Why I hate Betty Draper.

29 09 2009

madmen_8

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?

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14 responses

29 09 2009
dick whitman

really great post. i think of all the things that annoy me about Betty Draper, it’s the affected nature of her problems that bother me most. other main characters on the show seem to genuinely walk the line between sympathetic and repellent (Pete Campbell especially but also Don, Roger Sterling, Peggy, and Cooper); this is what makes them realistic and interesting. Betty, on the other hand, acts out so self-consciously that I feel like I’m watching a 5 year-old child. she makes half-assed attempts to break free of her domestic trap, only to sabotage herself halfway through and return to the status quo with an even more combustible well of frustration and sourness that she directs outwardly, as if others are solely responsible for solving her problems. if she wants to sleep with someone to get back at Don, kill someone, leave her family, do drugs, move to another city, whatever — she should do it. it’s just really boring watching her wring her hands over this stuff every single week. make up yer damn mind.

29 09 2009
M Lisa

You are right Betty is boring. But all the women are bring. The only woman who surprises us is Peggy. She’s totally unpredictable. She is the best female character and the actress plays her perfectly

29 09 2009
districtramblings

Peggy’s not boring, and neither is Joan Holloway. Joan is a fabulous character. She’s repressed in the same way that Betty is, but she makes us wonder what she’ll do or say next, you know? Maybe it’s January Jones’ acting I have a problem with.

29 09 2009
bros

I have to completely disagree. still waters run deep. she is one of the most interesting people on the show. Betty is definitely the USPS type-she stuffs it down and sublimates, but she will eventually go postal, and there have been hints at just how much effort women put into displacement back then. she shoots pigeons randomly in her neighborhood. her hands shake uncontrollably. she fucked a stranger while she was pregnant, just to see what it felt like-what it meant to transgress for once in her life. the stranger who feels her pregnant belly at the party-another fascinating portrait of betty daring herself to see how far she can go. her brief power struggle with the nurse in the hospital. I think its interesting to see when she will stand up for herself-like when she snapped at Don about the name of the new baby, and when she doesnt stand up for herself. Her sexuality is very interesting too-the bit on the floor with don at her brother’s house when they were having marital troubles, and her sticking it to him afterwards when she tells him it was all part of their pretending and charades that weekend. she has a very interesting moral code that you havent explored: why did she do that stranger at the bar, but not the fellow equestrian who clearly saw right into her and understood her in a way other men dont….
dont hate on Betty.

29 09 2009
Christian

Excellent post. I would love to sexually harass whom ever wrote this piece…Seriously

29 09 2009
bros

oh! and I forgot the inexplicable thing with the neighbor’s kid glen and their kinda kinky pedophilia soul matey bond. that was weird, and nowhere near boring, adding to Betty’s unique moral and sexual code.

29 09 2009
districtramblings

Yes but you’re mixing up plot with character. Sure, the character does or is involved some interesting things, like the pedophilia plot, but she never says anything interesting and her character never really develops as a result of them. As in, her personality and dialogue never match up to the things she does, so it all feels very disconnected.

29 09 2009
Geof Boyle

Never seen the show, but I have an opinion anyway. Sounds like Betty has the same problem that I have with every character on the Tudors: they are all victims of circumstance and do their best to survive, but no one questions the totally effed up order of things. “Different” only means “how do I get on top of this power structure”. Perhaps the real problem is that lit crit and deconstruction and all this post-modern post-colonial jive I learned in school has me constantly searching for this kind of analysis in others. “Wake up!”, I want to yell. “View the world from inside my paradigm!!”, is closer to what I’m afraid I actually mean.
For example, The Hours makes SO much sense if you are familiar with women’s studies or gender theory. I think to myself “Wow, she feels SO TRAPPED by her normal house and regular family. What a terrible burden”! But, I have to accept that it seems ridiculous if you were an engineering major and had pretty happy parents: “What the hell is wrong with this chick? John C. Reilly is pretty nice, and she has parquet floors and a self-cleaning oven for crying out loud”!

8 10 2009
La Dolce Vita

I also love how she seems to only feel like she is alive and in control when she is a sex object. Especially when she has great hair and lingerie. Way to go progressive Hollywood writing!

3 11 2009
beatbox

I am really, really over the Betty threads. I suspect part of the problem is that January Jones is probably the only actor other than John hamm to have a full season contract.

It is just boring writing. The episode synopses go like this:

1. There is a reorg at Sterling Cooper, Betty questions her life with Don
2. Don discovers Sal’s secret, Betty questions her life with Don
3. A guy’s foot gets chopped off, Betty questions her life with Don.

zzzzzzz

I just wish the writers would

12 11 2009
Lucy

I don`t want to be a hater, but I confess…I HATE BETTY! She is a child ALL the time.

25 01 2010
Suze

I hate Betty Draper also; more than anyone else on the show. I’ve now caught up on almost all the episodes and and rewatching some of the parts I missed when I fell asleep because they were so boring. Everything that you all said above, plus the nasty way she speaks to her children. Such as that time she said something like, “Sally Draper, don’t take it so personal” in a snappish way.

I blame the actress for being unable to act. The director and writers try to get the character out of her, but with wooden acting it is always going to fail.

That said, I also hate Don Draper, because he is immoral and chases skirts…even his child’s teacher, and lies about it, yet is a great businessman.

I don’t find the characters believable because they are at times so full of potential, and then fall flat with absolutely repellant behaviour.

It’s mixed up writing, and it’s just too enervating to watch.

In the beginning I hated Pete more than anyone, because he was such a weasel. But in season 3 he became one of the most interesting and believable characters. When everyone else acted like a selfish jerk when JFK was killed, Pete refused to go to the party. Of course the self centered, unmoved Drapers went.

Ah it is totally like a car crash. You don’t want to watch because it is horrible. But you turn your head to see it.

Will I watch the 4th season? Of course. Just to find out if they ever develop any of the potential of the decent and interesting characters…Sal for one. Peggy and Pete. Almost everyone else is a total zero. Especially Betty.

You’ve got to feel some spark of sympathy somewhere. If all of them are villains all of the time, what does it matter what happens?

4 10 2010
Jane

It’s really bad casting. January Jones makes Betty so one-dimensional and flat. Betty could have been an amazing character – with so much potential for empathy – but January Jones is so brittle and shallow, I can’t give a damn about her. I’m always happy when Don is cheating on her: his girlfriends are invariably way more interesting than Betty (I can’t remember when I’ve ever cheered on a philandering husband before). It’s a real error of judgement in the show, taking the series a few notches, and so different from the brilliant characterisations of Peggy and Joan.

28 12 2010
Kumar

Bros i disagree what u found a spec of light in a dark dark cave and that even not light continuous. The character is defined on not instances but on continuous pursue of instinct they have in those small moments. It would have been a refreshing change if Betty could have pursued anything she did in each moment but she didn’t and the communication part to her daughter makes me loath her. How can anyone not see what the eldest daughter is going thru

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