Tuesday, April 29, 2014

In Defense of Betty Draper

It may be easy to criticize Betty Draper.

That’s it. There’s no “but” there. That is just a simple fact. The woman has her faults, even in the rogues gallery that is the cast of Mad Men. However, the lady also never gets a break from people who might be persuaded to write off Don’s sociopathy (“He just wants love!”) or Peggy’s pettiness (“She’s trying to make it in a world she doesn’t know how to survive in!”) or even Joan’s recent betrayal of Don, whom she didn’t want back at the agency (“Joan looks cute in that dress!”). I feel like when people realize that a new episode of the show happens to focus on Betty, they breathe a sigh of relief. “Finally!” they collectively say, “Time to Betty bash!”

The most recent episode of the show underscored how Betty simply doesn’t have the skill set necessary to be a good mother — to Sally or to anyone. And while that isn’t news — again, to Sally or to anyone — I’m going to play the ogress’s advocate and point out that she at least tried. She also failed, but there’s the desire there to do what she thinks constitutes good mothering. To her credit, she did deign to interact with Bobby on his level and talk about Wolfman. She did volunteer to be the first to sip of the fresh milk, and she acted like it’s somehow not disgusting to be drinking body-temperature animal fluid in front of her son’s entire class. She wasn’t even the one who initiates the mean-girling of the bra-less tour guide.

It all falls to pieces, of course, when the field trip breaks for lunch and Bobby reveals that he traded Betty’s sandwich for a bag of gumdrops, at which point she clamps down into “cold Betty” mode. Yeah, yeah — everyone says “boo!” and throws garbage at the TV screen, but can we please focus on the fact that her child gave away her lunch. She was expecting a sandwich, and she did not get one.

A few admissions:
  • I am not a parent, and I do not plan to become one.
  • In general, I hesitate to say that I relate to Betty Draper sometimes.
  • I suffer from low blood sugar.
Now, had I been the adult chaperone on a field trip and I found that my child gave away my lunch in exchange for gumdrops, I would have been at least as angry as Betty was.

Me, as Betty (an imagined dialogue that I hope will not come to pass):
“You what? You WHAT? You gave away my lunch to some other child for gumdrops? GUMDROPS? Bobby, your father lied about his identify to me for years, and this is the most disappointing thing that has ever happened to me. Not only did you deprive me of a lunch that I need because I’ve been forced to spend the day with draining children such as yourself, but I’m understanding that you gave my lunch to someone else in exchange for literally the worst candy. Have you ever had gumdrops? They don’t taste good. Red does not taste like cherry. It tastes like cinnamon. Purple does not taste like grape. It tastes like clove. Gumdrops are literally a candy that exists to remind us how much better candy has gotten since we started having fruit flavors. And so you just assumed that I wouldn’t want my sandwich and also that I would be okay sitting here, watching you eat your sandwich and then eating all your gumdrops, because I will never eat gumdrops. Where is this girl? Why didn’t she come to the field trip with her own sandwich? Did she need two sandwiches? Or did she just want to divest herself of these terrible candies that someone thought were appropriate to put in a child’s lunch? Really. A. Whole. Bag. Is she the heiress to Brach’s? Is her name Susie Brach? Do they have gumdrops and other antiquated candies flowing out of their pantries and cupboards to the point that they have their children bring the surplus to school for crude barter? At the very least, Bobby, you should have asked me, ‘Mom, do you want the sandwich that is your only form of sustenance aside from the piping hot cow foam you drank earlier? Or would you rather have nothing and because I made the school lunchyard equivalent of a magic beans deal? Huh, Mom? Also, would you rather I gave you a thoughtful present or a disfiguring scar? I can’t imagine which you’d rather have, because I’m that bad at critical thinking.”

Well, that’s what I would have said.

(This is why Betty shouldn’t have kids.)

(This is also maybe why I shouldn’t have kids either.)

A miscellaneous Mad Man point: Missing from my list of characters that viewers will cut a break for? Pete Campbell. No one loves Pete. He’s sub-Betty.And in case Warm Betty / Cold Better isn’t enough of a contrast for you, check her out in literal black and white.

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