September 7, 2009

Dissecting Mad Men: Episode 4, "The Arrangements."

The moment I picked this week is little Sally Draper and Grandpas Gene eating ice cream together shortly before his death. Grandpa Gene blatantly favours his grandaughter over Bobby, agreeing to buy peaches for snack time because Sally loves them even though they give his grandson a rash, though that admittedly occurs after the scene to which I am referring. So, let's get to the scene in question.

Sally and her grandpa are sitting in the kitchen, conspiring to eat ice cream before dinner and to hide it from Betty in the process, who probably wouldn't like her daughter eating something so fatty, as Betty seems to have developed pregorexia in previous episodes (Remember the melbatoast incident?). Gene tries to trick his daughter with lines like, "I have a salt tooth. It's right back here, see?" But she just groans and says, "Oh Grandpa." Instead of getting mad at Sally for being precocious, Grandpa Gene instead tells her, "You could really be something. Don't let your mother tell you that you can't." He tells Sally she's smart and encourages her to eat the ice cream. He doesn't care if she gains weight because he senses his grand daughter's potential isn't limited to her looks. I love this moment because it seems to be foreshadowing for The Second Wave feminist movement to come.

What's significant in this moment is a grandfather considering his granddaughter's intellect and favouring her for it. He knows what he's saying is subversive too. He knows Betty wouldn't want him to encourage Sally to become something besides a Stepford wife, and yet here he is, about to die just as traditional patriarchy was about to begin its demise in the face of a heightened feminist movement (although, as we know, it's still not completely dead). Gene's a successful man, but he seems to think his granddaughter is the progeny who'll make him proud more so than his grandson. As he's dying, he's starting to see his family in a more meritocratic way. Not only this, but he sees how he's too blame for Betty's unhappiness. He tells her earlier in the episode, when they are discussing his funeral arrangements, that it's his fault she is the way she is because he shielded her from the unpleasantness of the world as a child. He tells Betty that's why she married "this joker" in reference to Don. And maybe that's true. If she hadn't been shielded from the realities of the world as a child, she might have been more suspicious of Don's shady past and lack of parents before they got married. If she'd been a little tougher, she might have made better life decisions. Patriarchy makes women weak and unhappy, which Gene seems to know. He also seems to know that Betty has become totally complicit with patriarchy and lacks the self-reflexivity to raise her daughter differently. This is why Gene's words to his daughter are so touching; he wants her to learn to speak up, to learn that she can "be something," that she isn't her mother's emotionally stunted and infantile daughter.

Sally will grow up in a generation where women did have more options than they previously had. She will come of age watching schools integrate, listening to The Beatles, hearing about people doing acid at Woodstock and perhaps she'll even protest the Vietnam War. But what's important is that someone has told Sally she has potential, so maybe she'll grow up to use it. Sally will have the opportunity to participate in many social movements and help change the world. Maybe now that Sally has been told she can do that, she will....

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