Image credit: http://whatwouldjoando.
I’m going to take you on a journey to an alternative universe; one where chocolate is a vegetable, Snooki won an Emmy for “Best Actress in a Drama Series”, and our favorite redhead wasn’t on Mad Men. In this alternative universe, actress Christina Hendricks, who we know as the sassy Joan Harris (nee Holloway) was cast as the part she originally auditioned for in 2007: Midge Daniels. Okay, so she would be around, but only as one of Don Draper’s many mistresses who would soon be only a name on a list of women. All hypothetical situations aside, thinking about Christina Hendricks not portraying Joan creates a space to asses the influence of actress Christina Hendricks on Hollywood, the character, and the image of Mad Men itself.
It goes without saying that Christina Hendricks is stunning, and could even go as far as to say that she has audiences universally stunned with her look and figure. Seriously, even on the show the male characters salute her butt, and women off the secretarial pool aspire to be her. This love of her body has been translated to real life as well. Christina Hendricks was named the new face of Vivienne Westwood's jewelry line “Get a Life.” Westwood chose Christina Hendricks because she believes that “Christina is the embodiment of beauty…” as she represents a return to the old glamour of Marilyn Monroe and pre-Twiggy models who were full figured and voluptuous. In addition to designer admiration, real women are also taken with her curves. One fan gushed to her “You look like what a real woman is supposed to look like, thank you for showing everybody you don't have to be a waif to make it in Hollywood.” The influence of Joan’s figure even inspired surgery; the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons attributed a ten-percent rise in breast augmentations in 2010 to her full figure.
Hendricks personality also helped change the writing of Joan’s character, and her embodiment of the character has lead to a life of its own outside of the show. Matthew Weiner had a different idea for the character of Joan, until Hendricks was cast. His original concept of Joan was a “smaller and mousier and sharper-tongued,” and the way she portrayed her helped develop a new persona to Joan, making her into the Joan we know and love today. People have taken the words written for this iconic character and translated it to real advice. There are websites that explain “What Would Joan Do” in any-given real life situation, proving that she is not just a character. Her fan’s desire to understand her and take advice from her shows her character’s cultural influence on modern women.
If the alternative universe existed, what would have happened? Would we be more in love with Don’s mistress Midge then any of his other mistresses or then his wife? Would we have been as captivated with a woman who is a “typical model size” as much as we have felt inspired by Joan’s relatable figure? Would Peggy have found her way in Sterling Cooper without Joan’s forward advice? We may never know. But I must applaud the creators, producers and casting directors on a job well done. Christina Hendricks, in my opinion, was the perfect choice; regardless of any other roles she will play in my eyes she will always be Joan. She defines and portrays a character that in turn has helped to make Mad Men into the culturally influential show that it is today. Who knows, without her, the show may have never made it past season one.