Thursday, September 15, 2011
Are You a Larry or a Betty?
Lately, I've come to the conclusion that most of us are either Larrys or Bettys. For instance, I am definitely a Larry. I'm loud, speak my mind, and focus on things the average person would never focus on, i.e., how many pieces of shrimp are put into my Kung Pao Shrimp, and I'd notice if one day there were fewer than usual. Betty Draper is soft-spoken, only speaks up when near nervous breakdown, and is focused on one thing and one thing only: how to keep the "perfect image" of herself glimmering in everyone else's eyes.
I'm sure we all fall into both categories at different times. Sometimes (although rarely), I do have a quiet day (most likely because I'm just tired). But it really does seem when I look around that I primarily see Larrys or Bettys. Larry David is the same in every episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." He has no boundaries, and what you see is pretty much what you always get. On this season's "Social Assassin" episode, Larry's friends use these traits to their advantage: They are afraid to tell their loved ones to stop doing the annoying little habits that drive them crazy (like the wife who drives her husband crazy by saying "LOL" whenever she thinks something is funny rather than actually laughing or the mother who drives her daughter crazy by smacking her lips and saying "Ahhhh" every time she takes a sip from a drink she really enjoys) so they simply ask Larry to do it. Of course, there is some blackmailing involved, but personally, I don't think it would have been all that hard to convince Larry to just "tell it like it is" even without the blackmailing! He's a Larry, he loves the truth and welcomes conflict if it means standing up for something he believes in.
Betty Draper of "Mad Men" is Larry's polar opposite. An episode of "The Mountain King" illustrates the essence of Betty the best: In this episode, Betty and her friend Sarah Beth both lust after a man named Arthur Case. He horseback rides at the same stables that Betty and Sarah Beth do. He's engaged, Betty's married to Don Draper, and Sarah Beth has a husband too, although lately Sarah Beth has been confiding in Betty that her marriage is on the rocks. One day, when Sarah Beth is not at the stables, Betty takes the opportunity to set a lunch date for herself, Arthur, and Sarah Beth. When the date and time arrive, Arthur and Sarah Beth meet for lunch, but Betty purposely cancels at the last minute so that Arthur and Sarah Beth are left alone together. Some days later, Sarah Beth calls Betty on the phone and tells her how distraught she is because she and Arthur have been having an affair! Betty must know deep inside that she has had a hand in making this affair happen. Does she feel guilty? It's hard to say when you're dealing with a Betty. Sarah Beth hysterically tells Betty something to the effect of: "Well, you liked him too!" Betty answers: "Liking someone and having an affair with them are two different things entirely!" Beneath the quiet, demure exterior lies a cobra waiting to strike!
But still, no one ever suspects such behavior from a Betty. Even Sarah Beth has no idea at all that Betty had a hand in her downfall with Arthur Case. Bettys are quiet and soft, and Larrys are loud and brazen. It's obvious that the Larrys annoy the Bettys, but what the Bettys don't realize is that the Bettys bother the Larrys every bit as much. Bettys' voices may be quieter, but when they scheme out in public on their cell phones with their confidantes, those of us with good hearing can still hear them! The fact that the Bettys are underhanded bothers the Larrys simply because they themselves don't operate this way. Larrys don't like sneakiness. Of course, Bettys would never really categorize themselves as sneaky. Bettys just carefully choose the words they speak. Also, because Larrys speak at face value, the Bettys think the Larrys will take THEM at face value. What they don't know is that Larrys are always reading between the lines when speaking to Bettys. They don't take the Bettys' words at face value (although the Larrys let the Bettys believe they do).
Keeping all these Larry and Betty traits straight can be confusing. But the most confusing of all (which is also the most satisfying) is to find a cross between the two. It is not found very often, and is very rare indeed, but I can think of one Larry/Betty cross and this is yet another character on Mad Men -- none other than Betty's husband, Don Draper.
Most people think of Don as a womanizing business executive who assumed a dead soldier's identity in order to get to the top. This much is true, but despite that, Don still inhabits just as many Larry traits as he does Betty traits! My favorite example of this is when he writes and publishes an ad in the New York Times entitled, "Why I'm Quitting Tobacco." What happens is that one of Don's agency's most important and longest-standing clients, Lucky Strike, maker of cigarettes, quits the agency in order to consolidate their company with another agency. It had been months in the making behind Don's agency's back. Don finds out about it through the grapevine, and although everyone else at his agency worries that losing Lucky Strike will make their agency go under and/or damage their reputation, Don decides to take matters into his own hands. He turns the tables on Lucky Strike by publishing the article which makes it sound like their severed relationship ended amicably because Don no longer had the conscience to promote something that was bad for people's health. This is ingenious! Everyone at the agency is appalled. How could Don have made such a bold move without consulting anyone first? How could he have had the guts to have done something so public? Lucky Strike was sneaky in conspiring behind Don's agency's back knowing full well that their move might cause the agency to go under. Don is sneaky too, but he also lays things out in the open and no longer behind anyone's back. At the end of his article he proudly states that his agency "welcomes all business" because he and his agency believe that "our best work is still ahead of us." Lucky Strike now no longer has the opportunity to make Don's agency look bad. I think Don's move proves he embodies the perfect "marriage" between a Larry and a Betty!
I do believe that there is room in this world for Larrys, Bettys and the Don Draper Combo. The important thing is that WE know which one we are because most people seem to be in denial. I know I am a Larry, but it doesn't mean I don't like Bettys. After all, I do have, and proudly display, my very own Mad Men Betty Draper Doll!