Sunday, August 22, 2010

Shame and Guilt: Ain't It Fun Being a Girl?

Mad Men, Season Four, Episode Five, "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword"

Another excellent ironic use of music for the closing song: "When I have a brand new hair-do . . . I enjoy being a girl." Enjoy, indeed. Poor Sally. The episode could be subtitled "It sucks being a 1960s little girl with a rigidly 1950s mother." Tonight's show was so interestingly balanced. On one side, we have the office scenes of increased competition between advertising firms and the generationally-divided response to the Japanese (with Bert Cooper on the side of the younger crowd here, but he would have been too old to fight in the war as Roger did); on the other side, we have the drama of the home front with Sally facing increased competition for her parents' attention and the varying responses to childhood masturbation in this decade of the "sexual revolution." (For an interesting article about the growing sexual openness urged on post-WWII parents by child-rearing books through the 1960s, check out this link; it's by an MIT media studies prof and isn't overly long. I found it when I did a quick search to ascertain that a more permissive attitude was already present in 1965:

The inter-ad agency competition is becoming so fierce that Don is fielding phone calls from a newspaper advertising columnist who wants his reaction to comments by someone at the firm that got the Clearasil account after SCDP cut it loose. Don sets out to prove himself once againg the risk-taking ad man in his bid to win the account with Honda. For this, he recruits the younger, more forward-thinking members of the firm--Pete, Peggy, and Joan--who do a masterful, and funny, job of staging their non-attempt to shoot a motorcycle commercial. It pays off; while no one gets the motorcycle account, Don and Co. are awarded an account for Honda's new small car. Lane's funny description of this car shows the generational gap between theirs and mine on the subject of small cars, when he describes the Honda as "a motorcycle with doors. The nice thing is it has windows" so you can see your brains splatter when it crashes.

It was interesting to me to hear Roger's reaction to doing business with the Japanese. I expect there were many veterans of the Pacific war who felt as he did. While he made some nasty racist comments and was being an ass--an alcohol-enhanced ass as usual--he also gave us a window into how hard it is to move on from traumatic experiences. To Pete's reasonable assertions that it's been twenty years and these businessmen from Honda are "not the same people" who fought WWII, Roger rather poignantly retorts, "I'm the same people." He tries to tell Joan a story about one of the men on his ship, but she--wife of a soon-to-be-shipped-to-war doctor--doesn't want to hear it. She tries to soothe him with, "You fought to make the world a safer place and it is." Roger's not sure he's buying that though. He asks, "Since when is forgiveness a better quality than loyalty?" Pete and the others, though, aren't just moving on, they're after money. Pete baldly points out that he needs this account as he's going to be a father. But, in the midst of the anti-Japanese sentiment and the desire for money were the office's attempts at cross-cultural understanding (even if they were self-serving). They all had copies of The Crysanthemum and the Sword, though Don might be the only one who read it. According to Wikipedia (don't tell my students I'm referencing Wikipedia; this isn't a research paper, though), this book was published in 1946 by Ruth Benedict, an American anthropologist, commissioned by the Office of War Information to do a cultural study of Japan. She did so by studying Japanese newspapers, novels, and other cultural artifacts as well as by interviewing Japanese-Americans. The book made famous the contrast between "shame cultures" and "guilt cultures" (those of Japan and of the West respectively). It's a quote about shame that Don reads to his partners in madcap crime as he outlines his plan to beat out the competition.

While the "shame culture" v. "guilt culture" distinction was being used to classify Japan, it also sheds light on the travails of young Sally Draper. There's enough guilt and attempts at inducing guilt to more than go around the Draper and Francis households/famililes/whatever they now are. The family scenes also start out with a focus on increased competition. Bobby and Sally are at Don's when a babysitter arrives so Don can go out on a date with Bethany (why???). She tells her dad, "I don't like that." Not only does she perceive Bethany as a threat, but she wonders about the babysitter--who is young and attractive so not unthinkable as a Don target--and is so bold as to ask the sitter if she and Don are "doing it," then informing the woman, "I know what 'it' is. The man pees inside the woman." I remember being Sally's age, sitting in my first sex ed class (this would have been six or seven years later than the setting of this episode), and someone asking the teacher if male peeing is indeed what happens during sex. My teacher was a source of accurate information. Unfortunately, Sally's source was just another kid at school. The babysitter wouldn't clarify, just recommending that Sally talk to her mother, which, not surprisingly, Sally did not want to do. Sally then goes into the bathroom to chop half of her hair off, presumably in an attempt to compete for her father's attention.

Don's good at inducing guilt in the sitter, who was--apparently--supposed to follow Sally into the bathroom, leaving Bobby unattended on the couch to do who knows what. When Don gets the kids back to their mother and step-father, Betty--ever the attentive mother, accuses Don of being a lousy, inattentive father, slaps Sally, and reveals that the reason this is an issue is because she always wanted to have long hair as a girl, but her mother wouldn't let her. Hmmm. The woman is nothing if not self-absorbed. Henry, surprisingly, turns out to be an advocate for Sally as he also reveals that he's learned how to handle his childish wife, by affirming her self-centeredness. Here and in the later scene after Sally is brought home from the slumber party, Henry gets Betty to soften by essentially telling her he knows how hard this all is on her. And, of course, with Betty it always has to be about her. She tells the child psychologist, "I feel like Sally did this (masturbating at the friend's house) to punish me for all this" [the divorce, etc.] If Betty had read Dr. Spock, she would have been advised to be accepting of her children's explorations of sexuality. People were clearly conflicted about this more open approach to sex and children, though. The characters do tacitly acknowledge that this advice is out there. The slumber party mom tells Betty, "I don't know what's permitted here, but at our house, that's inappropriate" (or something to that effect). Betty lets the shrink know, "I know that children do this," but she's upset about it being in public. Is the public nature (sort of--she was the only girl awake at the time, with no one else around, but was just sitting on the couch so the mom could find her) of this another cry for attention? What will the psychologist's approach be? (Meeting with her four days a week?! Yikes!) It's interesting that Don is not only opening up to learn something about the Japanese, but to learning something more about the whole concept of therapy. He confides in Faye that Betty thinks Sally needs a therapist and actually shares his conflicted feelings about his children and their situation (I see them and don't know what to do; drop them off and feel relieved, but then miss them). A new Don Draper? While Betty meanly tells the psychologist, "I doubt you'll ever meet him [Don]. That's his level of interest," Don is showing that he might be willing to take a step away from guilt and shame to figure out a way to be a better father.

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