Why I Wrote A Mad Men Episode With Negroes, by Erika Alexander

Discussion in 'TV & Media' started by Shaka Zulu, Apr 14, 2013.

  1. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Perhaps it is worth repeating that there is no reason to believe that Don Draper's entire life would be free of African Americans or issues about African Americans.

    Also, political campaiging amongst the monied set, as well as politicians seeking advertising expertise, would have intersected Draper's professional life at some point.

    Nothing about Mad Men's mise en scene or alleged thematic preoccupations requires whitewashing.
     
  2. Kegg

    Kegg Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Here's the thing:

    While Mad Men is a series about Don Draper and an ad agency (in that any of the principle characters can be connected to the former or the latter), it's more than willing to follow these characters around. We go into the homes and off-hour lives of many members of SCDP's staff, have plot threads that reveal things about them, and the show's shown a willingness to shake up the supporting cast that it uses in this manner, dismissing some characters even as it elevates others.

    There really is no reason why they couldn't do a story about Don (the secretary) if they wanted to. It doesn't require the series to present SDPC any more tolerantly than it does, but this occurs to me as one particularly obvious point of entry that Mad Men could have an episode that brought in more black characters - Don's home life, her relationships, friends, family, etc.
     
  3. IndyJones

    IndyJones Vice Admiral Admiral

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    First: It's Dawn, not Don.

    Second:
    Yesterday's episode featured a Dawn subplot, complete with a couple of scenes set in a restaurant filled with African Americans

    But, beyond that, can't we give Matt Weiner the benefit of the doubt in assuming that this was a deliberate choice with no malicious intent? The series begins in March of 1960, it's more 50's than 60's. By season 6 we're into 1968, SCDP has a woman partner, no one bats an eye at a woman on Don's creative team, Roger has married -and divorced- a Jewish woman, and Don has an African American secretary. These are great changes, and remarkable when one goes back to watch the early episodes, but they wouldn't have been nearly so significant if Matt Weiner had chosen to portray the office as more diverse from the start.
     
  4. JoeZhang

    JoeZhang Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Off the top of my head, I think there is a scene where Don hears King's "I have a dream" speech and turns it off as he's not interested.
     
  5. Guy Gardener

    Guy Gardener Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    That must be the freakishly annoying thing about gay sex, locking onto someone attractive, you're in the early processes of figuring out how to tap that, when you discover that they have exactly the same name as you do. Sure very rarely it happens that Chris and Chris or Sam and Sam are a boy/girl pairing but this has to be a real and constant problem with the gays because at the high point of sexual ecstasy... Who wants to passionately scream out their own name?
     
  6. Lord Garth

    Lord Garth Captain Captain

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    This. Definitely this. The gradual changes have added up to several differences between the way things were at the beginning of the series and how they are now.

    There can be no question that 1968 was better than 1960. Do they still have a long way to go? Absolutely. But when you think about it, so do we as a people in 2013.

    It should also be noted that Matt Weiner himself is Jewish and has several women on his writing staff.
     
  7. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    Malicious intent -- or even conscious intent -- doesn't have to come into play at all, though. A creator can be unintentionally ethnocentric. It's human nature to think in terms of your own group, whatever group that may be -- and thus it is easy to find yourself, if you are white, only writing about white people, completely without meaning to.

    Critiques of something lacking in diversity is not the same thing as an accusation of malicious intent. The issue is not whether or not the creator is truly racist in his heart; the issue is whether or not the show ought to have more black people.
     
  8. the G-man

    the G-man Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I'm assuming that the people still complaining about the lack of black people haven't actually seen the latest episode.
     
  9. IndyJones

    IndyJones Vice Admiral Admiral

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    My point was that I believe it to have been deliberate, but not malicious. You're positing that it was accidental.

    I believe, based on how Weiner's slowly increased the diversity as the show has gone on, that it *was* deliberate. It's one way he's showing the changing of the times. It's one of the reasons why he chose that time period, and that group of people.

    As for Weiner subconsciously making a show that's just about people just like him? Well, as pointed out, he's Jewish (shocker with a name like that, eh? ;) ). And yet he created a show that started out without any Jews -that was pointed out on screen by a main character. And now, just like with the increased inclusion of women, and African Americans, and facial hair and sideburns, the characters seem to have evolved on the issue.

    No. Because that would be a different show.

    Could it have been just as good or better if it had? Absolutely. But it's pretty good already, and it's not being at all unreasonable in how it is presenting the world, so what's the problem?

    Also, just because I'm curious, do you watch this show?
     
  10. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    For a show that has wasted big chunks of episodes on Betty, there's no reason they couldn't have had an encounter with at least one or two "black" reps from other ad agencies. They did exist, even if they weren't commonplace.

    I salute the author for writing something she is passionate about. I read the script and she has the voice of the show down pretty well, even if some of the dialog does run on too long. The problem with it is that Don isn't driving the story. He walks into this Harlem ad agency, says "impress me" and then just sits back. And, unless I missed something, the subplots don't seem to mirror or counterpoint the A story, which is a pretty serious omission for a Mad Men script. Still, and "A" for effort.
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2013
  11. gblews

    gblews Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I think you and Sci are talking about two different things.

    You seem to be talking about an in-story depiction of racial and cultural integration of the the ad firm. The subject of the discussion is whether or not or why there have not been stories featuring blacks and how those stories might be presented.The gradual integration of the firm is a storyline that could move forward simultaneously and separately from other stories involving blacks, Jews, women, etc.
     
  12. IndyJones

    IndyJones Vice Admiral Admiral

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    That's true, they did exist. This Slate article quotes a contemporary survey (The April 22nd, 1963 issue of Advertising age) that:

    25 out of 20,000.
     
  13. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    No, I'm pointing out that unintentional ethnocentrism is one possible scenario. I made no claims about the particulars of the Weiner/Mad Men case. My emphasis was on the idea that function is more important than moral intention in evaluating whether or not there ought to be more minorities on any given TV show.

    Now, I didn't address the question of whether or not there can be a legitimate creative reason to have a mostly-white cast -- my point was that if you're criticizing a show for lacking diversity, that's not the same thing as accusing the creator of being a closeted racist, or of having malicious intent.

    Okay, listen. There are legitimate creative arguments to make that depicting the kind of social circles Mad Men features in an honest way means focusing on a very white circle of characters... at least at first.

    But we've seen several posters in this thread point out that the black community and Mad Avenue ad firms came to intersect quite a bit in the 60s. After a while, the question becomes -- at what point does this cease being an honest depiction of the racial isolation of the scions of the 1960s's system of white supremacy, and become itself ethnocentric as a work of art?

    I have only seen the first 9 episodes of Mad Men. I don't know enough details about future seasons to have a specific opinion about this particular show. But in general, I would say that if a show doesn't have a very specific creative reason not to have minorities, then it ought to default to having minorities (and in meaningful, substantive, non-stereotypical roles).

    Because if you set "white skin" as your default setting, you are, whether intentionally or not, perpetuating a system of white supremacy and minority invisibility. The question, again, is not "are you racist in your heart?" It's, "How does this narrative function?"

    ETA:

    I will say this. I like the show, but from the very first episode, it's bothered me that Mad Men is essentially a show about rich white elites being rich white elitists. It honestly bothers me that the show focuses so much on the lives of these wealthy assholes, yet doesn't feature, say, the lives of the black custodians who work at Sterling Cooper, too. The lives of the working class can be as rich of fodder for drama as those of the upper class, and I think that doing more to emphasize the contrasts and intersections of these communities would have made for a stronger show, from the very beginning. I am as interested in the lives of the black elevator operators as I am in the lives of the white telephone operators -- and all the more so, because I didn't grow up in a world where you didn't press your own elevator button, and I wish the show didn't just treat the casual racism as another instance of My Goodness Things Were Different Back Then.
     
  14. IndyJones

    IndyJones Vice Admiral Admiral

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    The show is about the people in the firm. That would make the two rather related, no?



    Ah. So you're talking about a version of the show that no longer exists. A version that's been subverted by the changes that occur (read: the very things you're asking for) as the show progresses.

    I was talking about the show as it exists now. And discussing how those specific changes have been made more relevant by the choices that were made.

    I'll leave you alone then.
     
  15. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    It would be more accurate to say that I'm talking in general about how TV shows ought to operate, and trying to avoid making too many specific claims about Mad Men.

    Have you not noticed how I framed most of my statements in terms of generalities?
     
  16. stj

    stj Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Antisemitism had a bad press in the US ever since the Nazis. It was much, much more discreet by the Sixties. Yet Mad Men could devote some time to the issue.
     
  17. gblews

    gblews Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    My point was that the gradual integration of the firm, which is a background storyline, is not the only way minorities can be worked into the show.
     
  18. bluedana

    bluedana Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Just because the class of people in the Mad Men universe are slowly becoming aware that black people exist in society, that doesn't mean that black people are just now appearing. The Civil Rights movement and the Women's Lib movement had closely related trajectories, yet from the very first season, we learned all about Peggy's backstory as she rose from secretary to copy writer (still rare at the time). Why is it so difficult to do something similar for a black character like Dawn? (And yes I know she got two whole lunch counter scenes with another talking black character.) Betty had a black housekeeper, who was unceremoniously dumped. Why not learn about her life and how it intersected with the Draper family's? Why not follow up with Pete's idea of going after the black market for TV sales? Again, just dumped. Why not go ahead write about the invisibility of black people (without whom neither the city nor the firm could function)? Instead, they only put black characters in the forefront for a hot second when there is a Very Special Race Moment, like "can Peggy trust Dawn not to steal her purse," or watching white people watching black people react to MLK's assassination.
     
  19. Lord Garth

    Lord Garth Captain Captain

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    I'll reserve judgment on whether or not Dawn's role has been increased permanently until a few episodes after this passed one with MLK's assassination.

    This is true, but Peggy got in through the backdoor as a secretary. That was an in.

    We know the people who have the power to hire at Sterling Cooper are not exactly the most enlightened. They backed themselves into a corner at the beginning of the fifth season and the only reason they hired Dawn was for show, so they could say how "progressive" they were.

    I wonder what capacity a black character would've been hired in at Sterling Cooper from the beginning of the series?

    To me, it seems as if Matt Weiner thought he could get away with having either a black or woman copywriter but not both.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2013
  20. Foxhot

    Foxhot Commodore Commodore

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    It's impossible for GAME OF THRONES to rock more than it already does.
     

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