Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sally's Flanking Maneuver

Here's some more on season 4 episode 9 of Mad Men from Amanda Marcotte:

And that’s the same story for all three women we see in the final shot. Their faces tell it all: they’re so thwarted from their own desires by social expectations that they mainly feel confusion and distress. But I was even more intrigued by the shot where they all stood in horror over Sally as she threw her tantrum. One thing you can say for sure about Sally is she knows what she wants and she’s willing to work towards her goals, even if it inconveniences everyone around her. In the final shot, I suspect each woman staring off into space and thinking about how much they want in life is wishing they could grab a little more of that Sally Draper moxie.
I saw something a little less despairing in Sally's dramatic rebellion, which was explicitly staged to occur in the sight of four women -- or five if you count Betty, Sally's mother, who was hovering in the vicinity even if not watching the events in person. If their reaction was one of horror, it was a horror mingled with self-recognition, empathy, and admiration.

Each of the women has been there in some way or another -- faced with demands they cannot abide -- and while they surely admire Sally's eagerness to flee the conventions and expectations that would limit her, they also see the futility with which it ends: even after all the reasoning, bargaining, shouting, and running, Sally is handed from Don to Betty in what was staged as a prisoner exchange.

But here's the non-despairing part: I think Sally Draper can be seen as pushing the outer boundaries of what women can demand and how they can demand it. She is a radical. She is bold enough to demand reasons for the restrictions placed upon her -- at one point she demands of her father, "I want to live with you and I don't understand why I can't!" -- and when this is answered with assertions of authority rather than reasons, she escalates rather than backing down. She is willing to say, even shout, that the prevailing power relations are unjustifiable, and she isn't going to acquiesce or compromise merely because it would make things calmer for someone else.

In this she is establishing an outer flank, and in battle, a flank succeeds when it forces the enemy to fight on two fronts, or a wider front. Sally and her more insistent generation are coming in from the outer edge, even while Peggy, Joan, Faye, and the other women --  maybe even Betty? -- can make more substantial, more sweeping demands without seeming unreasonable.

There is a war between those who say there is a war and those who say there isn't. Even at her tender age, Sally knows she is in a fight, and she is widening its theater.

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