Footnotes of Mad Men: "They See In Her Disaster" or, Love Amongst the Cheaters


Monogamy can be such a grind, right? Cheating is tough too, though. There’s that terrifying halo of guilt that radiates around you after the act. It serves as both repellent and aphrodisiac, causing one’s partner to inch ever-closer to you after a tryst. Then there’s a particular upswing from the adrenaline. What a fool you were to put such a thing at risk! After all that comes the slow-boiling and consuming resentment towards your partner, the one who has robbed you of spontaneity and anonymity. You know what helps? A sudden trip and/or a new hairdo.

§ Let us first turn to Betty’s magnificent make over. Sophia Lauren? Anita Ekberg circa 1963? I think we can narrow the prototype down to Brigitte Bardot, actually, in her middle Euro sex kitten period. (That’s long before the outspoken racist period.) In a 1961 profile of the then-26-year-old actress, Life magazine tried to pinpoint what made Bardot’s on and off screen persona so appealing to both mass audiences and the European intelligentsia:

Roger Vadim, Brigitte’s first husband, close friend and often director, thinks he knows. Vadim says, “Women are passing through a terrible crisis. Brigitte symbolizes their strivings for equality in conduct with men. That is why her real fans are not men, as some think but women.”


Novelist Marguerite Duras, who wrote Hiroshima Mon Amour, says the opposite. “Bardot represents the unexpressed desires of males for infidelity,” she argues. “Many women do not like Brigette. They never look her in the face. They look sideways, shrinking away. They see in her disaster.”

Well. By golly, as Connie would exclaim.

§ Ah, Connie. Here is a little something from his 1957 autobiography, “Be My Guest,” about the ethos of the Hilton brand in far-off lands. Hilton wrote that each of his international hotels was “a little America,” a “laboratory” where foreign guests could “inspect America and its ways at their leisure.” Seems like a certain American couple’s idea of leisure is being away from America.

§ Did you catch the quick Ogilvy reference this week’s episode? (I’ve taken to chanting Oggy Oggy Oy Oy when the Ogs is mentioned. Fun drinking game!) Don referenced his Hathaway shirt.

§ While we missed Peggy, we did get some Joanie-ah, did you like the Hermes logo looming in the background at Bonwit Teller (RIP), which now I’ve decided is just a Mad Men visual cue for regrettable sex. So Joanie mentions to Pete (ugh, that cad! He is the wormiest) that her hubby is thinking of going into psychiatry!

Psychiatry still had a dubious reputation in the mid-century, as it was considered only as a viable treatment for social deviants and criminals. Attitudes towards psychiatry started to thaw in the mid-60s. Thanks to a mental health speech given by President Kennedy in the summer of 1963, the profession was rapidly becoming more mainstream. Kennedy loosened up federal money so states could begin to deinstitutionalize state mental health programs and allow doctors to set up private practices in the community. Psychiatric hospitals were essentially warehouses for the crazy and senile at the time. For instance, this description from 1963:

Georgia’s only mental hospital, saddled with the stigmatic name of State Hospital for the Insane at Milledgeville, was a monstrous snake pit. Behind the façade of an administration building that looks like the White House, it was crowded to its rotten, rat-infested rafters with 12,000 patients. At least 3,000 were senile oldsters who did not belong there-any more than the epileptics, dope addicts or alcoholics who jammed the hospital. Comparatively few patients ever got better, and those who did succeeded mainly on their own resources, for among Milledgeville’s 50 doctors, many of dubious repute, were only three psychiatrists.

States like Georgia, Nebraska, and New Mexico with small populations and less wealth were set to gain the most from Kennedy’s initiative. It was now the doctors who appeared on a wait list instead of the patients. Perhaps that’s why Joan’s rapey hubby suggested relocating to Alabama?

Captivity, it seems, is bad for everyone.



Natasha Vargas-Cooper always has more Mad Men Footnotes here.