“Mad Men” Eulogies: Joan Holloway

 

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Joan is all smirk and prow, poured into a truss of pink Angora. Joan is a strafing B-52, dusting cornfields full of lustful men. Joan is the Hindenberg, one massive, vibrating undercarriage floating above Berlin, a zeppelin for every spotlight, a primal shape for every fantasy. She is a near-ancient totem, a matriarchic symbol, a repository of fear and wonder.

She is the One True Goddess for a religion that worships ginger wrath, the ultimate piece of technology for a country that values strength above all else.

She is a match in a kerosene factory, the night-shift resigned to the inevitable spark, the whiff of sulfur when she goes down in paroxysms of flame.

Because everyone, and I mean everyone, is going down with her.

Want to bank on one single, unalterable truth about the coming season? Something very unpleasant is going to happen to Joan.

You don’t get to be the biggest, baddest, strongest, least-corruptible woman in an office full of dim, entitled men and not pay for it.

In full.

Joan is a not particularly nuanced six-season arc of The Story of Feminism. She is a walking (gliding?) manifesto. She is every line of Valerie Solanis’ SCUM, but writ alive and with a demure smile, wrapped in forty yards of blue silk.

There was a time when this was the idealization of female beauty:

 

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Now it’s this:

 

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But when you have to work your ass off all day on a farm or in a field or on a factory floor, while also bearing children, raising them, feeding them, protecting them, and then doing the thousand little things your husband can’t or won’t–this is the carriage that’s a lot more likely to pull it off:

 

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When I’m shoeing horses and cutting timber and clearing land with a hand ax and a pouch of jerky, Joan is the woman I want by my side. Or hell, telling me what to do.

And even off the metaphorical farm, where that physical strength is less important, where the sense of purpose and self-possession and intelligence is far more vital–I still choose Joan. To out-think the slick suits and cut the nuts off of all the liars and thieves. With Joan, I know I will sleep very well at night. And that’s not even a single entendre.

A woman whose only kryptonite is Roger Sterling is worth her weight in cleft chins, company shares, and the bright golden future.

A future that, as it turns out, is deeply un-sexy. Joan is practicality to the core. She sees the future, already smells the disco and the polyester and the endless student productions of Grease and wants no part of it.

There is no loving Joan, because she is less a woman than an idea.

And a large percentage of that idea revolves around her endless contempt for you.

But she is a genuine force, which is a rarity in life, as well as on the show.

Pete and Peggy and Don and Betty are all masks, a handful of traits, a collection of flaws and foundering story lines.

Joan is the entirety of herself, without deception or disguise.

 

Sean Beaudoin

About Sean Beaudoin

Sean Beaudoin (@seanbeaudoin) is the author of five novels, including The Infects and Wise Young Fool. His new short story collection, Welcome Thieves, is just out with Algonquin Books.
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2 Responses to “Mad Men” Eulogies: Joan Holloway

  1. Harvey says:

    I’m sorry I can’t add anything articulate to your clear, insightful piece. The truth is I will click on any link with a picture of Joan, the incredible redheaded woman.

  2. Steve Bailey says:

    And besides all that, she’s got crazy huge tits.

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