Monday, October 18, 2010

A Mad Men World

For the foreseeable future, Sunday nights will be a little less interesting now that Mad Men has finished its fourth season. Series creator Matthew Weiner talked with the NY Times about the show. You might have read the article in today’s paper. Here’s a more elaborate version posted on the paper’s web site:

I bring this to your attention because of a section deep down in the interview. Here it is:

Q. We’re now well into 1965 on the show, and there are no major black characters, no characters who are any kind of racial minority.

A. Do Jews count as racial minorities? Because there have been a lot of Jews on the show.

Q. I don’t think so. But is that its own commentary on the reality of the world these characters occupy?

A.That is the world they move in. It’s like saying, well, you’re telling a story about baseball, where’s Jackie Robinson? I’m like, Jackie Robinson is Jackie Robinson because he was one person, and this story is not taking place in that other universe. I’ve tried to show, obviously, as time goes on, this is going to change. By the way, it changes socially. It does not change in advertising. It still has not changed. And I will go to the mat on this thing. I defy any of these companies outside of their corporate retreat photos to show me people of color in positions of power. And those people who are out there, who have positions of power, who are of color, I have been in contact with and none of them think there should be more black faces in that office.

What was true for the early to mid 1960s remains true in the first decade of the 21st century, not just in the advertising field but in most consumer goods and retail companies. Walk any retail trade show or conference and you will be startled by the blandness, the white-bread sameness of the participants, both on the supplier and retailer sides. If not for foreign delegates, you easily might not see a person of color, a sorrowful reality in an industry where so many of its workers are minorities.

About 10 years ago, during the conference my magazine produced, I was asked, softly in an aside, by a first timer attendee, a PR flak of one of our exhibitors, why there were but a handful of blacks among the 1,200 attendees. I could not provide a cogent response.

I still could not.