Although, like everyone who participates in BOK, I watch MM for its sweeping thematic issues and love reading and commenting on them, I find that by Thursday, it’s time to concentrate less on the forest and get lost in the trees. Hence, this week’s “mini” MM: Betty’s fur coat ad, circa 1953.
Deb’s already mentioned this in her most recent post, and I can see why she had trouble connecting the dots. You only see the ad for a few seconds, and at first glance you could actually think that it is someone else. Although it’s in the early 50’s, the Betty portrayed in the full length white coat, looks older and harder, even though she’s only in her early twenties then. It’s a stunning snapshot of the cold, almost matronly look that’s going to crystallize and harden in 1964-65 when she changes husbands.
on the Basket can d(And alas, between coming back from vacation, figuring out our new comment program and trying and not succeeding in installing a video capture program for Betty’s fur coat ad, which I wanted to accompany my post–unless someone else o that–I regret there are no visuals for you to judge for yourself).
There are several reasons why this detail is key. For one thing, that fur ad is a tangible artifact of the story of Don and Betty’s courtship, which we learned about in the psychiatrist’s office in Season 1. This is what I love about MM–no detail is too small or forgotten; it rewards the patient and careful viewer, even if the pay-off comes, as in this instance, 3 years later. That’s why, even though the show’s great cinematically, it always seems more like reading a novel to me.
Heller Furs is where it all began–the rich girl turned model, coveting the fur coat she was wearing for a photo shoot but couldn’t afford, and the poor boy, besotted by her beauty, desperate to step into her world and all he thought it could bring him–somehow finagaling to get it for her. Once again, there’s shades of the class differences that permeate this episode–the have’s who were born knowing which forks to use and the have-not’s who can copy them, but who somehow are always separated from them by a clear, plastic membrane. We’ll never know exactly what Don did to get that coat for Betty, but he was determined to cross the class line no matter what it took.
And how ironic, that despite the ad’s then-revolutionary sentiment–that you don’t need a man to buy you a fur if you really want it– the poster girl for those sentiments actually waited in real life for a man to buy it for her. Or, for that matter, that Joan did the same. If a fur represents the ultimate luxury for a woman in a materialistic society, what better estimation of her worth as a woman than having a man buy it for her? Or to put it another way, as Betty said, if she continues to maintain her beauty, “she’s earning her keep.” What better payment, then, of “services rendered” than a fur coat?
When you watch MM, it’s so easy to impose our 21st century sensibilities on those of nearly 50 years ago. When it comes to men-women relationships, though, I often wonder how much has really changed, or what got lost along the way, and if things are really any better in 2010. As January Jones said, the men of the MM era were chauvanistic and condescending, but “at least they opened the door for you.” I hope that these days more women are in fact not waiting for a man to buy them a fur–and now it’s considered ecologically unsound–but sometimes, when I see MM, I wonder.