“We Choose Our Truths” (Mad Men – S05E13 | “The Phantom”)

Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney cartoon of the cannon.  Of all of the Disney princesses, Belle has always been my favorite.  It bears mentioning, by the way, that when Bagel and I first met, the first movie we ever saw together in theaters was the live-action remake in Bageltopia.  Ah, what a faraway land… it honestly feels like a lifetime ago.  April 1, 2017 was that fateful day.  Good times; good memories. 😊

Watching Mad Men recently, specifically– S05E13:  “The Phantom”B&B appears as a strong motif in the episode.  On Reddit, that episode is one of the most discussed in the series (at least so far) and I thought I’d just take a minute this morning to dash off some quick thoughts.


There are many different ways to read Megan and Don’s relationship in E13, but everyone largely agrees that this is where Don “falls out of love” with Megan and reverts to his “Old Don” ways.  I largely agree with this; but people differ on the exact timing and interpretation of how/why.  And while we’ll obviously never know for certain (likely only Weiner knows, if he even knows) but the key moments:  1) Megan betrays her acting friend and asks for Don for the Butler shoes TV ad spot part for herself.  2) Don watching Megan’s screen test.  3) Don walking away from Megan once she’s landed the TV advertisement spot.

In addition to this, Don obviously brings his own baggage to the table– namely, his abandonment issues.  In E13, Don also meets Peggy at the movie theater (during the workday! Haha 😄) and it’s a nice moment; but they have an exchange about Don “helping people” and then “those people always eventually moving on.” 

So to me, here’s how I (choose to) read E13:  Full disclosure, I’m a Megan-fan so I read her generously and charitably (Bagel is notably not).  While some Redditors feel like Megan’s a manipulative conniving witch from the beginning, that’s not how (I’ve chosen) to interpret her actions.  I feel, if anything, she’s just immature, innocent, and growing– which means losing that innocence (compromising principles and values in the pursuit of a desired outcome).  All her life, she’s dreamed about being an actress and making it big.  Off-Broadway, Broadway, TV shows, the movies. Being famous.  Like all of the other characters in Mad Men, she’s chasing an image.  It’s just unclear if that image is a phantom or not.

(As a quick aside, by the way, the people I really hate/blame are Megan’s toxic parents.  But that’s a separate discussion.)

Megan is chasing a childhood ambition, the dream that never dies.  And while she’d tried and failed before (and resigned herself to being just a secretary), only after being with Don does she obtain the full arsenal to try again (money, power, connections, etc).  This in itself is a huge, fascinating conversation about chasing one’s dreams (Bagel and I had a huge argument about this yesterday!) but in summary: I’m a firm believer that the most ardent among us– the people who try hardest– are those who never quit.  The Hufflepuffs of the world are the ones who never say die.  And this perseverance to never give up can, in a way, can be poisonous. It anchors us to a perpetual past and Hufflepuffs will exhaust every last outlet, including their principles, if it means getting what they want.  Scene 1 where Megan throws away her independence (and innocence) is the place where Don “falls out of love.” 

But.  We pick our truths.  And while Don may have lost all respect (and love) for Megan in that first scene, in the next scene, Scene 2– when he’s watching the reel– I think he chooses to believe another truth.  The idea of Megan being “like the rest of them” hurts him deeply (consciously or unconsciously) so he wants to find/choose another narrative (one that’s more self-serving).  So he adopts the B&B narrative:  He, the great Don Draper, sees talent in his wife.  And he’s going to be the one to “let her go” (before she has a chance to leave him).  Valiantly, he’s going to choose to fall on his sword and “set Megan free.”  He’s been around the block a few times and has likely seen a good number of beautiful women and aspiring models/actresses.  (Eg. Betty.)  So seeing Megan’s tape he probably realizes that Megan has some talent and is definitely gorgeous/has acting potential.  During that scene when Don watches the reel is when he decides he’s going to let Megan go.  Don knows (I believe) that if he gives Megan this break (like he’d done with Peggy back in S1), that she will make it.  And since Megan’s no longer the pure and innocent woman that he fell in love with (she’s ambitious, like everyone else!) and while Don could crush her dreams (like he’d done with Betty; which to be fair, didn’t ultimately work out), this time around, Don’s going to set Megan free, just like the Beast had done.  Hence the final, “walking-away-from-the-fairy-tale-into-the-dimly-lit-bar” sequence.  And doing so, Don’s going to throw himself back into the pits of hell and his “Old Don” ways (Scene 3).  Bye, bye, blissful domesticated life.

After five seasons, I’m a big fan of the theory that Man Men is largely about Don –an instinctually bad man (read: a survivor/fighter; one without honor/principles who’s willing to do whatever it takes to survive)– trying to be a good man in the only ways he knows how.  But perpetually failing.  Because at his core, it’s just not who he is.  Man Men is honestly so great though– Can people ever truly voluntarily change?  Or are we simply forced to change (because of environmental circumstances/resource constraints/etc)? And does that then even count? If it’s only the external environment shaping us? (Cue free-will discussion here.) Also: What is love? What is love if setting Belle free means ensuring your own destruction? If Belle is willing to let you remain a beast the rest of your days, does she really love you?  All of the Big Questions, etc.  Anyway, thanks for reading!  Just my two cents for the day! 😀

A Prejudice for Nostalgia

Disney recently announced that Halle Bailey, 19 years old and who is black, has been tapped to play Ariel in the 2020 live-action remake.  Since the announcement, there have been numerous hot takes that abounded the interwebs.  So, why not, here’s my contribution to the cacophony:

I disagree with it.

Bailey is one half of the singing sister duo, “Chloe x Halle”, and there’s absolutely no doubt she can sing.  She has a positively marvelous voice.  But Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid cartoon from 1989 just isn’t black.  In the original source material by the Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, Ariel (who wasn’t called that, but the mermaid, I mean) wasn’t black either.  But more to the point, in the Disney cartoon version, Ariel is a white redhead.  Hundreds of millions of children have identified with that as Ariel’s image.  Yes, I totally understand we’re talking about fiction and mermaids don’t exist, but that’s all beside the point.  The point is people possess a preference (or a prejudice, you could call it) for nostalgia.  Especially if that nostalgic symbol is an important part of their childhood.

The Little Mermaid was never in the pantheon for me but Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in 1991 was a huge part of my childhood.  There was one summer when my family was traveling abroad visiting Grandma’s house and B&B was only one of two VHS tapes that my sister and I had access to.  (The Wizard was the other one.  Yes, the 100-minute long Nintendo Power Glove commercial.)  I must’ve watched B&B something close to seven hundred times that summer.  It got to the point where I could sing along to all of the songs and knew much of the dialog by heart.

If Disney had remade B&B‘s live action remake in 2017 with a Belle that wasn’t a white brunette, I probably would have exploded into a puddle of sadness.  And some degree of anger/resentment would’ve then likely followed, despite my full knowing that such emotions are unproductive.  I mean, that’s how feelings work– they’re not always logical.  They just happen.

This has nothing to do with racism or being “against diversity or representation.”  I’m all for diversity and better representation in Hollywood.  Crazy Rich Asians, which I saw with Bagel last year, was fantastic.  And of course mermaids can be black!  They’re imaginary; they can be any color of the rainbow.  They could fly.  I mean, whatever.  It’s all make-believe.

But here, we’re specifically talking about Ariel.  We’re also talking about a children’s cartoon that is beloved by hundreds of millions of people.  That signifier has already been taken! Its signification has already been set! In the public consciousness, “Ariel” is a reserved word now!  Would black people like it if Hollywood casted some white actor in the role of the Black Panther superhero in the MCU? If someone like Miles Teller portrayed T’Challa?  Good God, the very internet would probably combust into flames if that ever happened.

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