The Racial Disconnect In Mad Men

October 12, 2009

From Ta-Nehisi Coates Mad Men thread today Matt comments:

Although Don has his character flaws, I like that he occasionally shows a more noble side. He didn’t hold the knowledge of Sal’s gay affair against him. He seemed to scoff at Roger’s blackface performance. He didn’t discriminate against Peggy, but let her on the creative team. This might be due his self-centered libertarianism (“so long as it doesn’t affect me”) or he may actually be forward thinking and more ethical than we give him credit for. I tended to think the latter was true so I thought he would stand up for Sal.

The show conforms to certain patterns – Don continually getting any woman he wants, but it also surprises me. That was one instance. I remember another recent surprise – I thought that the grandfather would accuse Carla of stealing his money because she is black.

That would have been cliche so I’m glad it didn’t happen, but I have been hoping for more commentary on race relations, and I liked what I saw in this episode. It was heartbreaking to see Carla in the kitchen listening to (was it the news or MLK? or what?) and having to hear Betty say that the time isn’t now.

As for the confrontation with Sal and the “you people” line – I think he did mean gay people, but it also felt like he meant: you moral people who aren’t willing to compromise yourself for your career or for success or for ME, how dare you!

(additional emphasis mine). While I expect everyone will be talking about the superpowerful “You People” moment in yesterday’s episode (which our very own Jeremy adeptly analyzes) I’ve got to say that that bit between Betty and Carla was pretty damn powerful too. Remember that Nelson Rockefeller was, if you’ll excuse me here, the “Maverick” of the Republican primaries that year. He was very much against the homophobic and segregationist stances of the Republican Party that are still prevalent today under a thin veil were still prevalent in the 60s. We hear some of these Rockefeller supporters at Betty’s fundraiser talking about how segregation is such a bad thing. They mean it I think but they do it in a passive way.  I really don’t want to over emphasize how historically significant moments in this show are but I think that moment, and when Betty says ‘well, maybe it’s not time to end segregation’ deserves attention. One thing we’ve seen a lot of this season is a dramatic disconnect between whites and blacks. Our wealthy white main characters just don’t get blacks or race relations. They think they all think together and act together and that racism will just fade away. They’re against racism but just not enough to do much about it, but threaten the beauty of the community and Betty and the rest are storming city hall and flirting with politicians.

—Daniel

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