The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

She Was an Astronaut

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Dear Kathryn,

The death of Ms. Blenkenship was a shock, oddly, but well-played with the dark humour so characteristic of this season, and – in a way I hadn’t realized until Cooper summed it up for us – with a further revelation of the ascendancy of women in the 1960s.  Ms. B reminds us of the lineage from which Joan, Peggy and Faye found their forays into professional life.  Born in a barn in 1898, dying on the 37th floor of a skyscraper, possibly having entered the urban work force because a war was on, her astronautic moves may have been even more spectacular than those we see among the women benefiting from whatever women’s lib is brewing.  And while precisely what that women’s lib will look like in Mad Men thus far remains to be seen,  it won’t be a cleaned up, idealized vision of everyone who is marginalized working in tandem for some new utopia.  As usual, Mad Men is going to give us the full ugliness of how things went down – fraught with all the competition, confusion and complexity appropriate to the situation.

Peggy’s position gets more interesting each week.  We thought we might find a worthy guy for her among her new avant-garde friends, but alas Abe turned out to be as blind to the sexism of the work force as the guys with whom Peggy works…blinded by good intentions, but blind nonetheless.  Peggy’s line of self-defense in the bar got me thinking – no, an African American could not have gotten to where she was because she at least could get her foot in the door as a secretary.  With not one African American working in the whole office, it’s impossible to imagine a parallel case.  At the same time, there’s no point in minimizing all that Peggy went through – and continues to go through – for the minimal power she has gained.  And if we choose a different criteria for fighting the ‘who has the worst lot’ fight, Peggy is right to point out the issue of visibility and the fact that no one is marching for her.  Mad Men thus rightly points out that there’s not a competition for who is worst off, and that framing social struggles in that way only leads to failure.  But it’s also right to point out the difficult fact that competition will nevertheless mark the struggle for liberation – lacking the power to define how things are and will be in her work place, Peggy is left impotent to do much about Filmore Tires’ racist practices.  Indeed, all she’s left able to do is be frustrated.  And that really is her lot.

Other news in women’s issues – Joan and Faye slept with Roger and Don! In the midst of fear and panic, it seemed the absence of her rings – the symbol of her marriage – allowed Joan to stray.  What desperation made a quickie with passers-by worth it for her?  For all my feminist analysis, when it comes to Joan and Roger, I simply think they work.  I like them together, and the inevitability of their hook-up surpasses any other interpretation I could make of it.  An inevitability I wouldn’t say existed for Faye and Don – even as they seemed so natural and good together post-coitus.  Chatting about their work, refusing to share secrets that shouldn’t be shared, holding each other as equals – the moment was lovely…which was why I found myself surprised that Faye’s later frustration with Don wasn’t that he was continually treating her like a babysitter, secretary (he admits he’s asking her to do the job he would have had a secretary do) and a servanty-wife figure (demanding she get him a drink), but that he had rushed her meeting of his kid.  There was something very simple to that frustration that I liked.

Speaking of Sally – oof!  That kid is holding her own!  But where does she fit into the roles for women being carved out?  She’s fiercely independent, but also parroting Betty in so many ways – childish tantrums, attempts to get Don to accept her by offering domestic services (making breakfast with rum and promising to watch the kids).  The whole falling flat on her face while running for liberation, only to be told that we all fall and we all get up again felt a little heavy-handed to me (especially with all those women gathered to watch), but just as with the heavier cliches of last week’s episode, it too kinda worked.  And it made me want to see more.

A few random thoughts – I’m so glad that Don didn’t write when he picked up his journal!  Will that signal the end of that trope?  Cooper’s sadness at Ms. B’s passing was lovely – he’s of an old guard, one I’d like a few more glimpses of as we continue to pass off to the new.  How awesome was it to see Sally in Don’s chair! It’ll be the late ’80s when she’s his age – maybe it will be his path she’ll follow, and not those being forged by the other women she sees.  And the “everyman” campaign thrown together in such a panicked flurry for Filmore, I have to wonder if it’s going to get them in trouble with their protests – it’s clear Filmore isn’t for “every man” and so that’s going to be easy to exploit!

Hoping my last words in this world will be something as awesome as, “It’s the business of sadists and masochists, and you know which one you are”!

xoxo,
Natalie

—-

Dear Natalie,

Mad Men is really upping the ante on how far they will push the black humor shtick this season. It was a comedy of errors straight out of a talky or the sitcoms that are waiting to be birthed – Don having to scurry back and forth from the office to the glass conference room while his tempermental daughter is hidden away in his office and a corpse is removed behind the backs of clients. I almost wondered if the glass conference room was a set-up just for this visual gag. Despite the stagey quality of the gag, it didn’t actually feel forced. I think this owes everything to the fact that there was so much real emotion behind each of the events, which if handled in a sitcom, would just be place holders for canned laughter.

Like, as you say, the return of Sally Draper, haunting the halls of SCDP! She is one of my favorite characters and you are so right, for all the attention the show is giving to the various struggles of women for equal rights, Sally needs to be in the mix. If Peggy and Joan and Faye are each riding the coattails of the Ms. Blenkenships of the world, Sally will be coasting into her future on the wake of their meteoric rises. Watching Sally mimic Betty (Kiernan Shipka really showed her chops this episode – there was more than one moment when she actually mirrored January Jones facial expressions to a T) and at the same time assert an independence and confidence that blurred the line of spoiled girl and confused young woman made me think about what a hard row she is going to have to hoe (you know how the middle classes love metaphors about manual labor!). Peggy is learning the hard way that love and conventional family life may not mesh with the career path she’s chosen. As I watched her spark with Abe fizzle out as his self-righteousness trumped her experience, I thought about how difficult it is ever going to be for Peggy to find a man who respects her and will take her on as an equal. It is why I proposed that really Don would be perfect for her in another few decades. And it might explain why Faye and Don actually seem good for each other. He encountered Faye as an independent “equal” (as much as she can be) in the workplace, not a mentee or subordinate. Faye has already learned the lesson Peggy is still struggling with – she made her choice to have a career over children and whatever regret she might sometimes feel, she is standing by it. As a working parent it is pretty painful to watch these two women struggle with the either/or of family and work. And yet, I can’t help but think they have it easier than Sally will. Sally is going to come of age at the beginning of the superwoman myth when woman are trying to “have it all.” She may succeed in getting married and having kids and having a career, but as the endless mommy war tells us, you never “have it all” – there is always a choice, a struggle, a feeling of loss on one or both sides of the equation. It is sad and frustrating and unfortunate, but maybe Faye and Peggy will be saner for picking their battles and hunkering down.

Do you think the show is choosing to focus on woman’s rights over civil rights? The struggles of racial equality keep emerging on the edges of the action, but they have never been front and center. I suppose they really can’t be, given that the show is so faithful to history and its own characters. As you say, where would a black character on the rise fit in the world of SCDP? But is it also a sign of how much touchier race is even than gender in this country? Especially in our own present day, racism feels too close to the surface, too intense to take on. Maybe it feels like we have come further with gender equality (whether or not that is true we could discuss) and therefore it is easier to see the bad old days in action than it would to really look at the embodiment of racism we are so clearly not over.

Final thought: I too am cheering for Joan and Roger. I am a little wary that it will just be a repeat of their old fling and that Joan, who has made so much progress moving on, will get hurt again. But it also feels a bit like a comedy of re-marriage. Only maybe this time, eventually, they’ll just get married.

Wishing for a half-day at the zoo,

Kathryn

Written by themothchase

September 21, 2010 at 7:54 am

One Response

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  1. when joan and roger interacted “the morning after”, i said out loud, “her husband is going to die in vietnam and roger will divorce jane.” roger has been a shell since he married her and sold sterling cooper – it was good to see him regain some life.

    loved bert in this episode. the astronaut line was beautiful in and of itself – just good writing. bert has been missed. despite his strangeness he was always the voice of reason for roger and don – the original sale cut him at the knees…i wish he was more of a presence in SCDP. (we had a taste with honda…i want more).

    (wondering who will be the client that demands “equality” in the SCDP office – the first black assistant? a strong black female character? maybe don’s new assistant?)

    interesting that faye can be so good at listening and kindness with adults, but with children she’s absolutely wooden. “remember me, sally?” um, yeah, from last night? of course i remember. i’m a kid, not an idiot.

    i thought sally’s fall in the office was amazing – because of the background. watch it again, but watch the women. it was the first time i felt like the women in the office are rooting for don rather than working for him. serving him but not because of duty. it was a humiliating event for him, but he’s not above it anymore. he was gracious with the girl at the front desk…he apologized to faye (for me it was reminiscent of holding joan’s hand under the table). they are all caring for him but it’s bigger than his title and bigger than the ascendancy of “woman.” it was rich and real.

    and sally. wow. every time she talks, i want more. i loved her interactions with don, especially on the couch talking about faye – “yes, i like her.” it reminded me of the first season with betty – you just wanted more. you couldn’t imagine why there was distance between them – “who would cheat on such a beautiful person?” but it was skin deep. betty’s an angry child, and she has raised one. and now henry and don have to raise them. (and all is not well in the francis household – there’s more coming there, i can feel it!) henry and don are on a collision course…where they will likely find they are on the same page rather than hating each other.

    this season is just pulling me deeper. and it’s great.

    JB

    September 22, 2010 at 3:33 pm


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