Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Mad Men Season 4, Episode 1
First off: Joan's navy blue dress with the cream ruffles like gingko leaves in the front? WANT. BADLY.
With that out of the way, it seems Don has done well for himself- this Glo-Coat advertisement apparently was a Thing in the time between seasons and has made him a well-known ad man - and was that Trudy in the ad? Peggy seems to have found her niche - she is far more comfortable in her skin and her position than we've ever seen her, and while she is still deferential to Don, she doesn't let him shame her, or let him get away with anything - I like this. I also like how she is CERTAINLY the one in control of her relationship with this new dude - I love how down-to-earth and rational and practical she is about her relationships - she is like the foil of Betty, who still is hoping to find the fairy tale with Henry Francis. SCDP has new offices which seem to be filled to bursting, there was not enough of Pete or Joan, what was WITH Roger continually making fun of a guy who had lost his leg in Korea, and Don is just all over the place, brilliant or angry or loving, all in one episode. Also, I am really surprised Betty and Henry are living in the old house - didn't Henry say he didn't want to have anything to do with Don, or have Betty owe him anything, in the last season? Apparently things haven't quite gone as he wanted, either.
There is also the scene that Frank Rich highlighted in his Sunday column - and the young woman, after the three civil rights workers have been killed down in Mississippi, asks, "Is that what it takes? To change things?" And what is so glorious about Mad Men, is we know that yes, more deaths will be what it takes to change things - but there is something so compelling watching the fear and confusion and wonder in those who had no idea yet about the dark places our country could go. And when I say those who had no idea, I mean white people. I would bet you everything I own that people of color in the early 60's were fully aware of what it would take, that lives would be lost, and that the white folks would never give up their power or privilege, not even a sliver of it, easily.
But if you know me, you know the thing I most want to talk about: Don is hiring a sex worker, and it is the same sex worker, more than once - you get the feeling they have had sex many times, because she knows exactly what he wants. And what he wants is for her to be on top and slap him in the face while she fucks him.
Ok, so. My first thought was, ooooh, Mad Men is showing kink! But it wasn't hot, Lady Gaga's Alejandro type kink. No, it was more personal, more specific to Don, not something that would turn the rest of us on. He needed to be slapped for some reason.
And hey, maybe the slapping just gets him off. I am rather into kink myself, and I don't want to pathologize anyone's sexual turn-ons. Some people just like whatever they like. But I happen to know my kink is about working stuff out - about being raped, about always having to be in control and holding everything together, about knowing that letting go of control can turn out not only ok, but wonderful, pleasurable. That I am safe, and that not every person I trust intimately will then hurt me.
Two things immediately occurred to me watching that scene. One is, I have had several friends who have done sex work, but one who worked specifically as a dom. She had friends who got her into the work, and she told me their stories as well as her own. But specifically, she told me that the clientele were always the very picture of power and influence - they were judges, huge banking industry CEO's, Wall Street tycoons (this was in NYC). And these men, these movers and shakers of the city, these men behind the curtain who pulled all the strings, deeply wanted one thing: to be abused (think: Q-tip up the urethra). Part of it is because sex is play, and especially, maybe, when you hire someone, it is more playful, because there is none of the baggage of a relationship, or any expectations of intimacy, or emotional vulnerability. And these men were looking for some kind of experience of letting go, a play act of just releasing everything . . . I mean, I GET these men. When I am most tightly wound, highly controlled, over-worked and desperately holding on to myself to keep my bipolar brain together, when I am trying to juggle everything at once, including my very sanity, then is when I most want to play at being a sub. It is a release, a break, an ability to let it all go. All those balls I was juggling can just fall to the floor. I can finally unwind.
But of course the other side of that is that sometimes we sexualize our greatest fears. Thus, women have rape fantasies. CEO's of giant banking companies love being ordered on all fours and humiliated by a dominatrix. And I, who am most scared of losing all control, well . . . that is the surest way to get me off. It can be both our greatest release and our greatest nightmare, and in sex, well, these don't actually contradict.
I have also used pain in sex as a form of punishment, where I have felt so debased it only makes sense for someone to debase me - and in something as loaded and shameful, in the social narratives, as sex, well, that's an obvious way of making myself feel punished. Sometimes, we want our chastening so we can feel we have atoned and moved on. Or so we can nurse our wounds and feel sorry for ourselves. We want our shame to be physical, embody itself in some manifestation on our bodies, because coping with that pain and abuse is much easier to handle than the deep sorrow and anger that roams beneath our skin.
So, here's my question: what did you think of that scene? Was Don trying to punish himself, was it about a control fantasy, was it his greatest fears sexualized? Or did you read that scene another way?
All other comments welcome! And there was a LOT there in that episode about Betty being pretty actively terrible to the kids, and Henry's mother calling her out for essentially what she is - I would love to get into that in comments, too.
Adding more thoughts (I do my best thinking in the shower in the mornings): Don has always bought into the idea that good, married people only have "good," "married" sex - as in, the missionary position, with the lights off. I remember Betty once asking him to have sex with her with the lights on, or some such tame request, I can't remember, and he responded with something to the effect of that being prurient and he wouldn't do it. There was (is, still) that shame about sex, and that "dirty" sex was not something you were supposed to do after marriage, or ever, not with the woman you love. With sex workers, yes, but they were already "whores;" you couldn't treat the mother of your children that way. I have heard stories from women even now that after they married their male partners, the men shrunk the scope of what sex they would have based on that ridiculous notion that certain sex acts are improper for married, "good" couples.
So maybe Don has liked being submissive and being hit during sex all along - but he would only "disrespect" his partner by asking for it and having it if she were already "immoral" - a sex worker.
Posted by Gayle Force at 12:31 AM