Thank you! I was a bit uncertain about publishing it, so I’m glad it has resonated with people so well.
This is what you’re after, I presume?
Like most people who spend too much time on the internet, for me the joy of watching TV (or listening to music, or reading a book), is only partly in the actual consumption of it. It’s also about what comes after. Letting the characters and the emotion soak into your skin. Trawling the relevant blogs and forums for dissection and analysis. Taking a moment to reflect on what it all means.
It was during one of these trawls that I stumbled upon this sucker punch of a remark about Mad Men’s Pete Campbell yesterday.
“It’s Pete being the guy he thinks he is, rather than the one he’s more or less conscripted to be.”
It’s not a spoiler, because the event that inspired it is pretty much irrelevant to the remark itself. This is Pete’s perpetual struggle: between the person he wants to be (a stand-up Alpha male on the right side of politics and history, a magnanimous gentleman who mostly plays by the rules but still wins when he breaks them), and the person he so often is: petty and insecure, someone who treats women like crap and whose own mother tells him is unlovable.
The line struck me because, well, isn’t that what so many of us struggle with? The gulf between the person we would like to be (and perhaps in our better moments, the person we really are) and the shadow that lurks beneath it. The person we are trying to become, and the seemingly inferior version that keeps rearing its head instead.
It felt particularly pertinent because, just the day before, Mr Musings and I had had a conversation in which he used a word to describe me which – while not by definition insulting – had implications that were decidedly contradictory to my own self-perception. Certainly to the person I would like to be, or to the parts of myself I most value. (Okay, the word was “observer,” which I acknowledged my negative reaction to was somewhat perplexing, as I am presently writing a story for a publication of the same name.)
I had bristled, retreating into Marina and The Diamonds and silently vowing that if he thought so poorly of me – if this was the person that he, who knew me better than anyone, thought I was – I would have to double down on my efforts to be something different. I would have to be bigger. Bolder. More fabulous. The kind of woman who teeters on high heels and grins through the pain. Who stays out late drinking even after she wants to go home. Who doesn’t want to go home.
But really, what had affronted me most was the possibility that he might be right. That I did watch from the sidelines instead of participating. That people didn’t want me in the action. That I was small and easy to ignore. (None of these, it should be noted, were things he actually said. They were only implications I drew from his choice of words. And again, my reaction was ironic given that one of my other insecurities is that I am too loud and conversationally dominant.)
This isn’t the kind of story I want to tell you about myself. If Pete’s fantasy is that he is a magnanimous Alpha male, mine is that I am a Serena van der Woodsen-style fountain of charisma, or an Arianna Huffington-type “queen of connectedness.” Or, if I’m really in the mood for a personality makeover, a Gwyneth Paltrow or Beyonce-style Queen Bee(y) who doesn’t give a rats what people think of me. To publicly declare (as I do, over and over, as the only things I ever seem to publicly declare are my insecurities and ambivalences) that I might be otherwise is embarrassing.
But here is a thought that is more embarrassing still. (If for an entirely different reason: it reeks of ego.) I might be, as Mr Musings put it, someone whose first instinct is to observe rather than participate, and also someone who is, if not a “fountain of charisma,” then at least someone who is at ease in social situations, making conversations and forging new friendships.
Pete Campbell is, after all. Petty and douche-y in spades, a walking masculinity disaster machine, but also a man with a sense of justice and humanity; the only character on his show who cared about anything but business the day after Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. Pete isn’t the man he wants to be, but he isn’t conscripted to be something else entirely, either. He is both at the same time.
As are we all.