Misogynists are Cads, Racists Are Monsters.

Friends of the blog Jeremy Levine and Latoya Peterson are both winding their ways through the second season of Mad Men, ahead of the coming third season premiere. (It’s about  time, y’all.) There are articles clogging up my reader ahead of the show, so I’m feeling the media crush to the premiere even though I don’t have a TV.

Mad Men is, obviously, a fantastic show (still not The Wire, though) but I’m having a hard time figuring out if the way issues about race are generally handled really intelligently —  there’s something pretty spot-on about the fact that for these upper-middle class white businessmen and their families, black people are pretty much invisible, not worthy of much discussion or consideration — or whether that’s just a dodge.

You could read the way the writers are hedging on the main characters  racial animus  — and I’d argue they’d probably have to be bigots — would make them too unlikeable. The shit Don does to Betty (and every other woman on the show who isn’t Peggy) is boorish and cruel. He shoves her around. He condescends to her. He’s vicious to his mistresses, as well (think of that scene where he grabs his lover and forcibly shoves his hand into her vagina). By any measure, this cat is a misogynist. But this deep misogyny comes across as a necessary part of his alpha male cool. But to make  Don or Pete or any of the Sterling Cooper gang seem to be active racists and still portray them empathetically might be too difficult a needle to thread, because we still tend to think of racists as unambiguously evil and morally bankrupt.

31 thoughts on “Misogynists are Cads, Racists Are Monsters.

  1. shani-o August 4, 2009 at 2:21 pm Reply

    The reason I initially had zero interest in seeing this show was because of the acute invisible-person-of-color-syndrome.

    I still haven’t watched, and I am now more interested in seeing it (good is good, and I hear it’s good); but I find it kind of hard to believe that black folks were invisible to anyone in the 1960s.

    And to your final point, I think you’re right; racist Don would probably be too hard to stomach.

    • G.D. August 4, 2009 at 2:27 pm Reply

      The reason I initially had zero interest in seeing this show was because of the acute invisible-person-of-color-syndrome.

      um, you watch Veronica Mars.

      • shani-o August 4, 2009 at 2:37 pm Reply

        Just because you don’t like Wallace doesn’t mean he’s invisible!

        (Also, they had a whole white-vs-brown racial tension storyline.)

  2. Leigh August 4, 2009 at 2:47 pm Reply

    I just discovered MM about 2 weeks ago and I LOVE it. So glossy. I wish I looked nice every day and drank on the hour w/o gaining weight or being hungover. 🙂

    I think they could handle race, if they chose…But I’m not sure they’re not handling it the way you’re describing, that blacks had their “place” in these WASPy whites’ lives and that was that. The invisibility thing. It’s tough to say. One of the characters, Paul, is dating a black woman, and there’s a tense scene b/w her and his white ex-girlfriend (main character Joan) where she alludes that Paul’s only dating her to be provocative (it’s 1962) and then Joan says as much to Paul. Paul then goes on to MS later in the season to organize with Sheila, his girlfriend, though the show doesn’t do much w/it, just makes him look like a corporate blowhard on the bus – and maybe self-involved as only a self-satisfied white person in that context can be – among all these black organizers.

    The show has touched very briefly on anti-Semitism, homophobia, and there’s an absolutely heart-breaking rape scene in one episode. So they could go there, and I expect they will, actually…the show leapt from 1960 to 1962 from S1 to S2, so if it keeps this pace how could they avoid these issues by 1963, 1964?

    • G.D. August 4, 2009 at 2:54 pm Reply

      First: what took you so long? It’s funny how all my homies in the blogosphere are binging on that show right now. That show makes me want to wear a natty suit and a pocket square to work every day.

      And you’re right, next season is set in ’63, and considering everything that happened that year, it might be hard to pretty hard to avoid more obvious discussions of the role of race. I’m willing to give Weiner and the crew some benefit of the doubt, because the show has touched briefly on those issues you mentioned, and I think, deftly so. (I was just talking to Latoya about the rape scene, which was one of the most unsettling — and masterful — moments I’ve ever seen on TV.)

      • Leigh August 4, 2009 at 3:05 pm Reply

        Ah, here I am lecturing you when you’re way ahead of me, of course! 🙂

        I don’t know…rainy summer combined with Platinum Weddings disappearing from On Demand inexplicably. I was like, well, pp keep talking about this Mad Men. The first night I watched 5 episodes. (Sadly, I was busy recently and missed the final 2 eps of Season 1 before they disappeared from OnD, so I had to comfort myself w/TWoP recaps.)

        My friend-blogger NycWeboy described it once as the last gasp of high WASP culture, and I think that’s true. Part of the fantasy of the show is that they’re so elite and insular that they need not even consider politics, other than how it might bring them corp. revenue and keeping women and the occasional male transgressor (so far the gays and Jews) in their place. Just wait til the elevator operator asks for an entry-level job on the company floor, and all hell’s gonna break loose.

  3. Kia August 4, 2009 at 3:03 pm Reply

    The most prominent black character so far would be the girlfriend of one of the associates (out of the MM loop, I’ll be damned if I can remember any of the names of the supporting characters) and I remember having a visceral reaction when Joan is very derisive towards this woman. I know full well that Joan-like Don & Co-would probably not be champion of equality and yet it still caught me by surprise.

    I was afraid that the Draper’s black maid was going to find herself in a bad place due to Betty’s meltdown but apparently she avoided that fate and I’d be thrilled if she was more than scenery in season 3.

    I’ve been waiting to see if a major black character will be depicted as the series moves further into the ’60’s. I thought the show’s arc would jump ahead a few years every season, but I’m not certain to that point.

    • G.D. August 4, 2009 at 3:11 pm Reply

      Yup! When Joan made that comment it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it still left me really angry. (Aside: Joan is a FANTASTIC character.) Latoya thinks she was going at Sheila (I think that was her name) mainly to needle Paul.

      • ladyfresh August 4, 2009 at 4:38 pm Reply

        She definitely was trying to needle Paul. Which made it all the more perfect.

        The ‘cism is real, i’d say, in that way that its the north, it’s casual ‘cism. Not in your face unless completely confronted which is what happened with Joan. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel it, it was more that it became a useful tool just that easily with zero qualms about it.

      • K August 6, 2009 at 12:47 am Reply

        Agreed that Joan was definitely insulting Paul via Sheila, the girlfriend.

        Joan isn’t criticizing him for dating “out” per se, as much as she’s criticizing him for doing it and expecting to be hailed as some champion of racial equality. She knows Paul is obsessed with being seen as “with it” and progressive by his peers and she (maybe wrongly) questions his motives for getting into this interracial relationship in the first place.

        Personally, I really don’t think the doubts Joan has are any different from the questions we (we being anti-racist people of color) ask ourselves when we encounter IR relationships. We understand the dynamics that can come into play in those situations and we analyze them, albeit usually not as in cruel a way as Joan.

        This is my first comment here, but I had to come out of the woodwork and say something. The intersection of my favorite show and one of my favorite blogs was too much to keep me quiet!

  4. Winslowalrob August 4, 2009 at 3:43 pm Reply

    I am not going to watch this show because too many people think its great, which means I do not trust it, but GD your title says it all. A sympathetic racist character in a tv show? Outside of the whole ‘we are all racists in our own way’ angle a la Crash, that would never work.

    • Leigh August 4, 2009 at 4:45 pm Reply

      MM is nothing like Crash! I never… (beware – newly obsessed fan alert)

  5. ladyfresh August 4, 2009 at 4:48 pm Reply

    of course

    and evil monsters can’t be presidents.

    race is dealt with as bit of both, a dodge and convenient. i’d say there were some moments addressed to have proper context but yes i wonder, like leigh said, if next season it will bring it. but maybe not… just finished reading The Hornes

    it does seem possible for segments of society to sit these things/history out.

    if you look at the dealings with class, they also dabbled in peggy’s lower class origins briefly for context and then moved on

  6. McDevite August 4, 2009 at 5:35 pm Reply

    As others have said, they did deal with race.

    First and foremost, we are aware that Don is a racist cad, during the first season, for the ad campaign for the Jewish Department Store, Roger asks Don if they’ve ever hired any Jews. Don says “Not on my watch.” And during the first meeting with Rachael Mencken, Roger finds, IIRC, a Jewish kid from the mail room to sit in on the meeting. Even though Don and Rachael circle each other, it’s clear that whatever happened between 1960 and now, Jews in 1960 are NOT white. Likewise during the first season, there’s some fairly casual issues with JFK and Salvatore being Catholic/not white.

    Somewhat secondarily is the party in the first season in which Peggy has her pursue stolen and the office is left a mess, and subsequently, a black building staffer (I believe, elevator attendant) is fired to cover for the debauchery/theft of the white staff.

    Throughout the first and second season, the black elevator attendant acts as a Greek chorus on events–in the Marilyn Monroe Episode as Joan and Don ride up to work that morning, and when Don is in the elevator with the prick and makes him take off or put on his hat.

    And yeah, I agree that Joan’s fight with Sheila is mostly to needle Paul, but in the times when they interact (in the second episode of season two at the party in Montclair) and then at the office (right before the trip to California), some of Joan’s beef with Sheila is that shes’ improper, in the sense that Joan has a tightly scripted sense of “proper” (as can be seen with gender roles; I’d assume this would extend to race). But Sheila does inject the rising tide of the Civil Rights Movement into the story, and Paul goes to the South with her to register voters after his plans to go to CA are scuttled, a scene which closes out the seventh or so episode. And yes, there’s the Draper’s maid

    This is about as much as I’d expect from the show, given that it’s about Ad Men on Madison Avenue, going from the Flannel Gray Fifties into the The Sixties, it’s hard for me to figure where persons of color /could/ be inserted without it sounding like a false note in the story line. A lot of the show is caught up in White Middle class senses of propriety and materialism in that era (up to and including the Cuban Missile Crisis).

    However, with Rachel Mencken, the arrival of Sheila (and the gay couple from Season Two) seems to suggest that the show is working on a way to talk about the breakdown, or transformation of “Whiteness” and conformity of the early post-war era into the modern world (as with the casual sexism and the keeping of mistresses shifting from season one to season two where we see more wrecked marriages, and the way that Peggy and Joan contrast the fate of feminism and women in the White Man’s World; or the way in which Don is jealous of the Beats in Season One and the New Age Orgy Team from Season Two in their ability to will-self creation and refuse to blend in). The question of identity and self-realization/integration is underlined by Don’s storyline as a man who as it all who’s hiding the whoreson underneath.

    Of course, I expect everyone on the show is in fact a racist monster, but they’re nice to their black servants; it’s when Sterling-Cooper gets a black account that everyone will say something tasteless or terrible. Given that next season is set around (I’d guess) the Kennedy Assassination through the passage of the Voting Rights Act, I think we’ll get a more overt look at race.

    • ladyfresh August 4, 2009 at 6:22 pm Reply

      nicely put

    • Leigh August 4, 2009 at 6:42 pm Reply

      fabulous analysis.

    • Kia August 4, 2009 at 7:53 pm Reply

      I agree, great breakdown.

      The idea of who is and isn’t white during this time period reminds me of my black grandfather’s oft told “joke” that he wishes he could pinpoint when Italians convinced white people they were white. He was a NYC teamster in the ’60’s and eventually became a union representative. His coworkers were primarily ethnic whites and his climb up that ladder was politically bloody. I would love for him to have a fictional Madison Ave twin that I could debate him about!

  7. Jeremy August 4, 2009 at 6:39 pm Reply

    I think the racial references are sometimes there, but subtle. For example, the very first scene of the series shows Don conversing with a black waitor, to which a white waitor immediately came over to see if there was “any trouble.” From my reading thus far, it seems like Don and the rest of them are so isolated–socially and spatially–from people of color that they just don’t fit into their everyday realities. And remember, an astonishingly LITTLE actually happens on the show; it’s more about their everyday lives. By the late 50s-early 60s, challenges to residential segregation were declining after pronounced violence, and racial restrictions in housing deeds were outlawed (because they became obsolete), and the Second Great Migration of blacks to Northern industrial cities was slowing down. Given the fact that the Drapers live in the burbs, it just literally seems like blacks weren’t around. If anything, I think the show is actually accurately portraying their class privilege (they never felt inclined to defend their neighborhood or schools, fearing a “black invasion”), and also accurately portraying how they viewed the world.

    (I’m also posting this comment at Feministe)

  8. McDevite August 4, 2009 at 11:46 pm Reply

    The show engages with race about as much as it can; one of the things that I find compelling and repulsive about the show is how badly non-conformity is punished; Salvatore’s lavender marriage, Peggy’s hope for a career, the treatment of the divorced mother, Joan’s rape, the all around hatred of Jews, gays, and women (by proxy for everyone else that’s Not White). It’s sharp reminder of how far and how close the sixties are, and makes me really glad I wasn’t born then.

    But to engage with the original post. As I said earlier, I bet everyone on that show is a racist–in that casual, white, suburban way; these are people who will protest busing in the seventies, maybe vote for George Wallace, or throw rocks at the nuns marching with MLK in Oak Park. They’re happy to have black maids and gardeners, but not happy when a black family wants to move in down the road.

    Now, is it easier to indulge in misogyny (including wife beating, cheating, and marital rape) than racism, and still have people show up for the product? Obviously, it’s what the writers have chosen to do, to a degree. But in the world of the show, there’s not a lot of overt racism for the characters to engage in; they’re not racist because racism couldn’t sell, they’re not officially racist because they haven’t been given the opportunity to do anything serious just yet, but black characters are scapegoats when they mess up, and any non-white male peer is a threat (Rachael, Bobbi). So, the casual misogyny is a matter of opportunity, but also fits into the world that’s been built without being forced (Feels like “Far from Heaven”), whereas anything but the very peripheral racial matters would’ve headed into Very Special Episode Territory.

    Which isn’t to say that misogyny is any good, but that it lacks a particular archetypal act or gesture. There’s no doubt that women hardly matter or have agency in Don’s world, and the ones who do or try get punished for it–like a Hardy novel–so that the divorcee is ostricized, Joan is forced to stop being Roger’s mistress and being the Doctor’s wife; her attempts at independence/agency are met with rape. The only one that beats the spread is Peggy, who has her dreadful office fling and child, but has her career–but not her personal happiness, or professional friends.

    Could they offer us a cast of racists? I suppose; however, the Civil Rights Movement did more to synchronize racist or racism with a particular category of racism which is not the most prevalent sort–racism in America is firmly linked to George Wallace, Bull Connor, and cute school kids in their Sunday best getting bit by dogs–than with the broader problem that’s gotten at by “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” of the sort of White Liberalism that supports breaking Jim Crow, but doesn’t want his daughter dating over the racial line. On the one hand, the Civil Rights Movement did something magical/brilliant in negating things like “Song of the South” and “Birth of a Nation” to replace them with Medgar Evers and Jesse Helms, but let everyone else off, by degrees–because the stricken person watching those images can think “I’m Not THAT” and feel a certain degree of comfort, even if they’d never want black kids bussed into their school district.

    As long as the characters to stay away from certain key images or gestures, you can get away with making them “racist,” and that’s what I think “Mad Men” has done; when given a chance, just about everyone on the show (less Peggy–when she finds out that black employees were fired for a crime they didn’t commit, she weeps while everyone else laughs. Paul might just be dating Sheila cause it’s trendy) treats PoC poorly, and don’t think they should be given much power or responsibility–and find it problematic when they are (Rachael Mencken is both a woman and a JEW! She also makes business decisions for her father, and that just goes to to show that Jews are, ya know…which leads to a weird racist/vagina dentata moment from Ken early on)

    Where I think the post gets the wrong idea is that the characters of “Mad Men” are supposed to be admirable or sympathetic. I watch the show–I’m intrigued—but I actively dislike most of the characters, only really rooting for Peggy, Paul, Betty, and the Priest. I despise Don Draper and find myself awed; but in the way someone is in awe of a grizzly or a tiger shark, I want to see it tear into that antelope, but I’m not imitating it any time soon–or, as with “Far From Heaven” part of the appeal is the recreation of the world in lush color and texture, which is so sumptuous as to be inviting, but it doesn’t compel me to cheer on. Everyone on that show is either a monster, or a victim of monstering by one of the protagonists. I don’t think the show tries to make causal woman-hating “better” or “less bad” than casual racism, but that both are a feature of the then-and-there.

    • ladyfresh August 5, 2009 at 6:42 am Reply

      again well stated.

      It’s been difficult to explain my fascination with the show. The wonderful and oh so precise art direction lured me in but what kept me rapt is this monstrous world which isn’t too far distant from our own (the birthers are our current extreme example). My morbidly voyeuristic viewing dwells not in the leave it to beaver aspect but the beautifully casual daily monstrosities.

    • Leigh August 5, 2009 at 9:21 am Reply

      “these are people who will protest busing in the seventies, maybe vote for George Wallace, or throw rocks at the nuns marching with MLK in Oak Park.”

      I wonder…I see where you’re coming from, but I also think that “money talks” is maybe the cardinal rule on this show, which is why they do ultimately do business w/Rachel, Peggy becomes a copywriter, etc. Of course, I’m using occupational examples, which are very different from the residential/civic examples you use above. But this the fine line you describe re: GWCTD – i.e., Mad Men characters might be able to make changes in their work life on behalf of the almighty dollar but not be able to shift in their personal lives.

      I guess I’m falling prey to what you so clearly articulate above, which is trying to delineate levels of violent racism. I can’t imagine any of these Mad Men characters hurling rocks, even though I’ve witnessed a rape and some more mild sexual assaults on the show. So I’m not sure why I can’t envision it, even though I’ve got cause to – unless I’m just resorting to “racists” do “this”… Part of me finds them too politically apathetic – there’s a lazy myopia in their bigotry re: how the world is changing around them, and a sort of grudging exasperation that they have to get w/the program (giving Peggy an office w/a pink vs. blue door is a brilliant touch).

      I’m probably in for a rude awakening in the coming seasons. Part of it for me, personally, is a cognitive dissonance, which to a certain degree is based in privilege – I watch the anti-Semitism and misogyny and think, wow, pp were really like that? I’m sort of enthralled and clearly naive, even though I’ve been taught and read that life was oh very much like that (and still is, in different ways).

      • McDevite August 5, 2009 at 12:31 pm Reply

        I have mixed feelings; the civic examples I used were, I suppose, the most general. But contemporaneous middle class crowds in Chicago did not take to kindly to King trying to integrate their neighborhoods. Given the show’s tendency to punish non-white male characters for non-conformity and its overall interest in the perpetuation of white man dominance (through sexual abuse of its women characters, etc), nothing could be “worse” than integration.

        I like your example of Rachel and Peggy. I don’t think anyone at work ever really comes to terms with Rachel as an equal; her presence, like Peggy’s, is about what’s to come, and it’s not something they like–she’s a threat and a menace (contrast this with the Maidenform plotline in season two, or the way Don uses Betty on the Heineken account), but she’s held at arm’s length, compared to the male clients. Even though Peggy eventually wins, she keeps getting shanked by her co-workers; she’s right about Clearasil and Maidenform, other people take credit. The victory party is held at a strip joint–Peggy literally has to have the balls to show because no one wanted to invite her or include her–she has to force the men to take her seriously, and she’s perpetually losing ground (in one of the episodes, Don is late for a meeting, and the boys want to start drinking, she’s the responsible adult. She’s also better at covering for Freddy without abusing it, like Pete does) Both of those connect to that TV project that Joan works on, but can’t quite bring herself to assert herself, which relates to her rape–once again, agency. But Don’s relationship with Peggy means that when those men are being vulgar in the elevator later in front of a woman, he makes one take off his hat.

        I don’t think that Mad Men make accommodation for money–the frank disgust at the gay couple covers that–but only start to change their attitudes when the “Other” perpetually invades their space, engages, and refuses to back down. I don’t think there will be a “micro” opportunity for this for a while, which may be why I’m inclined to expect worse of the Mad Men–Season Three is going to include Ole Miss and Birmingham–given how sharply attuned the cast is to images, but rarely the politics that drive them, I’m interested to see how the show will handle that–but then again the show makes me think of LBJ’s speech “There is no southern problem, there is no northern problem, there is only an AMERICAN PROBLEM” wrt to race. These guys are going to be complacently racist until, probably, the Harlem Riots in ’64, and then there’s going to be a real interest in “Law & Order.”

        I do think you have a point about money with regards to accommodation, but there’s something more than that. The problem that the Mad Men will face is that the Civil Rights Movement isn’t about that talented tenth, or maybe the rare female Jewish client, or that exotic thing–the female copy writer–but about a whole people demanding to be seen and accommodated as equals, which is not a number that the Mad Men can comfortably digest; this is not unlike the backlash that Obama’s presidency generates–the white southron can’t cope with someone like that breaking the rules. (contrast what Don does to Rachel and Bobbi for a sec).

        To turn your comment about the professional versus the personal back on itself, think about the way in which Betty and the Etectras respond to the arrival of the divorcee in their neighborhood (leaving aside the creepy relationship Betty cultivates with the son)–she’s still white and middle class, yet she’s totally reviled, and Betty is spurned for even being a little sympathetic. I assume the outcome for a black family would be worse.

        I don’t think that they’re politically apathetic, exactly, but I think that the show’s not about politics, and it’s not quite how politics works in the world, yet–the personal is not yet the political. But the moments where it slips through are telling; the divorcee who’s trying to get Betty to volunteer with Women for Kennedy and her response, or the season one episodes where the office watches that clip of Jackie Kennedy speaking Spanish and the one that centers on the Presidential election. We get hints of politics as marketing, but we also get a whiff of “conformity” over change.

        There’s a little more of that in Season Two, when Peggy starts to hang out with the very obviously Vatican II priest, and the Memorial Day Observance in the episode where Peggy and Don are at the beach. Delving into the latter a little more, it’s a very reactionary moment at the country club where all the middle aged men are honored for past service and their current comfortable lives (look around the room; everyone’s married and WASP), paired with the politics of gender, when the charity event is a swimsuit show, and Betty, wanting to have some of her old sex appeal back and being patriotic, buys a suit, Don calls her a whore for celebrating her body and sex appeal. In the political arc of the sixties, they’re on top of the world, and nothing has really come together to challenge that yet, so there’s no reason for them to really be engaged.

        Mad Men makes a great show to watch while reading “Nixonland” btw.

        • Leigh August 5, 2009 at 6:57 pm Reply

          This is a lot to digest (but awesome) and I’m trying to take it all in. (I’ve been meaning to read Nxnlnd, btw).

          This: “I don’t think anyone at work ever really comes to terms with Rachel as an equal” – is a good point, especially followed up by your comment re: the CRM and an entire group demanding humanity and recognition vs. the Talented 10th. These are all excellent points. I guess I just wonder how much these folks are really “middle-class” versus just enough upper crust to continue to shield themselves from larger societal changes. Pete lives on Park Av, how upscale is Ossining at that time? Are these the middle-class zones where African-American families will be pioneers, trying to move into the neighborhoods?

          The workplace becomes the battleground, then, maybe, and it sets up a relative degree of a Talented 10th element, the exception to the rule, the tolerance of 1 Rachel, etc.

          Jeremy made a point earlier about their segregation – spatially, racially and class-wise, and that’s a big part of why I wonder if this show will really dive into race relations of the 1960s, vs. continuing to portray these folks as fairly backwards, slow-to-modernize in their whiskey and grey flannel ways.

          I realize part of what’s fueling my perspective on this show is that I know society outgrew this slice of life we’re witnessing on MM, so I watch the show pleasurably knowing that life got a lot harder for pp like Don Draper, who refused to keep up with a changing world. (Though I actually find him a sympathetic character even as I dislike him.) The word anachronistic comes to mind.

          Also, as much as we can see the inequality and I’m sure the women characters are aware of it too, there’s such different conceptions of power and roles in the show. The lipstick campaign where a woman’s kiss signifies “total ownership” of a man? That’s certainly a fascinating concept, esp. when compared to the Maidenform bit about wearing bras for men. Ick.

          For me, personally, it’s like loving on The Sound of Music (I’m such a nerd) and still cringing at the line “lo and behold you’re someone’s wife, and you belong to him” in 16 Going on 17 song.

          As for the bathing suit and “desperate” bit, I thought Don was actually just putting her down for his own sake, so other men wouldn’t look at his wife. Treating her like his property, but not actually believing the rhetoric he was spewing. Or treating her like the Madonna in the Madonna-whore set up.

          • McDevite August 6, 2009 at 11:36 am Reply

            “Nixonland” is amazing, at least of the most part. The first three quarters of the book give this really vivid and intense sense of what White America was feeling about the way that America was changing, and the number of people who become violent as a result.

            It’s hard for me to divvy up the cast by class especially well, to be frank. You have the secretaries who are lower middle class (Peggy is “ethnic” and poor–Brooklyn and Joan’s marriage to her rapist will make her upper class), the associates, who are straight middle class, and the executives (Don, Roger, Mr. Cooper) who are wealthy. Pete came from a patrician family, but it’s revealed in Season Two that they have no money, and he depends on his father-in-law for funds, which is how he got the Park Ave. Apartment. I don’t know enough about New York Urban history to guess which character is going to get the ‘unpleasant surprise’ of black pioneers, but I’d think Peggy, Salvatore, and maybe Ken first. But I expect everyone to take the Harlem Riots on the chin.

            The other question that may be solved in upcoming seasons, given how rarified Don/Roger/Cooper’s circles are, is whether they socialize with Gov. Rockefeller, who, in turn, is backing King by way of Belafonte and the Gandhi Society. So, there are ways for the show to engage in race. (Btw, Taylor Branch’s ‘Pillar of Fire’ coves about this period, and is the only book I had to stop reading on the Metro ’cause it made me cry so much)

            Given that Peggy/Joan are Jungian shadows of each other, and the way Salvatore/Fritz(I think) are Jungian shadows of each other, we’re going to get a taste of the world to come with regards to race, I’d hope, since we’ve already ‘seen’ women, Jews, Catholics, and gays becoming “white” that the obvious next group is blacks, and how much harder it is for blacks to become “white” than any other group.

            The show is totally engaged in showing how bad things were, and how poorly people reacted to things like (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Q0iXMyPy5Y) as opposed to the sort of anodyne way that the sixties and the CRM are recalled and treated in pop culture. I think ‘Mad Men’ is a great antidote to things like “only the south was backwards in the sixties” and “racists speak with a drawl and cheer when dogs bite kids.”

  9. tallulahbankhead August 4, 2009 at 11:50 pm Reply

    Fascinating illuminating analysis.

    The fact that the blacks are silent yet present, watching these people live their charmed lives seems to be a commentary on how African Americans lived their lives for so long in America. It is necessary and instructive that every person who adores Mad Men see this truth for what it is.

    African Americans have always observed American life through the prism of these dual heritages – African American and American.

    Observing, taking notes, remembering these (I guess) white culture truths and holding on to them for future reference, and advancement.

    I hope Mad Men’s creator follows through on the dynamic he has set up in this season or future seasons.

    I cannot wait.

  10. storm August 5, 2009 at 9:25 am Reply

    Thus far, I have only watched three episodes of Season One on DVD. After watching these episodes, I vowed never not to watch the show anymore.

    Why? While the show is beautifully shot (the glossy sets and sharp suits are breathtaking) and well written, it left an extremely bad taste in my mouth and a queasy feeling in my gut.

    The extreme misogony of the men, the submissive role of women (in the workplace and in the home), and the presence of blacks only in service roles, was too hard for me to swallow. I know that it is historically accurate, and that this is the way IT WAS during the time period depicted. But still, it was hard for me to watch.

    Plus, I had a hard time liking, or even relating, to any of the characters. I especially found Dan Draper, the lead, to be an a**hole. The way he treated his wife and mistress was reprehensible to me.

    In terms of the invisibility of African Americans in the workplace, while we have come a long way in Corporate America (with many AF Am’s in high level positions), to a very real extent, we are still somehwhat invisible in this arena. To be fair, black woman have made strides. But our black men, for the most part, are ghosts in the corporate halls and boardrooms.

    • G.D. August 5, 2009 at 10:02 am Reply

      Hmm. I’m curious as to what you would change, and how you would change it.

      I’d urge you to keep watching. The misogyny is dealt with really well, and the female leads — Joan and Peggy, especially — are fantastic, complicated characters.

      • storm August 5, 2009 at 10:24 am Reply

        It is not so much that I want to (or would) “change anything.” Good question though — and one I would have to give more thought in order to give a thoughtful reply.

        It is just that the historical accuracy of the time period is hard for me to witness. As mentioned above, I KNOW that it is the way it was. I guess it is just witinessing the harshness of the reality of it that gives me pause.

        A little about me: I too have a hard time re-watching “The Color Purple” or “Roots.” They are both excellent works, dealing with a very horrendous time in history for black people. But, for me, they are just too emotionally draining to watch.

        Recently, I have decided to give MM another chance because there is just not much else of quality on TV to watch. (I so miss THE WIRE.)

        • ladyfresh August 5, 2009 at 11:30 am Reply

          i seem to be on the opposite side of the same fence.

          i couldn’t stomach the wire

          but i can watch this easily

          i put my inability to watch the wire as it being to close to home and the 80’s NY i grew up in. i have no desire to relive it.

          • Leigh August 5, 2009 at 4:01 pm Reply

            I also don’t like to watch the wire. It’s realistic, contemporary violence is too much for me, whereas I know MM’s time period is a real one, but it feels like a fantasy to me since I wasn’t alive for it.

  11. Rosie August 11, 2009 at 12:40 am Reply

    Some people are claiming that Joan was simply using Sheila to mock Paul’s “liberal” tendencies. Perhaps. But no one has stopped to wonder why she did it in the first place. Why did Joan bother to mock Paul’s relationship with Sheila and his attempt to look liberal? My opinion? I think she was upset that an old boyfriend of hers had moved on to date a woman who is considered socially inferior. A black woman.

    If Joan was trying to point out Paul’s pretentiousness, I suspect that she did so out of her own racism.

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