Monday, August 23, 2010

I would have done the same thing

The virtues of mad men
The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

It's one of those nice bits of irony you have to love. Sally's mother's friend has brought her home after catching her masturbating on the couch watching, I love this, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Anyway, Betty apologizes:
Betty: I am very sorry for this behaviour. And so is Sally. I would have done the same thing.
Other woman: Well, I'm sorry about that.
Betty means, of course, that she would have responded the same way this other woman has done (although we might doubt that given her tolerance of Glen Bishop's inappropriate behaviour). But the immediate antecedent in the sentence actually makes the plainest meaning that Betty would have done exactly what Sally did.

Of course we know that Betty doesn't mean that so we brush over it. Why do we know that? Because we understand the larger context of the conversation.

But if we were visiting a strange culture, we wouldn't know the larger context. And we'd make mistakes.

Or would we? Okay, let's add a twist.

Betty talks to Don and says that she never did such a thing and that the girls who did do such a thing grew up to be fast. Later, Betty will be talking to the psychiatrist who is going to see Sally and the subject of masturbation comes up. Betty admits here, very obliquely,  that she did do that sort of thing but that she "grew out of it".

But that's a lie as we all know from the infamous washing machine incident of a few seasons ago.

Secrecy, lies and deception
As I said in my post yesterday, that is what shame-honour societies engender.
Life is lived out in the open, in the public eye, and privacy is practically nonexistent. It would be impossible to live in such a world if one could not keep at least part of one's personal life hidden from others.
This is where secrecy, deception, and lying come into play.... Deception and lies are stratagems regularly used to keep information from others.
And boy did we see that in spades last night. Everyone has secrets they need to cover to maintain their honour.  Except Pete. He is so unaware of himself that he cannot see it. I'd list examples here but it would go one forever because there is the fake commercial, the fake wedding ring, the lunch to get Roger out of the office, the lies Betty tells and so on and on ....

What interests me more is that this raises one of my favourite questions about Mad Men: is this really about then or is it about now? When we comes up against a culture that is overtly a shame and honour culture, it pushes the shame and honour that underlies our presumption that we are about something higher aside. To pick up just one example: Note that when Betty is alone with Henry after Sally has been sent home, the first thing that she worries about is the shame she will now feel. I'm no Betty fan, as anyone who reads here will know, but isn't just the way we'd all react?

The obvious parallel—and although I haven't checked any one else's commentary this morning I'm sure only one million others noticed this—is with the Ground Zero Mosque. I don't do contemporary politics here so I won't go into it except to notice one politically incorrect subtext. Note that two things happen: 1) Roger rises above his personal feelings and 2) Don out plays the Japanese suitors from Honda at the shame-honour game. The underlying message here is clearly very pro-American* even if it seems dressed up as something else: secrecy, lies and deception, Matt Weiner knows how to play the game.

*And, as a Canadian, let me add that it damn well should be pro-American. You guys have a great country and a great culture and you spend far too much time running yourselves down. The world is a much better place because the USA is in it than it would have been otherwise.

Speaking of which
One of the things I am dreading about reading other's commentary this morning is that I know that all sorts of people will be gloating over the possibility of Don nailing Dr. Faye Miller. "Roving those hills" seems to be the favourite euphemism. It's a sort of guilty pleasure wherein they get to criticize the behaviour while getting the pornographic pleasure of watching it happen. (A common human trait, I know, but really: grow up guys. Be like me, I praise the behaviour and get the pornographic pleasure of watching it happen. Much better ;-))

Anyway, I think one of the really interesting bits of subterfuge Weiner and Co. pulled last night was to slip a pro-marriage subtext into the story. Henry Francis is helping Betty to finally grow up. And I think we could see that Dr. Faye is offering Don a chance at a real loving relationship with another woman. So far we have seen that he can have a loving relationship with Anna, provided it's non-sexual. With Suzanne we saw hints of his growing to have a sexual relationship with someone who is also good.

We'll have to see what happens here.

Anna (or Hannah), as Matt Weiner well knows, is the mother of Samuel, she who prayed for a son and then, in gratitude for having her honour restored by having a son, gave him to the Lord. Samuel became a great prophet and the key figure in the transition between two eras.

Any of this starting to feel familiar?

Anyway, what strikes me about it, however, is the extent to which "the past" has disappeared this season. We have not had a single flashback to Dick Whitman's childhood. With Roger giving up—with considerable moral effort—his attachment to past struggles, I think we are seeing the show move from the era of Prophets and Kings to the era of the writings (that is from Nevi'im to Ketuvim). I'll have to keep an eye out for references.

I'm not sure I feel comfortable with seeing Sally's sexual awakening on screen. Even though we see nothing it strikes me as exploitative. And what effect does this sort of plot have on the child actress playing the part. If she were my daughter and I was shown the script for last night's show I would have put a stop to it right away.

BTW: there is considerable overlap here with themes in Rob Roy which is coming tomorrow.

Season 4 blogging begins here.
The post on the next episode will be here.

For anyone crazy enough to go even further :

Season three blogging begins here.

Season two, if you are interested, begins here.

Season one begins here.


  1. Last night's episode was very interesting. It does show the transition from one era to another, and that is upsetting some people on the other sites. Nonetheless, I have a couple of observations. First of all, I was impressed with the verisimilitude of last night's episode regarding Honda. Their first venture into the American market was indeed with motorcycles, but they were more like motor scooters, not the kind that real "bikers" who drive Harleys would use,and much less threatening to average people than a Harley. And they were also red as I recall. The Beach Boys wrote a song--"Little Honda"--about them. The cars came later, as Campbell says "they're working on it." More importantly, Roger's attitude was not at all uncommon when both Honda and Toyota first came to the US. Many people were angry, some laughed at these "funny looking cars" that were so unlike anything Detroit was producing at the time, and there were reports of physical violence directed at those who bought them. My mother bought the first Toyota in our family in 1969 and she received comments from people, including my father who had served in the Pacific during WWII and was at Pearl Harbor on 12/07/41. It wasn't until the gasoline crisis of the '70s that people--in many cases grudgingly-- began to take a second look because the Japanese cars were far more fuel-efficient than American cars,were much less expensive, and required little maintenance.

    The second observation has to do with Sally. I don't think what happened last night was as much about sexual awakening as it was sexual "acting out" or sexually reactive behavior. Sally is around 10-11 and, trust me, back then kids that age in the environment Sally is growing up in did not know what "doing it" meant. In addition, there is no indication in her physical appearance that Sally has even begun puberty, or any mention that she has started menstruating. Under normal circumstances that usually precedes sexual feelings. My belief, which others alluded to on another site last Season and then dismissed by most people, was that Grampa Gene was messing with her, and had probably done the same with Betty when she was a child. This would explain an awful lot about not only Sally's behavior but Betty's as well. In addition, I think there is some evidence to support this. Its not far-fetched to think that Grampa Gene let Sally drive the car as a bribe not to tell. Who in their right mind would let a then 9-10 year old get behind the wheel of a Lincoln? I think Dr. Edna is right on when she suggests that Betty should be seeing someone, and I like how when Betty says no she adroitly gets Betty to agree to come in once a month to talk about "Sally's progress." I agree with you about Henry Francis, everyone on the other sites has despised him and thought he was the villain. In fact, he could turn out to be the hero, he seems to be the most together person on the show and might well get far more than he ever bargained for by marrying Betty.

  2. I suspect that you are right that at least some of Sally's behaviour is acting out. The scene on the couch, though, looked like she was responding to what she saw on the screen and not the people around her.

    One interesting thing about Sally is that, as a child, she has no redress to privacy. Her lies are far blunter and easier to detect than her parents' lies.