October 13th, 2010 / 10:34 am

Irrational Hatred of Characters

Back in Season 1, back when Betty Draper was sadly profound and profoundly sad, she said: “I know people say life goes on, and it does, and no one tells you that’s not a good thing. Why is that?” I loved this Betty. I empathized with her sadness. Plus, she’s a babe.

But Betty Draper, now Betty Francis, has become a completely odious character. When did this happen? Do you hate Betty?

My hatred for Betty has caused me some turmoil. Yes, turmoil. I am a sensitive thing. It bothers me that I hate her, even though this is what the writers of the show have manipulated me to feel. What is fascinating to me about Betty Draper is that back in Season 3, I was rooting for her. I wanted her to have an affair. I wanted her to divorce Don because he was a cheating asshole, a loveable cheating asshole yes, but a cheating asshole nonetheless. She was a victim of her time and place. She was a victim of beauty and suburbia. I wanted Betty to be empowered. And yet, my disdain for her derived exactly because she did divorce Don and then she failed at empowerment.

Instead of watching her develop in a positive way, we see her fall. We see, week after week, a chronicling of her instability and increased bitchiness. We see her flail at being an empathetic character, which does not even mention her failures as a mother.

Even as I type this, I can see how irrational my hatred is. Clearly, my emotions are being manipulated, as is the case in ALL good fiction. And yet, she isn’t a villain. This is what makes her so fascinating and complex.

So: what non-villain fiction characters do you love to hate? And what is it that makes them so hatable?

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  1. c2k

      Sorry: “The problem in Season *4* is not her acting but the writing…”

  2. WMoran

      She’s just not a very good actress

  3. drewkalbach

      to me, betty has always been a childish character. she wants and wants and wants more and more but is never satisfied. when she decided to leave don i thought: good, one unhappy marriage exchanged for another.

  4. c2k

      Is the manipulation of reader emotion the mark of good fiction?

      January Jones is not an accomplished actor. At least not yet. Uneven is how I’d describe her work in Mad Men. In Seasons 1-3, her wooden acting often fit her character well enough—all style, little substance, just humming along, the Barbie wife Don wanted.

      The problem in Season 3 is not her acting but the writing. They turned her into a shrew, the stereotypical nagging ex wife, at the point at which the character should change and grow. It is a complete bore and it is one of the many problems right now with the show, which took a big nosedive after that exceptional Season 3 finale.

      They needed to reinvent Mad Men this season. And I feel like the writers went halfway and stopped and then got confused.

      I can’t think straightaway of a non-villain that I’ve hated—not in a good work. If you hate a character for reasons that you cannot figure out, that’s probably not a good reflection on whatever it is you are reading/watching/listening to.

  5. c2k

      Sorry: “The problem in Season *4* is not her acting but the writing…”

  6. Thomas

      i agree

  7. jereme_dean

      i can’t think of any lily.

      i can think of one in film though. i watched ‘saving private ryan’ on a whim. i usually avoid post Last Crusade spielberg, but, i heard the opening was something to be seen.

      so i watched it.

      by the end of the movie, everyone fucking dies because of the fag writer in the group.

      i was hostile for 3 days.

      seriously. i wanted to hurt someone to get rid of the anger. i was that pissed.

  8. P. H. Madore

      Yes, she’s a total fucking bitch now. I think she is necessary to the story, though, because that’s how so many mothers were in those days (ask your own mother), and since the Sally/Betty relationship is the only mother/daughter relationship on the show, the only way to get to that part of our history is to have them carry it out. I don’t see any alternative for the writers in this regard.

      I used to also like Pete’s wife and dislike Peggy. I like Peggy now a lot more as she has become a grown-up about things. Troubles me every time I watch an episode, though, how her child doesn’t even know her at all. I think that’s a loose-end they should tie up before season 5, but that’s just me.

  9. WMoran

      That opening is very problematic. Suggests Ryan saw everything Miller did.

  10. Dawn.

      I agree. You said what I was going to say, but better.

  11. Jhon

      I have always hated Nick from the Great Gatsby. Mainly because he observed and wanted to engage but failed to do so. Had he engaged the story would have been badly affected nad it is better that he didn’t but the strong observer in the corner to me came off as if he were still a little boy at his parents parties trying to sneak a bit of the champagne.

  12. deadgod

      But Nick does “engage”!

      True, he’s detached in the sense of sobriety – at the party Tom takes him to (where he meets Myrtle), he gets “drunk” for “only the second time in [his] life”.

      But he’s engaged in a couple of ways. First, he has an affair with Jordan, whom he half-broken-heartedly rejects in moral judgement. Fitzgerald makes Nick magnanimous enough to give her the last word: she accurately accuses him of being morally careless himself – a hypocrite.

      Even more is the “engagement” disclosed – announced – by the titular judgement “great Gatsby”, which (yes, it’s a cliched point, but still worth making) the whole novel is devoted to demonstrating the justice of. Nick ‘scorns everything Gatsby represented’, but he loved, and neither hypocritically nor withholdingly stands by his love for, Gatsby: in his perhaps paltry way, Nick was Gatsby’s friend.

  13. Jhon

      I didn’t say that he didn’t engage – I say that he failed in it. For example – read your post.

  14. deadgod

      (Oh, cool. I like wrestling with words and meanings.)

      Jhon, what you said was that Nick “wanted to engage but failed to do so”. Now you say “he failed in [engaging]”. ‘Failure to engage’ entails ‘not engaging’ – one can’t ‘fail’ to do something without ‘not doing’ it. And ‘trying to engage’ is, already, a kind of ‘engagement’, a concrete step in the direction of a perhaps-fuller engagement.

      The evidence I offered is evidence of actually engaging: Nick has a sexual affair with Jordan in which his disappointment (in the affair; in himself) shows has become an emotional entanglement: engagement. After Gatsby’s final failure to close the deal with Daisy (because, for Gatsby and not for Daisy, it’s not a ‘deal’), Nick tells Gatsby that Gatsby is ‘better than all the rest of them’, and Gatsby, in the depths of his romantic misery, ‘smiles brilliantly’ – not a big, mushy Hallmark moment, but a sign of: engagement.

      It’s true that Nick doesn’t heroically change Jordan (or himself) or save Gatsby or shoot Tom in his head – but that’s ‘failure to win’, not ‘failure to engage’.

      It sounded, and sounds, to me like you’re irritated by Nick’s intermittent and final decision not to belong to the world he’s in. – Ok! Fitzgerald makes all his readers feel that willed separation.

      Now, if you have evidence of Nick’s actual ‘failure to engage’, I’d be interested to hear it.