Friday, June 1, 2012

Liminality anyone?

Courtesy of Ta-Nehisi Coates, I found my way to a post over at Vulture called "Why No One Should Be Shocked By Joan's Big Move on Mad Men" that tries to explain why Joan agrees to sleep with a client for personal gain. You can read the whole thing but you won't do any better that Coates at finding the money graphs.
A lot of the discussion around this episode focuses on would Joan really do this, and hey, she's in a desperate situation because she has to care for her child as a single parent. Yes, it's true that Joan is a single parent, and it's true that that's a difficult situation. Except Joan hasn't brought that up. She hasn't talked about her fears about raising Kevin alone and hasn't seemed all that stressed about money (or alimony?), to the point that she declines Roger's attempts to pay off-the-books child support.

She didn't sleep with scuzzy car guy just because she was desperate for the stability. She slept with him because she's in a liminal phase.

Liminalty is the scary in-between times in our lives, the weird time when we're not who we used to be but we're not quite who we're going to be. Joan's in a classic — classic! — liminal phase right now. She's not the office vixen anymore, but she hasn't really transitioned to doting mother. And to top it all off, she's in the middle of a particularly traumatic divorce. Joan doesn't know who she is anymore; her entire identity is jeopardized.
She doesn't know who she is anymore?  As opposed to everyone else? I wouldn't dwell on it except that this sort of rationalization gets used a lot.

I've been hard on Simcha Fisher in the past but she was brilliant in her response to the same rationalization used by a woman who divorced her husband "to find herself" a while ago:
I hate to break it to her, but the minute she made that decision to leave him to find herself, the search was over:  this elusive self had been found.  In fact, I can sum up her self for her in one short sentence:  She is the kind of person who is willing to abandon her husband in order to find herself.  That’s who she is. A virtuous man acts virtuously, and a monstrously selfish woman spends her life trying to find her monstrous self.

And she is an active participant in creating her own life:  according to her own narrative, she spent her entire married life actively pursuing her own happiness.  That is the life she created.  The only unfinished business here is clearing up the mystery of why she thought such a life would make her.
"Joan doesn't know who she is anymore"? Of course she knows, she's a whore. That's what you become when you have sex for pay.


  1. A joke:
    A man at a party cheekily asks a woman, "So, would you have sex with a stranger for a million dollars?"
    "Well, for a million?... Yeah, I guess I would."
    He pulls out his wallet. "Well, would you sleep with me for this?"
    "No! What do you think I am?"
    "I already know what you are. I'm just trying to figure out the price..."

    1. Yes, a perennial classic because every generation includes some people who convince themselves it's not really prostitution if the price is high enough.