Thursday, June 14, 2012

Manly Thor's Day Special: Ballerina

I'm still on that last episode of Mad Men. Looking around the web, I think I'm the only person who thought it was brilliant. Some others thought it good, some thought it terrible and most thought it underwhelming.

Well, the last is to be expected. That's the Mad Men motif: a big penultimate show full of drama followed by a quiet, philosophical wind up. The only exception so far has been Season 3.

I'm going to arrogantly suggest that the reason people haven't appreciated it fully is because there was so much to digest in the show. I know that I find more in it every time I rewatch this episode. To take just one example, think of the word "ballerina". Lots of people have quoted a remark that Megan's mother Marie makes but I think they then fail to grasp the full significance of it.

First, the remark. Finding Megan moping in bed about her lack of success in her acting career, Marie tells her that the problem is that she is running after a phantom. Megan childishly whines that she is supposed be encouraging. That is when Marie gives her both barrels of twelve gauge realism:
Not every little girl gets to do what they want. The world could not support that many ballerinas.
Megan doesn't take that well. She makes a snide comment and her mother calls her an ungrateful little bitch.

An aside: Am I the only one to care that Marie is absolutely right on this one? And this is about more than just this one episode of the show. I find it very troubling that no one else latches on to this because it makes me wonder about our attitudes towards women in this post-feminist era. As a man, do you want a woman like Megan or a woman like Peggy? Both are variations on Margaret meaning a pearl, perhaps even a pearl of great value.

That goes right to the heart of not only this season's Mad Men but to the very nature of sin. Is sin in the devil who tempts us or is it in our desires.

But let's get back to "ballerina". Marie, after all, could have said that the world can only support so  many princesses but she chose, or, rather, the scriptwriters chose for her, "ballerina". We've had two notable ballerina appearances in the show before. We've had a character who has shared the name of a ballerina: Suzanne Farrell.  We've also had Peggy whom Freddy Rumsen calls "Ballerina".

So here is the question again: Do you thing Megan is Peggy's equal? Peggy didn't go looking to be a copywriter but she worked at it when she was given the chance. Megan didn't value the dream given to her but instead reverted to her childhood, and childish, dream of being an actress.

As I've said before, I don't think there is anything wrong with the image of the ballerina and the princess and I don't think there is anything wrong with little girls seizing on these archetypes. The problem comes when people feel entitled to it. And we tend to do that don't we? We look at some impossible dream and we know we can't earn it but we also think it will be magically handed to us.

To shift sexes for a moment, that is surely what was wrong with Lane Pryce's dreams. His wife thinks Don filled him with ambition he ought not to have but Lane didn't have ambitions, he had silly little fantasies as revealed by his still having the photograph of the sexy young woman that he found in a  wallet in an earlier episode. This is that crazy dream that most of us men have that some absolute goddess will come along and just give herself to us; not because we have won her love but just 'cause you know. Just 'cause we live in a narcissistic age and we're all prone to those sorts of dreams.

By the way, the "666" is beginning to make some sense now. Needful things: it's all about our desires and how they make us sin. Remember how Lane comes into Joan's office and she asks him what he thinks of her two possible vacation choices and he says neither seemed appropriate for celebrating the death and Resurrection of our Lord? And then he immediately makes a sexual suggestion that angers Joan. And then he, like Judas, hangs himself.

In the last episode, Joan wonders of Lane would not have committed suicide if she had given him sex. But why would that make any difference?

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