – in the spirit of the conventional times his life is set in – been the inventive perpetrator of artful expressions of the contented consumerist life.
Heavens to Betsy, as one of his contemporaries might’ve said, he even married a model and thus completed his own (now fractured) version of the perfect story!
Eventually, as his fictional career progressed and he became Creative Director of, and Partner in, his own advertising agency, Draper came so close to resembling the man he’d contrived to be that he found it hard to answer questions about who he really was.
For me, he began to look like a man whose easy ability to dream up artificial constructs of daily life was born of the artificiality of his own life.
Indeed, just as an Englishman speaks English with ease from birth, Draper can – almost as easily – think up deceptions as soon as he starts work.
Kasper Juul, Nyborg’s terrifying spin doctor, has a different back-story to deal with.
As the victim of child abuse – and carrying the memory of that and his savage attempt to end it by trying kill his own father – it seems as if he’s constantly trying to impose his own draconian sense of order on the chaotic political world he works in.
He’s also trying to do the same thing in his private life.
It’s as if, by controlling everything and everyone around him, he can convince himself that he’s been in charge of his life since birth.
Of course, he’ll never achieve that.
Like Draper’s seductive illusions, Juul’s angry self-loathing is a powerful engine that not only drives him but also gives him the desire to turn almost everything into something it isn’t.
To – quite literally – spin his world on its head.
It seems to me that both these fictional characters are aiming for the same thing: a world that exists in their imagination that can’t be replicated in life.
The dramatic ideal
Perhaps it’s this tension that makes both Borgen’s Juul and Madmen’s Draper so compelling as characters.
We want them both to achieve the happiness they seek, but we know that neither of them are capable of reaching that ideal.
They’re both too flawed to do that, yet we will them on, knowing they’re doomed to failure.
What’s fascinating about all this is the way in which the writers of both series have spun both spin doctors’ stories, giving them both troubled backgrounds that they’re trying to overcome.
The origins of insight
What’s even more intriguing is to speculate on where the writers found their inspiration.
Do they believe that all spin doctors – men like Kasper Juul and Don Draper – are essentially flawed and that their fictitious characters are simply reflections of real life?
Or is it the case that, in order to see the light inside life’s darkest situations, all of us have to experience life’s bleak and evil side beforehand?
Truly, as you can see, it’s set my head spinning.
Which is, after all, the mark of either a good drama or a talented (spin) doctor!