Mad Men is easily my favorite show on televisions as well as one of my favorite shows of all time. Joan Holloway (played by Christina Hendricks) is the most fascinating character within the show to me and tied with January Jones character Betty Draper as the most interesting of the characters to talk about from the show. Not so coincidentally, this two actresses happen to be the most beautiful women on the show. And unfortunately for Joan Holloway, she’s punished for it. Not in any overt ways, just in the general crisis of lookism. Joan is often seen as a peg, no puns, below one of her fellow employees Peggy who happens to be part of the creative marketing team within the show (an almost unilateral male profession thus far). Outside the show and in discussions about Mad Men, Joan is also placed below Peggy because well Joan is better looking. This, like her punishment within the show, isn’t overt and also comes from the fact that she is beautiful. Often women commentors, I actually haven’t engaged in many, if any, noteworthy conversations about Mad Men‘s female characters with males, will comment on how they wish Joan(y) would use more of her brains instead of her feminine willies in the show.
Granted I’m not very entrenched in feminism and I often go by the doctrine that while men and women should be treated equally for the same work, we are not now nor have he ever been: The same. I believe this is where the majority of the criticism comes from. Should a woman not be allowed to use her very essence of being a woman to her advantage (not referring to sleeping around)? I would be surprised if someone as beautiful as Joan wouldn’t act and react in the way that she does. I honestly believe she’s the most ideal human being on the show. Obviously she is not without faults, the series begins with her being in an affair with a married man; however, I can’t say I’m ever appalled at her behavior. She has constantly been show to hard-working, clever as well as intelligent, faithful to her current partner, nurturing and supporting to those around her. I would naturally assume that someone with these character attributes would be universally applauded by audiences. Unfortunately, the only thing people focus on about her character is the fact that she’s always visually stunning.
This stands in contrast to Peggy (Elisabeth Moss). I’d like to point out that while Peggy isn’t the hour-glass that is Joan she is still a cute girl. She is just a cute girl too. That’s part of her appeal. She isn’t as sexually intimidating as the some of the other women on the show and thus is easy to wrap your arms and feminist critiques around her. I’ll forego mudslinging about her character’s character because I like her and because it contains spoilers. Peggy is subliminally and overtly heralded as an early model of feminism by the press and the fans throughout the series. This always strikes me as odd considering, as mentioned several times by several different female characters in the show, is the fact that she generally takes a masculine position in order to succeed at several points during her career. That’s not to say she isn’t a woman, but I do find it interesting that she makes it a constant effort to separate her more feminine traits outside of work instead of embedding them with some of the traits she learned from her sort of mentor Don Draper with her own sensibilities. That would be more impressive and interesting to me at least.
But this post isn’t really about Mad Men. To go back to my mention of lookism, this is about how we apply, assume, and even discuss what we think of character based solely or largely in part because of how they look. I won’t say this is wrong because how we look, despite our parents and teachers constantly telling us it is what on the inside that counts, shapes us based on how view ourselves, each other, and how we treat ourselves and each other. This also goes to our reactions to movies. Leonardo DiCaprio is usually criticized because of his, still, boyish looks and that he is unable to be seen as menacing or crazed as he attempts to be. It doesn’t help that he emotes in almost the same exact way in every movie and him attempting to be dramatic sometimes slips to melodrama without intent. That isn’t to suggest that we’re trapped, our actors, are trapped entirely based on their looks into doing certain roles. It certainly puts limits on how we perceive someone. Philip Seymour Hoffman couldn’t just appear on-screen fit and in a designer suit and the audience would be magnetically attracted to him. He would have to build up with some sort of wit or charm for the swooning to come. Like was a Joseph Gordon-Levitt couldn’t just bulk up to me traditionally frightening as far as violence is concerned. He would have to be a character like in Manic where there is a constant build up, seen by body language, voice, face, and presence, that makes him intimidating. For an actor or actress (and people in general) to be viewed as fully as a stranger of self can be seen, we must be given the time and give the attention to pull back all the facades that make up the person as a complete experience.