Monday, April 11, 2011

Mad Men Mondays: Four Stories

Her name is Betty. She appears to have it all, but appearances are always deceiving. She puts saccharin in her coffee instead of sugar, because the forces (also frequently known in society as "they") told her it's better, that sugar is bad for your health. Yet she smokes and drinks even while pregnant because that's what was done. She is an example of the great paradox of how we compartmentalize our bad behavior and change what's easy and convenient and keep doing what's not and remain in denial.

She predictably buys Heineken at a grocery store for a dinner party when it was on display, because marketers studying our behavior know us better than we know ourselves. She is the "made" consumer. I look around at our very homogenized culture (at a rare mall outing, everyone seemed to be in "uniform," literally: UGG boots, grasping Blackberry, toting expensive (fill in the blank...Coach, Louis Vuitton, etc.) handbag.

Her name is Sally. She is Betty's young daughter. Betty catches her smoking in the bathroom, trying to emulate adult behavior, which youth so often does. But instead of simple games of dress up, America's youth seems more corrupted than ever. Sexting is now part of our vocabulary, and their toys (expensive phones with monthly service plans, pricey clothes and bags, seem bewilderingly entitlements). When Betty has a new child on the way, Betty buys Sally a Barbie as a gift from the baby. Buying happiness. Isn't that the American dream? What Sally wants is time.

Her name is Peggy. She's trying to navigate and advance in the all boys club where people refer to their secretaries as "your girl." She's mocked when she gains weight, even asked to test out a weight loss device. She wants better pay and better treatment. Some losses (pay), some battles won (the private office). She at times seems to do almost anything to fit in (going to a gentlemen's club, smoking pot). She strikes me, like Betty and Sally, as being extremely lonely.

My name is Catherine. I don't envy people like real life Betty Drapers for being thinner, attractive, having the dream wardrobe, clothes, and family, because one has no idea what life is like for other people unless you've walked in their shoes.

I don't want to be a "made" consumer and mindlessly consume. I am an independent thinker, and I question things all the time. However, I don't make the right decisions with every choice, and know standards of perfection will set you up for failure and misery.

I'm not afraid like Peggy to go outside my comfort zone (although I would never do drugs). Like Michael Stipe in R.E.M.’s sonic poem Blue, I try and see outside myself. I look at my decisions and think, how will this affect the animal, person, planet? I wonder, when, how, why, where, did the pursuit of happiness become such a tunnel vision focus, only concerned about our own happiness, regardless of its impact on others? Perhaps it has always been that way since we displaced the Native Americans.

There's a scene in the film Julie & Julia where Julie Powell says in a fight with her husband, "What do you think a blog is? It's me, me, me day after day."

I don't aspire to have a "me, me, me" blog or life, and I hope you don't either.

But I know there's a little bit of Betty, Sally and Peggy in all of us. We're all imperfect, a contradiction in terms, sometimes lonely (hopefully not too much), want recognition, trying to figure it out.

My least favorite four letter words for this post and learnings from Mad Men: (don't) envy or (be the) same, and self (it's not all about you).


  1. Love this post. As easy as Betty is to dislike, I feel painfully sorry for her more than anything. She seems like such a victim of her times...the bored housewife, you know.

    The thing that continually strikes me about Mad Men is how sad and lonely pretty much ALL of the characters are. Roger? Married but still in love with Joan. Joan? Married (to an awful man) but still in love with Roger. Don? Just sad. Pete and Peggy? In love with each other but can't do anything about it. Betty and Sally? Very lonely and taking it out on each other. It's just a mess.

    I agree that you never know what life is like for someone else. I know I've envied so many people in my lifetime who have turned out to be different from who I thought they were, or were facing challenges I couldn't even imagine.

  2. Thanks Cate. And very much agreed on all your sentiments. I actually didn't think I'd like Mad Men in the beginning, because I thought - not another cynical look at America at this time frame. I longed to rewatch The Wonder Years. I also thought of the films Far from Heaven, The Hours, Revolutionary Road, The Single Man, Little Children (a more recent era), all so, whoa is us, isn't life so hard being a well-off suburbanite with a job, family and home in America. We're far more materialistic now but I don't see many Hollywood social commentaries on that. I don't romanticize the era, but I don't find people infinitely happy with all the "stuff" today.

    What a mess it is indeed and how very sad and lonely everyone is. Betty had a career as model but then she met Don. I tried to think of one content character and couldn't. Which leads to an interesting question on happiness then, but also now? How happy are most people really now?