I will confess that I am writing this out of a measure of ignorance, having not watched all of the Mad Men episodes released to date. However, with the first five and one- third seasons under my belt, I feel confident in claiming that Betty Draper Francis is a woman living in the flesh.
Certainly I could have just as easily laid that charge against her ex-husband, the complicated Don Draper, but since Betty seems to drag a great deal less baggage in her wake her flesh-focused life seems less justified and more lamentable.
Somewhere, in the years before Betty found herself swept away by Don, in the murky prehistory before Season 1, Betty would have seemed to have it all: Bryn Mawr education, a sturdy (if not wealthy) family, dazzling good looks, and, upon Don’s entrance on the scene, a dashing husband going places. What more could this fifties woman want? Yet it wasn’t enough.
By the time we meet Betty, she, like her husband, is self-medicating with nicotene. Don might have been in the majority–something like 54% of American men smoked in the early 1960s–but Betty belonged to the roughly one-third of women who indulged in that habit. Betty also drinks, sometimes to excess. Yet tobacco and alcohol do not sooth the pains that this woman feels. During Season 1, she visits a psychiatrist, ostensibly because of psychosomatic numbness in her hands.
While Betty fantasizes at least a couple of times about being sexually unfaithful, her indulgence in this area seems decidedly amateurish compared with Don’s continual transgressions. Still, at the end of Season 2, she picks up a complete stranger in a bar and retires with him to a back room. This, unsurprisingly, does not satisfy her.
After divorcing Don and marrying the enigmatic (and somewhat dull) Henry Francis, she seems for a moment to be satisfied. But her misery continues, visited on her ex, her children, and husband number two. Eventually, the show inflicts the ultimate indignity on the lovely actress and presents us with “Fat Betty.” Food, though, fails to satisfy this woman. I dread to see what the remaining run of the show will drag her into. Betty the junky?
You wouldn’t know it from looking at me, but I am Betty Draper–or at least I have been. At one time or another, we are all Betty Draper, vaguely unhappy in the flesh and convinced that the right combination of fleshly stimuli will scratch that itch. We might try food or liquor, smoke or sex. We might think that the right clothes upon this body, the right car in which to move it, or the right house for it to call home will do the trick.
More to the point of my interests, we might seek to sooth that bodily dissatisfaction with actions that seem like absolutely positive things. “If I can lose ten more pounds and get my six-pack abs… If I could only eat organic, free-range, humanely raised food… If I can get just my golf handicap down or my bench press up… If I can only run a longer race or a faster time, then everything will be great.” The fleshly idols of today are different from those Betty worshiped, but they can be idols nonetheless.
If I could counsel Betty, I would advise her that cigarettes or booze are poor choices. (We might differ on the latter, but that’s a matter for another day.) But her other wants are, in moderation and, especially, with the right outlook, positives. It is the same for us. The inclination to eat right, to exercise, and to pursue other matters of the flesh can glorify God or they can simply be what they are for Betty: an attempt to fix a spiritual ache with a physical medication.