Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Va Va Va Voom

Joan and Peggy.
I love them both. You can take Betty Draper and leave her in Reno till 1982 for all I care. But Joan and Peggy, they're the heart of Mad Men. They're the depth that Betty, as hard and cold as unbreakable ice, wishes she could somehow conjure up.
When I look in the mirror or read my bio it's Peggy I see, no doubt about it. But what a sigh that leaves. It's Joanie who has my heart.
She's glorious.
She gets everything, everyone, without saying a word.
She's utterly brilliant and utterly overlooked because she's so brazenly and unapologetically Va-Va-Va-Voom, like Marilyn co-joined with Liz Taylor, and so what if it's 1963, nothing's changed. We still equate beauty with stupidity. We still grade on a vicious curve, your IQ dropping with every B, C, DD cup.
So it was a little sublime Sunday night, Mad Men finale, when Joan and Peggy got a bit of what they deserve.
Has the word 'No' as uttered by Peggy ever been so long in coming?
Has a refusal to acquiesce ever felt so morally assured?
And when Joan finally came striding into the room head high and heels on - has any entrance been so welcome? We all she was coming. We knew Sterling Cooper etc. etc. couldn't function without her. The difference is now she knew as well. She holds the power not in her hips but in her hands, her head.
What I love about these characters isn't that they're women, isn't that they work in a fictional ad agency, but that they're women as compelling, complex, and utterly individual as any man on TV. Two entities who haven't much in common besides gender, and besides this: they've both been taken for granted their entire lives, their entire careers. Not simply by the men who employ them and romance them, but by the women around them. Their families. Society. And most egregiously, by themselves. I laughed out loud when Joanie smashed that vase against her husband's head as if she were christening a ship. The SSS Good Doctor.
Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. It's a start. But why not Olson + Holloway instead?


  1. It's funny, I love these women too, but don't see why you're so unkind to the Betty Draper character. She's dealing with her own pain, her many frustrations, with this beautiful man who mistreats her, who doesn't see her at all, who feels it's normal to have affairs right and left and yet calls her a "whore" when he finds out there's another man interested in her, willing to marry her and help her. Hmm. There are so many facets to being a woman. A strong woman. So many ways to being a strong woman. Betty stood up to Don/Dick, told him she'd had enough and wanted to move on, that she didn't love him any more. That took "balls" too.

  2. Have to admit, I've only seen madmen ONCE. Yep, over here in Italy, it's on, but it just isn't fitting well into my routine somehow. And my own life is enough of a soap opera. However, that said, all this talk of characters and passions and frustrations and ad agencies makes me think I need to check into the next Madmen marathon and get it all from start to finish. But, even without seeing it, it seems to me that Janet's not being unkind to Betty...she's just celebrating the charisma of two other characters that are so much at the heart of the agency itself. I have to admit, in the ONE episode I did see, Betty was pretty central to the action, and I found her just a wee bit...is it possible to perform a digital whispered aside?...boring? pathetic? weak?. Or something. Sorry, but it's true. And as for Joan, I don't have anything to go on but pictures, and she is incredibly voomy. In fact, she's inspired me to try to inject a little voom, myself, today, as difficult as that will be.--Charlotte

  3. ...Guess my point was, having watched most of the series, Betty, like the two other characters, has gone through quite a lot of changes. But in the final episode she is transformed. And while she doesn't stand out like the other two because of her apparently softer side, in the final episode she reveals herself quite a strong woman, much stronger than she was at the beginning.
    All three women "come of age" in this final episode. They're all great.

  4. Charlotte2:35 AM

    I need to see it. BUT WHERE AM I GONNA FIND THE TIME?????

  5. Anna,
    I'm glad you commented on Betty and her character. One of the reasons I so blatantly wrote about her was because I do want to hear from other women who read the blog, women who may like her or respond to her, or somehow see themselves in her actions. She may be my least favorite female character, but she's pivotal and important and for many other women I know, something of a rising champion. I'll tell you one thing for sure, Charlotte and I don't just want to write just for ourselves, or to ourselves, and if anything we can be a little too nice sometimes, a little too head-noddy instead of opening up the dialog and saying something that angers or pisses off people. I want to piss somebody off to know they're out there! Betty...she bothers me on so many levels. And yet I know there are times I'm sure it's her I'm channeling, not Joan, not Peggy, not Don. She also represents the lives of so many women at that time - a woman raised to attract and marry a man, not joust with him in the workplace. A woman raised not to compete but to compliment, Grace Kelly grown as a hot-house flower to play a certain role and play it well. Most interesting to me are her 'mothering' instinct - they get both a laugh and a cringe; she snaps at the children with the brittleness of a woman who drinks too much and gets touched too little. A woman who doesn't want to be bothered by imperfection or mess or smelly emotion. And she does that so impeccably until, as you said, the last episode where her emotions are allowed to surface. And it was wonderful to watch. For several of my friends, she's their favorite female character on Mad Men. The female I'm most afraid of for the future? Sally. Who will she be when she grows up?

  6. I have a lot of thoughts on these characters - Mad Men is such a great series, especially for those of us who've worked in advertising. Betty was not at all my favorite character, and she bothered me on a lot of levels too: her passivity, the way she dealt (or rather didn't) with her kids, her "ice queen" allure... but we can't judge her by today's standards. She was conditioned to be a certain way, women in general were so much more restrained and constricted at the time. They were taught to accept their men no matter what. And smoking and drinking was very much the norm. My mother was a chain-smoker, probably smoked during her pregnancies too... and don't get me started on my childhood. I think we've all known this woman and maybe that is why she is so irritating.
    And since we're talking, the Joan character (yes, beautiful, bold, incredibly sexy...) irritated the hell out of me! I loved the way she intimidated men and had them wrapped around her little finger and the way she was such a great problem solver, but what a BITCH she was to all the other women! Yowch.
    Peggy. How can you not love her? What a little fireball of energy, drive, guts! And yet she started out, in a lot of ways with the same set of rules as Betty: submissive, obedient, following all the rules.
    Oy... there's so much to say...

  7. I stumbled on this blog via mad google skills, and sure enough, it does not disappoint. Hiya, Janet! I've often thought of you while I watched MM, and your thoughts on the female triad shared in the post....I kind of heard you say them while I watched.

    Brilliant show, fantastic finale. Just when I think they are over-dramatizing a character or situation, they unfailing make up for it by....i dunno, running over a foot with a John Deere.

    It's true, Joan can be a terrible B to the other women, but then, she knows so well that if you can't take the heat you are screwed. The scene with her and Peggy, where she so bluntly advised Peggy on how to handle working in a man's world....cruel but no doubt helpful.

    Joan suffers no fools. What's not to love?

    My empathy for Betty was large for a long time, but sadly has slowly petered away. I am still empathetic, but the hope I had for her to survive the quiet cage the writers have so securely locked her in is all but gone.

    if you haven't already seen it, there is a group site called http://thisrecording.com that does a very entertaining running commentary on the heels of each episode.

    MM related--http://thisrecording.com/display/Search?searchQuery=mad+men&moduleId=3453611

    So Janet.....um....if you are Peggy, does that make Rick Duck?

    Miss you guys huge.