Mark my words: this Halloween, the sidewalks will be packed with Betty and Don Draper impersonators. I’ll admit it– I’ve already perused vintage stores in search of that fabulous late 50’s dress that makes me want to curl my hair, chain-smoke and instruct my imaginary children to “go play.”
Mad Men is already a cultural phenomenon, and, having seen every episode of every season so far, I can’t say that I’m surprised by the way America is voraciously consuming the show. It’s like catnip for the urban professional– curvy women in stunning costumes, audacious men who spend their workdays drinking, smoking and sexually harassing the secretaries, long, dramatic silences that speak volumes.
Mad Men hammers in its point about appearances in the late 50’s and early 60’s. The women are expected to be effortlessly beautiful, happy and polite, to cater to men, to be tender, caring mothers and endlessly devoted wives. The men are supposed to have it all together, financially and personally, to be powerful, no-bullshit leaders in the office and in the home, and to display absolutely zero emotion.
And then the show reveals the era’s ugly underbelly, the turmoil bubbling beneath the surface: married couples who fight behind closed doors, Don’s secret identity as a poor person (egad!), Betty’s psychological breakdowns. But here is my problem: if this show is written by mostly women, why did they make Betty so incredibly boring?
Betty Draper is awful. She’s a bitch, and she has nothing interesting to say, ever. She’s a terrible, selfish mother in a perfect dress, which could be awesome to watch, except she doesn’t make that role interesting or comical in the least (even Ms. Palin managed to do that!). I get that she is supposed to be this tortured, under-stimulated Sylvia Plath type, but even behind closed doors when there’s no one to impress, Betty has the personality of velcro. She makes two kinds of comments: bitchy boring ones, and benign boring ones.
I fault these (allegedly) female writers. They could have done so much with Betty Draper. I want to see passive aggressive comments under her breath, or moments where the viewer sees a glimpse of her genius that will forever go unrealized as a result of her domestic imprisonment. SOMETHING besides this woman that is so mind-numbingly spoiled, bitter and uninteresting that we cheer when Don gets his kicks elsewhere. I mean, can you blame him? The only thing worse than being married to a mannequin is being married to a mannequin that complains.
That’s not to say I don’t sympathize with her plight– I do. She has a philandering husband, she’s bored, she’s stuck, she’s either too young to be mom or not cut out for it at all. But I’m going to gag if I have to watch another 10 minutes of Betty staring off into the distance with an ambiguous expression on her face. Please, Betty. Say something! Slip something in Don’s drink! Make your kids bake you pot brownies! Get a weird habit, like pulling your eyebrows out! Women in the 50s were only supposed to be boring on the outside– did you not get the memo?