Monday, July 8, 2013

Imitatio project: more mommy issues

Moving along with my five limiting personality factors that a Don Draper type character would have, the next two are
  • He has a a lot of romantic baggage that he brings along from the past.
  • The replacement he found for his first failed relationship is another weak and ineffectual woman who never grew out of her princess stage. 
 I'll begin by throwing you a curve ball. There is an interview out there where Matt Weiner says his mother was something like Betty Draper. He said it response to someone who argued that the portrait of Betty is too negative. I wonder what she thought of that?
What do his parents think of the show?

“I think they love the show,” he said.

He thinks? They haven’t told him?

“Ah, not really. I think they like to tell other people more than they like to tell me.”

Now read this:
After my first day on the set, I met Weiner for dinner at L’Ermitage hotel in Beverly Hills, AMC’s base for out-of-towners. He was outside finishing a cigarette. Earlier in the day he commanded, “Don’t say I smoke!”

Why not? His face changed, and he seemed about 12 years old. “My parents don’t know.” I found that appealing, though I could see him wince once he said it.
Those quotes are from a New York Times Magazine profile of Weiner that came out during the second season. Reading it, you can see that Mad Men is a mythologized version of Matt Weiner's own life. His parents had moved out of New York to Baltimore and they had nothing good to say about the city. Young Matt visited his grandparents in the city and did fun stuff like see Hair. So the home family in Baltimore and the fun grandparents in New York became the models for Henry and Betty and the fun grandparents in New York were the inspiration for Don and Megan's apartment in New York. (Read the story I link above and you'll find a rich vein of evidence as many of the things Weiner talked about unguardedly back in 2008 have since shown up on the show.)

So let's go back to Betty because she is the person through whom Matt Weiner is working out his mommy issues.
“She is an incredibly beautiful woman who married a man she barely knows because he looks good on paper. Her mother has just died, and she’s realized that when her beauty disappears she will cease to exist. She’s not enough for her husband, and she doesn’t want to accept it. She’s terrified of dealing with that problem because she cannot get divorced, she cannot be single, she cannot start over. She is somewhat puritanical.”
No, I don't think that Betty is exactly like Weiner's mother but Betty went to college and then became a housewife and Weiner's mother got a law degree and never practiced. At times Betty seems to read like the creation of someone who read The Feminine Mystique and then brutally forced history to fit the theory—that is certainly the way most critics read her—but she makes much more sense if read as the creation of a man who has not successfully blown up the relationship he had with his mother. Or, to approach the problem from the other end of the telescope, many of the things that don't make sense about Betty sound like the sorts of things a guy who hasn't outgrown his mother would see in a romantic interest.

Rebuilding the structure

So, I think we are in a position to understand Don better than his creator. Abigail, the stepmother, isn't real. She's just a  caricature and not a believable character at all. Betty is really Don's mother and not his first wife. His, or my recreation of him J.A.C., has a hard time relation to women because he has all this baggage of the relationship with his mother hanging over him.

But that still leaves a puzzle. The temptation is to say that Don marries an infantile Megan and that is his fault. I don't see that. Megan's faults strike me as very much her fault and not his. She just isn't enough woman for him.

Our era doesn't see that. We blame the man for everything. 


  1. I think there's enough blame to go around. Megan is what she is, for better or worse. Of course there's room for improvement, and presumably a few failed relationships would have helped her grow up. But Don chose her as she is. I don't think he had any illusions that he could change her or even wanted to change her. I think he though that once they were married she would suddenly become, well......mature. A lot of couples fall into that trap, and of course it never works.

    I think in the same interview you cite above Weiner admitted that Betty is a lot like his mother was when he was growing up. I was a bit shocked when I first read that, but more shocked by how "normal" he seemed to think that was, as if to say "wasn't everyone's mother like that?". Yeah, he's working through his issues.

    1. I think you're cutting Megan too much slack. The Megan he chose was a woman who had grown up and left her actress fairytale behind. It's only when her jerk of a father puts the idea back into her head that she reverts. And when she does, a whole new childish side of Megan that we hadn't seen before, and, more importantly, that Don hadn't seen before, bubbles up to the surface.

      Otherwise I agree.

      It's amazing by the way, how quickly the Don haters have forgotten that she betrayed her friend to get her big break and that she only did so because Don helped her. If we judge Megan, Betty and others by the same standards as we judge Don, he comes out head and shoulders above them every time.