Bob Benson has been the definition of mystery this season on “Mad Men.” I don’t know if it was Matthew Weiner‘s intent to create a character that is such a lightning rod for conspiracy theories, but he’s done it and sadly enough, if Bob (James Wolk) doesn’t turn out to be a time-traveling Don Draper or a Manson acolyte who ends up murdering Megan, then everyone is going to be SO pissed.
So because there are a billion theories out there, I wanted to throw this one on the table too even though I’m sure it’s already been discussed ad nauseum. So, behold, 4 reasons why Bob Benson might be gay.
1. His vibe with Joan doesn’t feel like a sexy vibe.
Let’s face it: Bob doesn’t emit that raw kind of kinetic, sexual energy that Harry Crane does. I’m kidding. Everyone relax. Harry Crane is not sexy. He’s like the anti-christ of sexiness.
But with Bob, there is this sense of solitude that is strange coming from a guy who looks like Bob does and can pull off short shorts like he does. For me, this is interesting because, in terms of Joan, the character Bob is most transposed against is Roger, right? And Roger, despite being what feels like 90 years older than Bob, is waaaaay more into skirt chasing than Bob has ever seemed, which again seems strange for a 50- to 60-year-old dude to be more about it than a 20ish-year-old who looks like Bob.
More to the point of Joan, she’s been presented as this hellcat of sexual attraction throughout the series. Her connection with every other character outside of the firm seems to be defined by the sexuality (or threat of sexuality) contained therein. So isn’t it curious that, in what is seemingly a romantic relationship between two very attractive people, the dynamic feels about the same as that movie with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones?
Remember, if Don is the Pied Piper of advertising and wooing people with his Draperiness in terms of advertising, Joan is (and has been presented in many ways as) his inverse in terms of her sexuality. Essentially, get Don is a room with someone and he’ll close the deal is precisely the same idea of getting Joan into a room with someone.
So again, understand all this, it feels strange that the vibe between Joan and Bob feels more like Lisa Turtle and Kelly Kapowski than Zack and Kelly.
2. Bob’s appearance.
Was it an accident that Bob was dressed in that beachgoing outfit, evoking more of an effeminate ideal than of the traditionally male ideal? I don’t think it was.
The most disorienting aspect of Bob and Joan’s relationship was when Roger barged in on them just before a beach trip. In any other setting, it would be assumed that they were prepping for a romantic beach getaway and Roger’s interruption was some melodramatic, love triangle intrusion. But it didn’t feel like that. Part of it might have been that dynamic at work between Roger and Bob as employee/employer, but it felt like something else. Bob didn’t respond like a love interest normally would when another man barges into his significant other’s apartment.
And please excuse me if you think this is veering into offensive gay stereotypes. That’s not my intent here, rather I’m trying to make sense of what the show is portraying among the realities of stereotypes.
So let’s define Bob broadly:
He is a sharp-looking guy.
He is always well-dressed.
He is very neat.
It would be inane to say that he is gay given these three aspects of his personality. However, those three elements taken with some of the other circumstantial evidence do seem to suggest something more definitive, right? More pointedly, these elements in conjunction with his relationship to Joan seem to suggest something.
3. Ginsberg asked him about it.
Now let’s forget how Bob answered, because that doesn’t matter. Particularly on “Mad Men,” the answers aren’t in the dialogue but rather in what leads up to the dialogue, right? This isn’t “Cougar Town,” where everyone clunkily expounds upon their inner emotional turmoils to achieve a greater sense of group clarity. For this show, there’s greater understanding in the unsaid.
Take, for example, the lunch Peggy and Joan had with the Avon executive. Weiner and company showed us that Joan was ham-handedly dealing with the lunch so as to highlight her inexperience within that particular process. It was a great scene because Joan is also just so. But the way they did this wasn’t with some kind of confrontation in the ladies’ room during the lunch where Peggy and Joan explicitly discuss the precise problem they are having. Rather it was with nuance: Peggy’s facial expressions and allowing Joan to twist in the wind a few more beats than we were comfortable with before doing her thing.
So I say all that to say that the exchange between Bob and Ginsberg about his sexual orientation should be more read for the fact that it was asked in the first place and not that Bob was evasive. It suggests that not only is Bob something of a mystery to the rest of the company, but that his sexuality is something that has been pondered about by others.
4. It’s time to revisit Sal.
“Mad Men” has been good about approaching cultural issues without being overbearing about it. Some people dislike how they’ve handled Dawn this season, but I like it because to inject her too much into the plot seems like it would be disingenuous. People are FREAKING out if she isn’t in every episode but wouldn’t it be patronizing if she was in every episode? I don’t know. I digress.
Anyway, ever since Sal Romano was unceremoniously fired, the idea of homosexuality has been largely avoided on the show. Now that we’re in the late ’60s, though, it wouldn’t be strange to reintroduce a gay character given the social climate of the time.
We’ve had the hippies circling the offices and in some drug-fueled cases, even breaching the office, but that’s it as far as counter-culture elements making their way into the halls of SC&P.
Additionally, it could be that Bob’s ambiguity about his father (originally he said that his father was dead, but he told Pete that his father had been nursed back to health) could be a reaction to a falling out over his sexuality. I know I’m super reaching here, but there’s a desperation with Bob that seems to come from more than just wanting success. It almost feels like he’s trying to overcome something inherently native to him that he can’t outrun, which is also why he reminds me so much of Don.
What do you think? Is Bob gay?