Betty Draper

Mad Men and Madder Women
Betty Draper is as coolly and cleanly beautiful as white rose petals peacefully floating down a clear mountain brook. Yet beneath the immaculate exterior of this TV representative of an affluent, white 1960s housewife, lies a cesspool of neurotic impulses. But then, the world of constructed illusion is what the drama Mad Men is all about.

For those who haven't yet been sucked into the series (now in its repeat run), Betty Draper, played with a certain edgy frisson by January Jones, is super-successful Ad man, Don Draper's, perfect-on-paper, stay at home wife. While Don (in-between philandering) is out exploiting the masses in the hedonistic world of advertising, Betty is left home to languish amid the sparkling consumables of their modern upper middle class suburban home. Their's is an ad copy world whose superficial family solidity belies an inner weakness as fragile as any cardboard production set.

Betty Draper's unhappiness is manifested in her chain-smokin' moodiness and increasing disconnection from the role she has both chosen and had thrust upon her by the conservative social mores of the era. Not that things are much better for the secretaries down at the sexist offices of  Sterling and Cooper.

What's Bugging Betty?
"I would have given anything to have had a mother like you..." exclaims Don, shortly after one of Betty's episodes of mental collapse. Never mind that Betty's parenting skills are sometimes less than desirable - to Don, whose own childhood could well have played as a community ad for emotional depravity, it all seems to be about designer kitchens, milk & cookies and well-coiffed hair. Like many a spoilt, unfulfilled rich bitch, Betty is shuffled off for some therapy and laments from the psychiatrist's couch that beauty was something her own mother placed great emphasis on, as though it were the thing that really mattered for a woman.

Outward perfection has its cost and Betty must be ever vigilant against anything that may deflect from her meticulously constructed image - a stray hair, a smudge of lipstick where it shouldn't be, a rebellious crease in an otherwise captivatingly  perfect dress.  It's demanding work and for what? The appreciation of Don, the neighbourhood and general obscurity in the suburbs? It's enough to make anyone a little soured to the status quo. Betty is a walking advertisement for early 60s  domestic engineering but under the veneer the complex female brain is ticking over and it's the rumblings of inner rebellion that send Mrs Draper a little loopy.
The Eternal Ice Blonde
By the show's creator, Mathew Weiner's, own admission, Betty Draper is in no small part the recreation of the iconic Hitchcockian icy blonde, in the tradition of Grace Kelly and Kim Novak. Alfred Hitchcock once famously said his ideal woman was the kind of girl who could muster sufficient duality to be "a lady in the drawing room and whore in the bedroom". Sounds like a male fantasy but there is tension between opposing drives that makes a character like Betty Draper so eminently watchable. Respectability versus carnal drive. - the untouchable who wants to be touched. Ah yes, beneath the full, crisp skirts is a dam of anal retention just bursting to explode.

Visual impact - the Mad Men cast. 
We may ask what does this TV anti-heroine have to complain about? How hard can it be to be affluent, beautiful, with two and a half kids and a successful husband? There are any number of things she could do to find fulfilment if she had the imagination to do them, yet somehow she is cauterised - stuck in a kind of perpetual poster ad for an early 60s family picnic (metaphorically) and as exquisite as Betty looks in her state of the art domestic realm, as she herself is only too sharply's not very real. Looking good is not enough. Happiness is an illusion - no surprises there.

I'm way behind in the Ad Men series and am only a recent addict, halfway through season three and have missed several episodes but I'm hooked, perhaps more for the visual interest than the plot development, though that too, has its own appeal. Evidently January Jones originally auditioned for the role of ambitious secretary, Peggy Olson, which eventually went to Elisabeth Moss.  Betty Draper was not included in the pilot episode but over the series the character evolved and for my money, Jones is perfectly cast. Whether her surface vapidity comes naturally or is the result of some strenuous acting, doesn't really matter. I guess I find the Betty character of interest because she represents a certain retro essence which is both appealing and repulsive at the same time. I've yet to see how she pans out.