The Tyranny of Pretty People

ViaHoneyBearKelly, Mad Men and sex and power:

Joan’s rape was not a particularly “hard case,” as lawyers like to
say – in the middle of it HER FIANCE IS HOLDING HER FACE DOWN. There
was nothing subtle about the message, and still, it appears, there are
people watchingMad Menwho didn’t get it.

An even better example of cognitive dissonance inMad Men‘s
audience happened in last season’s famous scene between Don Draper and
Bobbie Barrett. In a stunningly physical display of male domination,
Don grabbed Bobbie’s hair, inserted his hand into her vagina, and
ordered her to compel her husband Jimmy to apologize to his clients.
She complies.

When I watched the scene myself, though, I thought – how masterfully
they’ve set this up! This is the dark underbelly of Don’s charm,
revealed! And they’ve even set it up so that he’s using his sexual
dominance of Bobbie to make her do something that will benefit him
professionally! Oh I can’t wait to see what people have to say about

And thereaction at Jezebel was typical of what I heard in most corners of the internet: shocking – butsexxxaaaaay!

Leaving aside that no one, no matter how influential, can make people perceive his work other than how they wish to perceive it, in part Don Draper gets away with his shit because he’s hot. If Freddy Rumsen tried the kind of crap Don pulls, or even Pete Campbell, people would be calling for his head. (I think, I mean, I hear there are women who are into Vincent Kartheiser. I think he looks like an underage porny weasel.) The pretty are forgiven things the way the rich are, and Don is both. The audience is responding to what a smokin’ goddamn GQ motherfucker Jon Hamm is in his outfits, but that’s part of the skeeve. That someone could look so nice and normal, and like he’d take you dancing, and then do things you couldn’t have imagined five minutes before you met him.

Mad Men is, ultimately, about the subversion of power. It’s why Joan’s rape was played the way it was: That scene would never have had as much impact if it was Peggy, who gets crapped on by life occasionally, or one of the switchboard girls who are like under the entire totem pole, being assaulted. Joan was the girl who had managed to carve out in that office a position of utmost control and power despite being a woman; you can see her, later in that episode, thinking, “I thought I was above being treated like this.” She thought she was the exception.

To certain men and a good part of society then and now, of course, you are never above being treated like that, and no matter how much influence you may think you have, no matter how close you think you are to being okay, you can still be brought low just because you’re a girl. Just because.


7 thoughts on “The Tyranny of Pretty People

  1. Just a couple notes:
    1. As a straight male I don’t have a lot of standing for telling women which men are attractive, but I heart Vincent Kartheiser. A lot of it’s the character, but to the extent I’ve seen the show (really only starting to catch up now), that’s my favorite actor/role combination. I think if women are into him, it might have something to do with how well he nails the character.
    2. I can understand why people like Mad Men, but I still don’t love it – it’s just too fucking depressing and claustrophobic. Even on a show as bleak as The Wire, you still got a sense of why people got up in the morning. On Mad Men, it seems like the only reason any of the characters go to work is to make other people unhappy. There’s zero joy; the closest they come is archness.
    3. What I want from the show: MOAR ANNE DUDEK. Besides my unflagging crush on her, I just love watching her act – I think she damn near stole House from Hugh Laurie (yeah, it’s a silly show, but the principals are fantastic).
    4. What wrappedupinbooks said:I also find it troubling that both Joan and Bobbie’s rapes are depicted as “sexy” in the trailer for the new season.

  2. McCloud, for its day and time, was pretty forward-looking, IIRC. I think Marshall Sam McCloud (good golly, Dennis Weaver was *fine* in the mid-70s — you wouldn’t know it was the same actor as “Chester Goode” except by the voice) had something you don’t see in “Mad Men” — chivalry and a real dedication to justice.

  3. Never watched a single second of this hunk of crap, and never will. I don’t need to be reminded yet again that so-called ‘beautiful’ people get away with everything, and that nice guys finish dead last.

  4. Joan was way too full of herself. And in a metaphorical sense, didn’t she have it coming?

  5. Hi A.

    no one, no matter how influential, can make people perceive his work other than how they wish to perceive it

    Mad Men is doing what the best art does – presenting ambiguity and letting each audience member’s mind fill in the gaps. Draper creates an irreconcilable tension for women who find him attractive: They are drawn to the “take me” fantasy of pure animal attraction that makes for a thrilling daydream but aware of the message it could be misinterpreted as if they endorse it too enthusiastically. That kind of unresolvable combination of attraction and foreboding can be electrifying and set one’s imagination on fire. (For men, see: madonna/whore complex.)

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