Monday, May 21, 2012

Mad Men: What is Lakshmi up to?

Some more Meta-Meta commentary. Over at the Vulture site, Matt Zoller Seitz loved the episode except for one scene:
I loved the coffee shop scene so much that it made me almost (but not quite) forgive the scene between Lakshmi and Harry in Harry's office, which is hands-down the dumbest and most incoherent scene in season five of Mad Men, and the one that most lends credence to the notion that this is ultimately a male-centered show that understands many of its female characters in an academic rather than intuitive way. Lakshmi was there to …
And he goes on to make the point that  Lakshmi's actions don't make much sense on the surface.

Well, how much sense do we expect from someone who is into Kozmic Krishna Konsciousness?

And Lakshmi is named for a Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity so we should be cued to see contradictions in her character. (This, incidentally, is a bit of a theme this episode with Don and Megan and Roger and Joan also having disputes over wealth versus "spirituality" in which the woman is in a very ambiguous position.)

Seitz assumes that her purpose was, as she seems to say at one point, was to use sex to keep Harry from saving Paul. But, if that is her purpose, her actions, as Seitz points out, don't make sense. Seitz also notes that they don't make sense to Harry either. So what is she doing?

I thought the receptionist had a useful clue, when she calls to tell Harry Lakshmi is there, she says, "She's got a whole story." That rang a bell with me. Back in the 1980s, I'd meet these young "downtown" women who were lost and confused on the one hand and hard as nails pragmatists on the other. They'd feed you a "whole story" but they also tended to know exactly what everything cost.

They were runaways who lived downtown and got by by hook or by crook. That was how they got that way. There are still thousands of girls like that about.

Lakshmi strikes me as charter member of that club. Notice that she comes on to Harry in a very sexual manner right from the get-go. She is used to using her sexuality to get what she wants. And Paul tells us that when he gives Harry, and us, her background.

I don't think we should discount the possibility that she was hoping to recruit Harry to the Krishna movement in this way. It's probably how she got Paul into it, as Harry surmises.

My final thought here is that Seitz has it exactly backwards in saying that the "show that understands many of its female characters in an academic rather than intuitive way". One of the most refreshing things about Mad Men is that it understands its female characters in an intuitive manner rather than an academic one. There is zero feminist theory at work here. These women behave like women tend to do. Sometimes their actions make sense and sometimes they don't.

I shouldn't have to stop and make this qualification, but the same is true of men. But depictions of men have always been like that—no one expects fiction about men to correspond to some academic theory.

Thus we have the wonderful portrayal of Joan and Lakshmi who both define themselves in terms of their sexual power and will do things that, otherwise, make no sense to display that power to themselves and others. For a woman who thinks this way, and there are a few, the validation comes not from the fact that the guy wants sex with her but from the sense that those guys she does give sex to are so impressed by the experience with her that they keep coming back for more.

On a related note, at the bottom of his piece Seitz wonders at the lack of Dawn since her earlier integration into the show. The fascinating thing here is that the producers handle black characters exactly the way Seitz, falsely, accuses them of handling women: that is academically rather than instinctively. And that is why the black characters who do appear are always so boring.

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