Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

 Posted by on September 24, 2010 at 11:00 am  Season 4
Sep 242010
 

When Joan and Roger are robbed at gunpoint by an African American in “The Beautiful Girls,” they deliberately avoid making eye contact. Roger hopes that by not looking at the criminal, the two represent less of a threat (i.e. they won’t be prosecution witnesses later on) and avoid an escalation of violence.

Interestingly, that posture also mirrors Mad Men‘s use of minorities in Season 4.  Nine episodes in and the audience has seen very few black characters.  In fact, they’ve had less an impact on the storylines than previously.  Matt Zoller Seitz, a critic and Mad Men fan, touches on this in his recap of “The Beautiful Girl” for The New Republic. He ponders if rather than civil rights in general, women’s rights  are “the show’s true interest” this season.

The only black characters on this show have been domestics and elevator operators—and now a mugger. Even if you take the show’s upper-middle-class white milieu into account, the arms-length respect paid to African American sacrifice feels like an evasion posing as an acknowledgment. The topic is so rich, and still so emotionally powerful, that treating it as a looming presence and nothing more is dramatically risky. Whatever “Mad Men” is doing here, it had better pay off.

Neither he (nor I) question the motives of Matt Weiner and company in taking this approach. Nonetheless, it’s a choice worth noting.

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  48 Responses to “Out of Sight, Out of Mind?”

  1. This is a difficult post to comment on but I’m going to throw myself on the sword because I’ve noticed the same thing and have thought a lot about it. I don’t presume to speak what is true, but instead speak about what appeals to me as an entertainment consumer.

    Feminism with the backdrop of the civil rights movement is much more compelling to me. There are two sides to the issue and that creates complexity. On the other hand, the racial issue is more straightforward (racism bad) and therefore it would be more like an afterschool special than a MM episode.

    I hope I didn’t offend anyone! I apologize if I did. :)

  2. 1965 was the year of Selma and Watts and the Viet-nam war. Americans are beginning to question the draft. Season 4 doesn’t seem to be there. What I don’t like is the downgrading of Pete Campbell’s character. In Season 3; we heard Pete praised by Don for his awareness of Teenagers and Negroes,yet I haven’t seen either in a Mad Men story plot this season.In 1964 the NAACP made a point of the lack of African Americans in commercials on TV, a point Matt Weiner should have been aware of. Madison Avenue’s response was that of a token black in many commercials.Peggy Olson’s story needs to be told, yet the story of volatile 1965 should be told also. In 1965 Greg will go to Viet-nam, so will 525,000 Americans, a lot of them draftees, and a lot were poor Blacks, before the year is done.

  3. #1, I’m not offended by your comment, but I do wonder what you mean by the issue of feminism having “two sides” (pro and con?) and why the racial issue is “straightforward.” Both issues have many, many facets to them–beyond the “pro” or the “con.” Mad Men is doing an excellent job of showing the multitude of ways both men and women are dealing with “the women issue” — I am waiting for the same in-depth treatment of “the ‘Negro’ issue.” As usual, I am trusting that Matt W. will take us there.

  4. Re:3

    Perhaps it is my lack of imagination, but I don’t think it would be as interesting to me. I’m thinking S1E1 with a new black employee instead of Peggy.

    One of the reasons Sal is no longer on the show is because the conflict (he is gay and he loves his wife) ran its course. Going any longer wouldn’t be compelling tv.

  5. Thanks for bringing this up Matt. I’m of two minds on this issue. On the one hand, I concede, as people have said here and in other places on teh interwebz, that the people on the show, mostly upper-middle class to wealthy white people (or those aspiring to be in that category) working white collar jobs in ritzy Manhattan, would have limited comments with blacks or other racial minorities so shoehorning people of color in might be a stretch. On the other hand, there are opportunities to bring this topic up without turning it into an after-school special. We do have Carla, who I keep expecting to see more of but don’t, we even had Paul’s girlfriend Sheila who could have taken us to interesting places in previous seasons, but didn’t. They could even do a one off like they did with the Honda by having say a George Jefferson type of businessman (without the brashness of course) who like the Menkens wanted to cross over and how that would roll out if they didn’t want to add someone black as a regular. Shoot, even when Roger did his blackface they could have shown the reaction of the black waiters briefly. It also really bothered me that this mugger had the most lines all at once of any black character all season and maybe ever in the whole show and it was a black mugger. Yes, I know there are black muggers but there are white muggers too (especially in NYC) and why did the one black person who got the most play in awhile on the show have to be a criminal? That bothered me, but then again, I’m a little sensitive about these things.

  6. I tend to be in the camp of “when MW does it, it will have maximum impact”, just like it did when MM finally took on the Kennedy assassination. It felt like I was there. MW knows that the MM audience is smart, and will reward that intelligence and devotion.

  7. If we are talking about having the topic of civil rights enter into MM this season, the only two logical characters to meet and befriend a black
    person(s) in my opinion, would be Peggy or Joyce either alone or together. Peggy has already opened that door in conversation in last week’s show at the agency, but not to insult her, she is still too naive about the subject to do it any justice. That would leave it to Joyce who so far does “quick in and quick out” appearances and I doubt an episode that would comprise of more than 1 minutes of her alone would happen at this point. Now together, perhaps at a Village party, an introduction by Jocye and Peggy together could occur, but is anyone concerned besides me that it might, like some feel about the Joan/Roger hook-up, this important topic might look rushed or worse unbelievable? I would rather wait and have the civil rights subject be addressed next season as the main focus with abundant back and forth dialogue, and a solid storyline , than just a passing black friend that comes and goes too quickly. I realize that this would include another main character, but that is the only way you could juggle both feminism and racism IMHO at the same time.

  8. I don’t feel MW has glossed over racial issues, but I also think that he is probably trying to avoid what has already been done before. We’ve already had shows that focused on the 1960s — “I’ll Fly Away” and “American Dreams” are two of the best examples. Both focused quite a bit on civil rights issues of the times.

    I don’t feel MW is trying to avoid them, but I think the focus of the show has always been on the Madison Avenue executives and staff (with special emphasis on Don, of course) and it should stay that way. That doesn’t mean that racial issues shouldn’t also be addressed, but when they are, it needs to be done in a way that seems natural.

    I liked little things from past seasons, like Carla listening to the radio and Betty talking about if now is “the right time” for civil rights, and also Paul getting involved with black voting issues.

  9. P.S. I agree with Lorna Moir (#7) — good points above. I liked that Peggy broached the subject in her meeting with Don/Ken/Stan, but then once Don shot it down she just sat there in silence. In a way, I understood–if the boss says “it isn’t our job,” she can’t really sit there and argue, unless she wants to jeopardize her employment.

    But, after hours, it might be nice to see Peggy participate in some activities that would be pro-(black) civil rights. I could see that happening in the future, maybe.

  10. I can’t help but feel that MW is building up to an exploration of the civil rights issue. No matter how insulated and privileged the white characters are in this show, they can’t ignore it forever. I think a perfect way to introduce a main black character is via Peggy. Last episode, she was telling Joyce she needs to hire more copywriters, but if she hires a man, she’s afraid he’d get promoted over her (a realistic concern). She meets a widely mixed crowd in the village with Joyce. Maybe she will meet up with a talented black writer, and hire them, knowing that she’ll get the talent she wants without the professional threat. SCDP prides themselves on being progressive, but get real: they won’t have a black executive for a looooong time!

  11. Jackie, I agree, MW is likely building up to this.

    Yes, we had a black mugger last episode, but so far every other black character has been portrayed as very nice and basically without fault, most notably Carla. This is unusual for this show, in which virtually everyone else has big character issues, in addition to their strengths.

  12. Were any of the commenters alive in 1965?

    I can’t imagine that “negroes” were even on the radar of men and women working in a New York ad agency. With the exception of Motown music, maybe…

    I’ve never heard any mention of The Beatles or the Rolling Stones, or the British Invasion at all either. And I’m not talking about songs played on the soundtrack.

    These people obviously had blinders on focusing only on TV, art and Hollywood, because that was necessary for their work.

  13. Bob, Dan instructed Alison to buy Beatles records for Sally in the Christmas episode.

  14. That’s true, he did.

  15. @12 and 13…

    I know this doesn’t settle anything, but since it came up, I have home movies from 1965 of my brother and I as little kids growing up in Detroit carrying around a “Meet The Beatles” album my truck driver father (who was about Don’s age) had purchased.

  16. # 12, Bob, I was alive in 1965; 19 to be exact serving in the US Navy on an aircraft carrier making airstrikes on North Viet-nam. The Navy provided me with my first interaction with African Americans. I want Man Men’s writers to get the shows right; to catch the feeling of the era. To those not alive in the era of Mad Men; how otherwise would you know what it was like back then. The greatness of Mad Men is that it is written from a prospective of the era not 2010. Black servicemen read Ebony and Jet; there was a market out there.Did only Pete Campbell see it? Was Don too much of a racist to tap this market ? I don’t know; but Matt Weiner does and it would be nice to tell us. I’m willing to wait until Season 5.

  17. In 1965, “Satisfaction” was the most popular song, but the Four Tops and the Temptations held spots No. 2 (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch) and No. 5 (My Girl). I Spy, with Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, went on the air that fall. Louis Armstrong recorded “Hello, Dolly.” In England, Shirley Bassey was huge.

    In short, blacks are everywhere in popular entertainment but on Mad Men, they’re maids and elevator operators and muggers and news stories.

    Come on, MW, be a little more relevant.

  18. MM is not on the History Channel, not that the History Channel ever shows everything either.

    The fact is that even 45 years later we are still a society largely segregated by race. Blacks and Civil Rights are conspicuous by their absence on MM, and I think that is how it should or could be (up to Weiner of course), is realistic for the times, and sends a powerful enough message that the entire Mad Men Web is talking about it.

    I lived as a kid in a Midwestern “Sundown town” in the 60s. Redlined to the max. The city 10 miles away was 30-40% black. I barely saw a black throughout the 60s, except for television. And I understood exactly what that meant. I moved away when I was old enough.

    OTOH, I was always surrounded by women, and feminism had been percolating in my consciousness since Freidan’s book came out. Sexism was rampant, obvious, and something which I had to deal with, however inadequately. Racism, not so much, because I was insulated. Abstractly, I was liberal, but personally? Others obviously had different experiences.

    “Conspicuous by its absence” is exactly the right message. Let the fans think about it.

  19. In 2010, too many young black males are in prison or unemployed, and young single black females have no wealth compared to their white female counterparts (thread on Pandagon discusses this). We are in Iraq and Afghanistan, the defense budget is monstrous. We are, if anything more, materialist and capitalist than we were in 1970.

    Sadly, horribly, civil rights, the war, the counterculture were marginal in the 60s and without significant consequences afterwards. Background noise to most not directly affected. I was there, I was draftable, I had close veteran friends, I lost neighbours, but the war did not change the way I went to work every morning.

    But the movement of women into the workforce was a major and lasting change that we still deal with on a daily basis.

  20. Mad Men is centered around an ad agency in New York City. Not truck drivers, not middle America, not the war… An ad agency in 1965. Did anyone ever see anyone of color on TV ads or print ads? I didn’t. I think the writer(s) have it right.

  21. There’s a slight inaccuracy; there’s an except to the “domestics and mugger” rule, and that was Paul’s girlfriend Sheila. I had hoped that story would have more legs.

    I think it would be possible to give black characters more of a voice even though it’s a 1965 ad agency. Doing so might require people of color on the MM writing staff; last I checked there were none. If you don’t think it makes a difference, look how rich the women are compared to other shows, and note that MM has far more women writers than other shows.

  22. I think Med Men is about the women’s movement more than anything else. It has been from the start. In fact, much of the material for a lot of the storylines seems to be straight out of “The Feminine Mystique”.

  23. #21 Deborah There’s a slight inaccuracy; there’s an except to the “domestics and mugger” rule, and that was Paul’s girlfriend Sheila.

    …and Floyd Patterson ;)

  24. Bob K, were you aboard USS Kitty Hawk or USS Constellation for the 1972 incidents?

  25. A hallmark of Mad Men is the depth of writing, and how MW and the other writers strive to keep it ‘organic’ and less plot device-driven. MW doesn’t need to purposely include African-Americans, or any other ethnic group, just to fit a time period. This show is novelesque, first and foremost, so it has to fit whatever story is being told at the time. If anything, I enjoy the fact that MM stays away from being preachy or polemical or politically correct (by either past or present standards). It’s multi-faceted. American society has gained a lot since the early 60′s but we’ve also lost a lot. African-Americans have certainly gained a lot (de jure and de facto civil rights, integration, more upward mobility, etc.) but have also lost some things (welfare state=70+% black children born to out-of-wedlock parents currently, compared to around 20% pre- Great Society)–ironically, there are less cohesive black communities and institutions now than before the Civil Rights Era, and peristent educational achievement gaps now, as before, in the ‘inner cities’. Women certainly have far more opportunities now than in the early 60′s, but when their roles changed, men’s roles became more confused. Women now outnumber men at universities, and it’s the boys who are now having trouble in school at earlier ages. The divorce rate has skyrocketed since the 60′s across all subgroups, which is just as traumatic for children as when parents stay in a bad marriage. (I’m a teacher and see many children from dysfunctional families.) Perhaps just as many people rush into marriage and have unrealistic expectations of their partner as in the past. What used to be ‘experimental’ (ie. Peggy’s love life) is now mainstream. To quote Sen. Moynihan, the late-1960′s and beyond succeeded in ‘defining deviancy downward’. Have we tipped the balance between ‘what we want’ and ‘what’s expected of us’ too far to the former? Is that dichotomy ever in balance? Life is going to be messy, regardless of which paths Peggy, Joan, Don, etc. travel. There is no honey without the sting. Nostalgia is both the honey and the sting. Will Carla’s children/grandchildren be happier people than Carla? Hard to know. They certainly won’t be anyone’s housekeeper/nanny, but will they have Carla’s grace and values? Obviously, every generation of people–of all races and ethnicities–go from ‘barn’ to ‘skyscraper’. Change is inevitable–you always gain something and you always lose something.

  26. I guess I was the only one who saw foreshadowing in the mugging? How the Civil Rights Movement was about to explode on the white majority, whether they liked it or not?

    Although the Civil Rights Movement had been active since the late 30s/early 40s, we all know it really did not take fire until the Montgomery bus boycott of 1954. But in those days before a lot of national news and attention, it was a regional phenomenon, and a lot of the news did not necessarily hit the mainstream press, but was rather in the parallel African-American newspapers. Even in the early/mid-60s, I would imagine, for most NYC professionals, the Movement was something talked about on the news, like the Asian tsunami for us. It was big and violent (at least the backlash was), but it was far away – and the South was far more isolated, culturally, from the rest of the country than it is today. Dallas was not a major city, but rather the place “they killed Kennedy.”

    My parents were married in 1962, having their first child in 1965. I heard lots of stories from those days, but if my father hadn’t been in the Air Force and my mother a teacher in some of the poorest schools in Rochester, NY, with nearly 100% Black student enrollment, I doubt they would have thought twice about the Movement. They were good liberals, of course, and would give money to causes or boycott an auto parts store, but the idea of actually doing something about Civil Rights, actually going South to protest or even manning a picket line in the North, was beyond them – hell it was not until Selma that you saw a large number of white celebrities publicly supporting the movement. Once Dad got a civilian job and Ma was forced to quit hers (you couldn’t be a teacher and be pregnant or have small children at home), I don’t think they had a black friend for years. It was not until the 70s that they became what I would consider active in fighting for Civil Rights.

    So for the characters on MM to exist nearly unaware of the Movement does not surprise me, but I also can’t believe MW and his team of talented writers are not going to address the issue. I can understand that, as a predominantly female writing crew, the myriad issues facing women at the time, which have not been as covered in the arts, would be of paramount importance. But you cannot deal with the 60s without dealing with race. The Watts riots were in August 1965, just before Layne’s scheduled vacation, I could totally see that being a catalyst for some awakening of the MM characters.

  27. As soon as I saw the mugger, I thought” “Wow, that’s an interesting choice. I wonder what that means?”

    CPT_Doom (#26), I liked your theory of the mugger being a foreshadowing of the Civil Rights movement, which would soon appear on the horizon.

    In addition, I wondered if there weren’t a subtext to the mugger’s skin color: As in, maybe the guy wouldn’t have to turn to crime if society gave him a fair chance (ie, equal rights in employment, housing etc). Especially since the mugging scene occurred not too long after Abe telling Peggy about Fillmore Auto Parts’ hiring practices & Peggy then mentioning the subject in the meeting.

    Interesting, too, how Roger & Joan (but especially Roger) suddenly became the powerless ones once the mugger with gun appeared. Roger told Joan not to look at the mugger (or to look at the ground, can’t remember which). The two of them made no eye contact with the mugger & their body language was very subservient & acquiescent. In fact, Roger made no effort whatsoever to “be a man” by telling the guy to leave them along or back off. So does Roger regain his power & manliness by making a move on Joan after the mugger leaves?

  28. I saw the mugging so very differently than others did. In about 1995 I visited South Carolina (my childhood home) and went for a walk with my aunt in a rural part of the state where we were both visitors. We got lost on some back dirt roads, and stopped to ask directions from a road crew. The middle-aged black men on the crew did not look at either of us in the eye, keeping their eyes on the ground and not speaking. One finally gestured to the crew boss, a white guy hanging out in the cab of his truck.

    We were only trying to get directions, but the fear in those men poured off them. They were so deferential that it was disturbing. My aunt, who had lived in the South all of her life said “They aren’t used to talking to white women,” and seemed to accept this as normal.

    When Roger gazed at the ground and kept saying “I don’t see anything” I was struck by how familiar it was– and finally I remembered this incident.

    I think this was a turnabout of power and control, and Roger’s behavior mirrors the required submission of the powerless person, behavior that the culture expected from African Americans at the time. Subtle stuff indeed.

  29. He (nor I, for that matter) question the motives of Matt Weiner and company in taking this approach. Nonetheless, it’s a choice worth noting

    Matt, I don’t understand the sentence above. Do you mean “Neither he nor I question…” ? Just checking (not being a grammar nanny).

    #28, did this incident happen in 1995 or is that a typo? Did you mean to type another year? I would be surprised if this happened in 1995.

    I thought Roger was primarily reacting to being at the business end of a (presumably) loaded gun being held by someone who appeared to be under the influence.

  30. I’m going to take issue with the idea that the MM crowd would never have come in contact with blacks except in the jobs mentioned above. I’d argue that in NYC, they’d have MORE likelihood of meeting blacks in professional jobs. If you read Isabel Wilkerson’s splendid new history of the great migration, she specifically focuses on people who left the South for New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

    New York was a magnet because of opportunities in every field – medicine, finance, the arts – and there was decent housing. In the 1960s, that would have meant Harlem.

    It is completely plasible that Henry Francis would encounter Adam Clayton Powell in his political dealings. Or, that a black doctor be treating one of the characters at an emergency room. Or, that one of Sally’s teachers is black.

    I’m not saying the MM characters would feel completely natural around black professionals (I can just hear Trudy saying, “that nice Negro woman at the Metropolitan Museum”) but they were certainly in evidence.

  31. # 29 jzzy55 Do you mean “Neither he nor I question…” ? UPDATE!!! Ugh… That’s a mistake. Thanks for catching it.

  32. Kinsey’s girlfriend had and important part of her episode.

  33. #30 – even with the migration the black professional community had its own orbit and MM wasn’t in it, or even overlapping it at any point. And there is very little chance that a black physician would have treated a white person, only at the most liberal of institutions would that have happened. A friend who did her anesthiesology residency in NYC in 63-64-65 rarely entered the general surgery operating room while a patient was still awake, women were brought in at the last minute. Although she did spend a lot of time in OB operating suites.

    I don’t see the lack of focus on the civil rights movement to be a minus, to me its a plus that the show is focusing itself on the women’s struggle – although neither meant much in our WASP upper income suburb until the daughters who were kids in the 60s became women in the late 70s. And I don’t think its quite time for the characters to have black interaction that is meaningful in their lives, that will come more toward the end of the 60s decade when token blacks were more common in businesses.

  34. jzzy 55, this happened in the mid 1990s– when I wrote the post, I took a guess– but I remember the bathing suit I owned for a couple of years and that’s how I came up with 1995.

    We were visiting Kiawah Island down on the coast. I grew up in the south in the 60s-70s, but not the rural South, and had never witnessed this level of divide. My parents were a little more progressive than the rest of their families, which means they accepted the changes of the 60s, although they weren’t enthusiastic about them. They made me watch To Kill a Mockingbird very early, which was their idea of teaching me that racism was wrong, and bless them for the attempt– I think it did make a difference in my life.

    As a small child, I witnessed lots of paternalistic condescension (sp) on the part of white folks, and lots of moderate deference on the part of black ones (mostly all people who had known each other for generations), but this incident down at Kiawah was beyond.

    Made me think that this looking-at-the-ground-mumbling reaction was more common decades before, and when I saw Roger’s (very appropriate) reaction to being on the wrong end of a gun, the incident came back to me. How awful, to spend your life feeling that you are on the wrong end of a gun. I’m sure that lots of people of color will point out that I am naive to think otherwise, but I’m willing to confess that I had never thought of it quite in those terms.

  35. In ref to #12′s question:

    I would love to know how many commentors and bloggers on this blog were alive and old enough in 1965 to have been first-hand witnesses to what we’re seeing on Mad Men. Just curious. Same for the writers of the show: None of them were around, were they? I’m very curious what the age demographic is for the show and for this blog. It puts comments in perspective, that’s all. It’s impossible to view this show without the current culture influencing us. All the comments about what a horrible mother Betty was seem to me to stem from the current day’s helicoptering parent syndrome (I’m guilty of being a helilcoptering grandparent). My comment and questions here aren’t meant as a criticism, though. I’m truly just curious what age group the posts and comments come from, as well as the age of the Mad Men writers.

  36. I was 10 in 1965

  37. 7 in 65

  38. I was 6 in 1965.

  39. 18 in 65′

  40. 16-17 in 1965

  41. -3 in 1965

  42. Question asked on another blog:

    “Question: how often do the white, second-wave feminists of the 1960s forget the role of class and race privilege in their struggle? That the suburban comfort that white women yearned to “escape” was in large part made possible by the working class black and brown women who took care of their kids and homes?”

    It’s why race matters (or at the very least should be included) in discussions of the role of women during this era. Peggy, Joan and Dr. Faye aren’t the only “working women” on the show.

  43. Hand-wringing over a lack of focus by Matt Weiner on the black situation in 1960s America is absurd. It’s very simple. If you have a basic problem with the premise of a show being about a New York ad agency in the early 1960s, then so be it. If you think it’s a silly topic or a silly setting, then so be it. Don’t watch the show. If it’s painful to observe a world in which blacks are not afforded equal protection under the law or equal opportunity, then don’t watch the show.

    But since that’s the milieu in which Weiner chose to set his story, the portrayal of blacks in New York City, in the context of big-time advertising, is appropriate. The show is largely about the Drapers. Carla is a component of their lives. The show is not about Carla’s family. It is neither over-extension nor disrespectful. Put simply, this show is not about black folks.

    Newsflash, people! There were black elevator operators. There are still plenty of blacks working as building superintendents, janitorial, security, etc. There certainly were black housekeepers and nannies then, and now. And, yes, there were black criminals, then and now.

    Is that the sum total of the black experience? OF COURSE NOT.

    But Weiner never claimed to be writing a documentary about the lives of African-Americans in ’60s. He never claimed to be writing a show about the Civil Rights movement? The show is about Don Draper and HIS world, not Carla’s world or the elevator operator’s world. Put simply, Mad Men is Don Draper’s world and everybody else is just in it.

    If the show were set in the South then it would be less plausible for the white characters to be so removed from the issue of civil rights. But this story is set in Manhattan, south of Harlem. Period. It’s totally plausible that the lives of these individuals, especially characters like Don, Roger, Bert, Pete, their wives and their clients (all of whom are far richer than the average New Yorker, white or black), would be be more-or-less untouched by what’s happening in other parts of the country and even other parts of New York City.

    Mad Men, apparently, is not everyone’s cup of tea. And if you’re looking for a show about “social justice” or a show that checks off all the politically correct boxes, then this isn’t the show for you.

  44. Matthew Weiner reminds me a lot about the creator of BUFFY, Joss Whedon. Whedon engaged in a good deal of in-depth exploration of feminine issues, yet barely touched upon race issues. I see the same in Matthew Weiner’s handling of MAD MEN. He tried to deal with the race issue with the character of Shelia White back in Season 2. But her character was dropped in a very unsatisfying manner. And Carla, the Drapers’ maid, was portrayed as the wise and dignified “Negro” – someone who turned out to be not very interesting.

    I really do not see why Weiner could have approached the issue of race from a perspective not shown before – an African-American character that also happened to be an advertising executive. Most people do not realize this, but African-Americans began being employed by advertising agencies as far back as the mid or late 1950s . . . and not as service employees. Weiner had plenty of opportunity to approach this topic in the past two to three seasons. There is no need for him to wait until the series is set in the late 1960s.

    I thought he would also deal with gay issues with the character of Sal Romano. But in the end, Weiner backed away from that, as well. Some claim that Sal’s story had ran its course. I disagree. Weiner had plenty of opportunity to continue Sal’s story. He had barely touched upon the issue of Sal’s marriage to Kitty, before he had Sal’s character removed from the series. I found this very disappointing.

    I suspect that like Whedon, Weiner will eventually approach the topic of race . . . but at the last minute. Hopefully, there will be a television series that will be brave enough to give equal time to the topic of gender, race and even gay issues.

  45. Matt Weiner’s primary task as a writer is to service his story. He’s not obligated to deal with race any more than he has been, as much as we may want him to.

    On the other hand, given that the first four seasons have strongly dealt with “social justice” (or lack of same) in its explorations of gender issues, it’s only natural to expect more visibility of race issues. Especially since you really can’t have one without the other in any discussion of the ’60s.

    I agree with Deborah and hope that if the MM writing staff do tackle it in a more extended manner that they do hire writers of color for their viewpoint.

  46. Moira, where did anyone say the show HAS to be about African-Americans? Did anyone even say anything remotely like that or that this show is a documentary or should be all about African-Americans or even ask for political correctness?!! People are mentioning the lack of people of color and questioning why we see so little that is all at a time when civil rights were a big issue and are pointing out how it is an issue, like women’s rights, homosexuality, xenophobia and so forth that the show could deal with less subtly than they have. Also, no one said there were no black maids or elevator operators etc.

    I personally think it is very unfair of you to categorize this thread or the comments as ABSURD and to mischaracterize what people are saying. If you think the conversation is absurd perhaps you could employ the same logic you just attempted to extend to others by telling us to “not watch it” if we expect it to deal with race and if you don’t like the conversation perhaps rather than chastise people for having the conversation and expressing a point of view you disagree with it, just don’t read it or comment on it, very simple. It really singes my shorts when someone disagrees with something and rather than state their disagreement and state why, they have to use pejorative language and question the intelligence of the conversation by using terms like “absurd” or creating strawmen of things no one said.

  47. I wasn’t born in 1965.

    I think this is an issue worth thinking about. At the same time, I’m torn.

    Part of me thinks ‘The Joy Luck Club’ was about Chinese American mother-daughter relationships in San Francisco. It wasn’t about cowboys, astronauts, African American domestics in the South, or women at a Manhattan ad agency in 1960.

    The book “The Help” didn’t really touch on racism against the Chinese, or the plight of poor, illiterate white folk.

    Part of me thinks: this is primarily the sory of Don Draper and Peggy Olson on Madison Avenue in 1960. If the story of racism becomes a part of their lives, then it is reasonable for it to become a part of Mad Men.

    On the other hand, because I was not alive in 1965 and am not from “the Big Apple”, I honestly don’t know if African Americans ought to be encountered more often. I use “ought” in the sense of ‘it is historically inacurrate not to include more.”

    Let’s just say MW could have included a couple more African American voices and still maintained the historical integrity of the show.

    Is it something we should judge MW or the show for not doing?

    Here are a couple of questions:
    1. Civil rights is huge and complicated. Perhaps MW wants to do justice to the stories he tells and he feels that civil rights is too much to tell with this vehicle?
    2. Maybe it is still coming?
    3. Maybe we would all start to be really turned off by Roger, Don, Peggy, and so on if we saw them regularly interact with in African American in a manner that would have been historically accurate? Would we still want to watch the show?

  48. #43, Moira, I am going to ask you to be careful with your tone. “Newsflash people” and other light sarcasm might ordinarily be okay, but when we’re talking about racism and civil rights, it behooves everyone to be more polite and more compassionate than usual.

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