“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: Fans Dislike of Betty Draper

I first wrote the following article when the “MAD MEN” Season Three episode, (3.04) “The Arrangement”, first aired back in September 2009:

“MAD MEN” RETROSPECT: FANS DISLIKE OF BETTY DRAPER

I am angry. After watching the latest “MAD MEN” episode – (3.04) “The Arrangement” – and reading numerous comments about it, I have become angry over fans’ reaction to the character of Betty Draper.

Ironically, I am not angry at Matt Weiner. But I am angry at many fans for their continuing misreading of Betty Draper’s character. I just read this article on the episode and now find myself wondering if the fans of this show have ever understood the character. As of this moment, I am beginning to doubt it very much. Much of the fans’ vitriol toward Betty seemed to stem from her “treatment” of her two children, Sally and Bobby.

Ever since the airing of the Season Two episode, (2.02) “Flight 1”“MAD MEN” fans have been accusing Betty Draper (portrayed by January Jones) of being a poor mother. In this particular episode, they nitpicked over her complaint about Bobby’s lies about a drawing he had submitted in school. He had traced the drawing from another illustration and declared it as his own original work.

Matters became worse in (2.04) “Three Sundays” when Betty had demanded that Don punish Bobby for a series of infractions. After this episode had aired, many fans accused her of being a cold and abusive parent, especially since she had expressed anger at Don for refusing to discipline his son. To this day, I am shocked, not by Betty’s insistence upon disciplining her son, but by the fans’ reactions. Surely they realized that the episode was set in 1962? Before this decade and in the following two, parents had disciplined their children with spankings. Yet, fans had acted as if this was something rare and accused Betty of being an abusive mother.

In a later episode, (2.12) “The Mountain King”, Betty caught her daughter Sally smoking. She punished the girl by locking her in a closet for a few hours. Again, fans accused Betty of being abusive. They completely ignored the fact that Sally, a young girl under the age of 10, was smoking and focused upon Betty’s punishment. I find myself wondering how my parents would have reacted if they had caught me smoking. I suspect that they would have shown less restraint than Betty. Hell, I suspect I would also show less restraint. Betty eventually let Sally out of the closet and explained – somewhat – the situation between Don and herself (they were separated at the time). But the damage had been done. Betty was now a bad mother.

Finally, Season Three had premiered last month. And if the fans’ reaction to Betty had been hostile during certain episodes of Season Two, it became downright vitriolic during this season. In the season premiere, (3.01) “Out of Town”, fans complained about Betty’s curt dismissal of Bobby, as she and Don were prepared to discipline Sally for breaking into her father’s suitcase. They also complained of Betty’s desire to give birth to a second daughter, citing this as an example of her immaturity. They also accused her of being immature when she insisted that her ailing father, Gene Hofstadt, remain with the Drapers after his live-in girlfriend abandoned him. They claimed that Betty wanted to prevent her brother William from selling their father’s home and profiting from it. Again, they complained about Betty being curt to Sally, when she ordered the young girl to zip up the dress she wore at Roger Sterling’s garden party in (3.03) “My Old Kentucky Home”. But the fans’ hostility toward Betty hit an all time high for the first time, since “Three Sundays”, in this latest episode.

According to many hostile fans, Betty is guilty of the following in “The Arrangement”:

*Her refusal to discuss with Gene his plans to distribute his late wife’s furs to herself and her sister-in-law, which many saw as a sign of her immaturity.

*A few fans had accused her of closing the door on Sally, after the police officer had arrived with news of Gene’s death. Of course, this was untrue.

*Her dismissal of Sally from the kitchen, after the latter ranted at the adult Drapers and Betty’s brother William, over their “failure” to grieve over Gene’s death.

*Her failure to comfort Sally over Gene’s death.

Betty’s refusal to discuss Gene’s plans to distribute his late wife’s furs upon his death drew a great deal of critical fire. Personally, I do not understand why. Her refusal to discuss such matters seemed reasonable to me. Why would any grown child want to discuss a parent’s impending death, like it was part of a business discussion? That strikes me as morbid and too emotional for anyone to bear. Especially if that particular person was in the last trimester of her pregnancy. In one of his more lucid moments, Gene could have written down his wishes regarding inheritance and other arrangements in a signed letter. Instead, he decided to openly discuss the matter with Betty, who obviously found the subject disturbing. And I have a question. Why on earth did he wait so long to distribute his late wife’s furs? She had been dead for over three years.

Many fans pointed out that Gene’s disappointment in Betty was a clear indication of her shallow and immature nature. His main complaints seemed to center around her failure to become a professional, like her mother used to be (Ruth Hofstadt had been an engineer back in the 1920s); and her marriage to Don. Now, this man knew what kind of parent his wife used to be. There has never been any previous hint in past episodes that Gene and Ruth Hofstadt had encouraged Betty to acquire a profession. When she became a professional model, Mrs. Hofstadt called her a whore. And judging from Gene’s story about his wife’s efforts to reduce Betty’s weight, I suspect that he left his daughter solely in Ruth’s hands. As for Betty’s marriage to Don, had Gene become aware that his son-in-law had stolen someone else’s identity? Or was he simply disappointed that Betty had married a man from a working-class background who did not have any family? If Gene knew that Don was a phony, why has he never exposed the latter? And if Gene’s problem with Don had more to do with the younger man’s social background, then it would only lead me to believe that he may have been just as shallow as his daughter and just every other major character in the series – including the leading man.

Some fans have accused Betty of shutting the front door in young Sally’s face after learning about Gene’s death. Well, I have an easy response. The cop who had delivered the news about Gene was the one who had closed the door in Sally’s face, preventing her from following him and Betty into the house. And since I do not recall him locking the door, Sally could have easily went ahead and followed them inside.

We finally come to the one scene that caused a great deal of hostility from the fans – namely Betty’s dismissal of Sally, following the latter’s outbreak over her grandfather’s death. Many fans expressed outrage over Betty’s action, claiming it as another example of her cold attitude toward her children. The interesting thing about their reaction is that they were only willing to view the scene from Sally’s point-of-view. No one was willing to view it from Betty’s point-of-view, or anyone else. Very few seemed unwilling to consider that both Betty and her brother, William, were devastated from their father’s death. As far as I know, one person was able to understand both Betty and Sally’s point-of-views, due to her own personal experiences. William tried to hide his own grief through a mild joke and both Betty and Don had laughed. Sally, who had overheard the joke, had jumped to conclusions that none of them cared about Gene’s death. And because of this belief, she ranted against her parents and uncle. Upset and shaken by her daughter’s outburst, Betty ordered Sally to her room . . . before she began to cry. And instead of viewing the scene as another example of family conflict during a special occasion – a death in the family, in this case – many viewers saw this as another example of Betty Draper’s despicable nature. I even came across an article that failed to mention Betty’s grief over her father’s death.

What I cannot understand is why very few viewers failed to comment on Don’s actions. What exactly did he do? He laughed at William’s joke. He looked understandably stunned by Sally’s outburst. He mildly chastised Betty for eating one of the peaches found in Gene’s car, and she ignored him. Speaking of the peaches, many fans saw Betty’s consumption of one of them either as a sign of her immaturity . . . or some kind of malice toward Sally. Following William and Judy’s departure, Don comforted a grieving Betty inside their bedroom. And when she finally went to sleep, he peeked in on Sally. That is it. He hardly did anything to comfort Sally. And yet . . . I have not come across any criticism against his actions in this episode.

I wish I could explain why Betty has received the majority of criticism from the fans. She has become the Bobbie Barrett of Season Three – the female everyone loves to hate. Fans have yet to find this season’s Duck Phillips. But I suspect that it will not take them very long. Are fans so desperate to find a character to vilify every season that they are unwilling to examine the complexities of all characters? Why are they willing to excuse the flaws and mistakes of female characters like Peggy Olson and Joan Holloway Harris and dump all of their ire on the likes of Betty Draper? Is it because Peggy has managed to adhere to their ideals of the new feminist of the 1960s and 70? Or that they admire Joan’s sophistication, style and wit? Whatever.

Look . . . I realize that Betty Draper is not perfect. She is not the world’s greatest mother and at times, she can be rather immature and shallow. But you know what? None of the other characters are perfect. Don strikes me as an even worse parent than Betty. He seems obsessed with maintaining appearance. And he is a fraud. Despite her ambition and talent, Peggy strikes me as an immature woman who assumes facades and personas with more speed than her mentor. I still cannot fathom her reaction to that opening sequence of “BYE-BYE BIRDIE” in the episode, (3.02) “Love Among the Ruins”. Despite the strides he had gained during late Season Two, Pete Campbell failed to overcome his desire for approval . . . and he still acts like a prat when things do not go his way. Paul Kinsey is another poseur who is ashamed of his past as a middle-class or working-class New Jersey man; and of the fact that he had attended Princeton via a scholarship. As for Joan . . . I really do not know what to think of her. Why on earth would an intelligent and experienced woman of the world marry a man who had raped her? Why? I have asked this question on several blogs, message boards and forums. And instead of giving me an answer, fans either make excuses for Joan’s choice or gloss over it by expressing their anticipation for the day when she finally leaves her husband.

I realize that I cannot force or coerce fans to even like Betty. But I am finding it difficult to accept or embrace their view. I am beginning to suspect that fans have allowed their emotions and prejudices to get in the way of any possibility of a rational discussion on the series and its characters. And considering that the comments regarding Betty’s role in “The Arrangement” has managed to anger me, I realize I no longer can conduct a rational discussion, myself.

P.S. – The “MAD MEN” fandom’s hypocritical attitude toward Betty in compare to other characters failed to abate for a good number – probably not until the end.

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