Mad Men: racism in advertising – Part 2 of 2

by guest contributor HighJive, originally published at MultiCultClassics

(Continued from yesterday)

Finding fault with Mad Men’s rendering of ethnic minorities in the advertising industry is somewhat impossible because, well, they barely exist. They’re invisible, in a Ralph Ellison style. Series creator Matthew Weiner hit the bull’s-eye in this area.

As historians like Tangerine Toad have recorded, Madison Avenue circa 1960 emitted a very WASPy aroma. Ethnic minorities were segregated then as they are today. Non-WASPs lived on distinctive planets. At the show’s fictional Sterling Cooper headquarters, it was awfully tough locating a Jewish employee to make a prospective Jewish client feel “comfortable”—agency honcho Roger Sterling snickered, “I had to go all the way to the mailroom, but I found one.”

Writers at Forbes observed, “In the 1950s and ‘60s, despite its image as a progressive industry, advertising clearly lagged when it came to diversity. Unfortunately, it still does. Back then, you had white shoe firms with WASPy staffers working for WASPy clients, while, as one of the characters in Mad Men puts it, ‘most of the Jewish guys work for the Jewish firms selling to Jewish people.’ Replace Jewish with African-American and you get a picture of the industry today.” Technically, you can also swap Jewish with Latino, Asian, Native American, Russian, GLBT and essentially every cultural designation on Earth. (Note: the Forbes writers made faulty comparisons that we’ll pick up later.)

The pilot episode saw adman Don Draper probing a Black waiter for cigarette insights. Not sure why Draper conducted the focus group, as his agency would never entertain wooing non-White audiences. Blacks in the next episode were bathroom attendants and sandwich sellers. No sign of Latinos, Asians or Native Americans so far. Too bad the copywriter who took the secretary on an agency tour in the second installment didn’t venture into the mailroom or janitorial closet. Although it’s a safe bet non-White minorities wouldn’t be spotted at those stations either.

It’s unlikely Mad Men will acknowledge executives for Pepsi-Cola—led by men including Edward F. Boyd—pioneered marketing to Black consumers in the 1940s and 1950s. Or the late Vince Cullers of Chicago launched the first Black advertising agency in 1956, while Luis Díaz Albertini founded Spanish Advertising and Marketing Services, the first Latino shop, in 1962. Hell, even Alex Trebek won’t recognize such trivia.

Then and now, race is the taboo topic. In Adweek’s interview with Mal Macdougall, the original Mad Man admitted, “The booze, the sex, the cigarettes, the suits, the haircuts, the harassment, the office politics, the ‘we own the world’ attitude—even the offices—are absolutely dead-on true.” Yet Macdougall neglected mentioning institutionalized apartheid. Why is it easier to joke about sexual advances that bordered on assault?

Mad Men has not blatantly addressed race; however, Weiner knows it’s out there. Adweek published an interview wherein Weiner said, “The men of that period had a different code and a lot of it is sexist and racist and selfish.” Contrary to the contentions of critical adfolks, Weiner has apparently done his homework. We’ll soon discover if he’s comfortable exploring the industry’s biases beyond anti-Semitism. Sadly, if Weiner sticks to telling an authentic Madison Avenue story, race will stay relatively untouched and deeply buried.

Returning to the notions forwarded by the Forbes writers, it’s important to consider certain realities. Contrasting 1960s Jewish firms to 21st century minority shops doesn’t fly. “Most of the Jewish guys work for the Jewish firms selling to Jewish people” is an incorrect statement. Yes, the early Jewish agencies served Jewish clients. But they didn’t direct messages exclusively to Jewish communities. Doyle Dane Bernbach—a Jewish shop with Jewish clients—produced the famous campaign that literally proves it via the headline, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish Rye.” The Jewish shops’ success at capturing mass markets inevitably lured broader clientele.

The 1960s creative revolution in the advertising industry brought additional significant changes. Italians and various White minorities joined the party. Don’t mean to sound paranoid, but somewhere along the journey, the WASPy, Jewish, Italian and assorted White people combined forces to control the lion’s share of business. Ethnic minorities like Blacks and Latinos were ghettoized, prohibited from expanding outside their respective pigeonholes.

BBDO Chief Creative Officer David Lubars told Advertising Age, “In no way does [Mad Men] reflect the business today. It really doesn’t. In fact, in some ways it really plays into the stereotype that advertising is full of sleazebags, but if you go into most agencies you see a lot of ethics and a lot of good hard work and people telling truth, so this really plays into the whole kind of side of the industry that I personally don’t see.” Lubars is indisputably right on a host of levels, and blindly wrong on others.

As Bill Green of the popular Make The Logo Bigger blog declared, Mad Men is depressing. In more ways than we might realize.

[Whether they realize it or not, Tom Messner, Tangerine Toad, Hadji Williams, George Parker, Bill Green, Jetpacks and other semi-anonymous blog posters contributed to this essay. Thanks to everyone.]

links for 2007-07-31

15th Erase Racism Carnival is up!

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

Go check it out on RaceWire.

Every month, a different blog gathers posts from throughout cyberspace that explore issues of racial justice. The goal is to enhance the discussion of race online and connect bloggers working hard to make that happen.

This month we wanted to highlight some topics we feel don’t get enough time in the sun. So we sought out several pieces on topics that matter: Media Representations, the Green Economy and Black/Brown relations.

In addition, we grouped the blogs under a few other topics we hope you find pertinent and interesting:

–Race and the Green Economy
–Race, gender, and the media
–Black/Brown relations
–Historical identities
–Whiteness revisited

Mad Men: racism in advertising – Part 1 of 2

by guest contributor HighJive, originally published at MultiCultClassics

Not sure what’s more fascinating: watching the new AMC series Mad Men or seeing genuine adfolks reacting to the show.

The majority of initial criticism came from guys who actually toiled in the era. The comments targeted the authenticity of details, from the number of client meeting participants to the model of typewriters. No way did executives have booze in the office. Presentations should have displayed a sea of layouts. Research reports would never be tossed in the trash. Creative directors didn’t spew such corny lines. Mastermind Matthew Weiner clearly hadn’t done his homework, griped the bona fide Mad Men.


For starters, how reliable are the memories of men who admittedly drank their lunches for decades?

Mad Men, like any other television program, uses creative license to enhance drama. If Weiner had depicted totally accurate images of our business, even PBS and The History Channel would have rejected the concept. Instead, he exaggerated reality, pushed stereotypes and inflated clichés. You know, the tactics still employed by today’s Madison Avenue practitioners. We’re responsible for the blurring between fact and fiction. Why do we get annoyed when outsiders beat us at our own game?

Interestingly enough, there are virtually zero protests over the exclusivity illustrated in Mad Men. Perhaps because we concede someone is finally exposing truth in advertising.

Ladies first.

A modern agency president quoted by Advertising Age remarked Mad Men projected, “A sad but real portrayal of professional women in the 1950s. I found the show mesmerizing mostly because I was haunted by the true reality faced by our mothers, daughters or sisters in the ‘golden era’ of advertising.”

Haunted? Hey, things are pretty scary right now. Granted, White women have greatly benefited from affirmative action—indeed, the segment has reaped the biggest rewards from it. And they definitely have enjoyed the most progress in the advertising industry, arguably taking advantage of being the earliest minority group allowed inside. Yet while 21st century White women are well represented, particularly in account services and media departments, their salaries lag behind the money made by male counterparts. Plus, White women consistently struggle for the power positions.

Regarding the sex object angle, it’s difficult to say. Did the 1960s sexual revolution help alter roles? Was the secretary’s doctor visit and request for birth control pills another symbolic statement from Weiner? We’ll defer to the hardcore feminists on this point. But let’s note that dinosaur sexists like Neil French are being gradually expelled from the current system. Laws to fight discrimination and harassment evolved corporate cultures too, despite the scarcity of publicized charges against Madison Avenue agencies. At the same time, the business continues to feature female professionals and professional females—the latter being the unqualified girlfriends and mistresses of lecherous men with hiring authority.

Adweek interviewed Mal Macdougall, who was a BBDO copywriter on the Lucky Strike account in the 1960s, and he said, “We had never heard the term ‘sexual harassment,’ but it was what took place all the time. The women—with few exceptions they were secretaries, junior writers or ‘young media types’—never, to my knowledge, complained. Married? So what.” Proud to be a Mad Man, no doubt.

Mad Men stars at least one gay character. It’s tough to predict how this minority group will ultimately be represented. But the show does recognize gays were players on Madison Avenue. Since our GLBT expertise is limited, we’ll invite advocates to come out and share their thoughts.

Which brings us to the ethnic minorities—and the completion of this part of the essay.


Darjeeling Unlimited: our generation’s Out of Africa?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

What do you all think of this trailer of Wes Anderson’s new film The Darjeeling Unlimited?

Looks to me like another film in the time-honored genre of White People Working Out Their Issues Against an Exotic Backdrop. Classics of this genre include Out of Africa and The Constant Gardener.

But then again, I’m totally biased because I have an intense dislike for Anderson’s films. (Pretentious hipster crap. All style and no substance.) I know, it’s blasphemy, but I’m just not a fan, sorry.

So what do you all think?

Hat tip to Ultrabrown.

links for 2007-07-28

Is Halle Berry pulling an Angelina Jolie?

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

We’ve spent a lot of time on Racialicious discussing the fact that Angelina Jolie is playing a woman of color in “A Mighty Heart” and apparently, also in the upcoming film adaptation of the comic book “Wanted.”

Many readers asked why the role of Mariane Pearl couldn’t have been played by a woman of color, and several of you suggested that Halle Berry should have been cast.

Well, it looks like Halle Berry has a new project in the works. And in a twist on so-called “colorblind casting,” she’s playing a woman of Indian descent:

Berry will portray the key attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in a case involving the 1999 arrests of 10% of the black population of Tulia, Texas. The arrests did not produce drugs or money, causing prosecutors and civil rights groups to denounce the bust as racial profiling. The undercover agent who conducted the bust was indicted for perjury; most of the 46 arrestees were pardoned by Texas Gov. Rick Perry last year. The character that Berry plays is not African American but Indian.

‘Tulia’ is an adaptation of the Nate Blakeslee book “Tulia: Race, Cocaine, and Corruption in a Small Texas Town.” Shooting will take place in Texas.

It’s not yet clear whether Halle Berry will portray an Indian woman in the movie, or whether they will change the character so that she becomes a black woman. (I assume “Indian” means South Asian, rather than American Indian, but I could be wrong as I’m not familiar with the book.)

If it turns out that Halle Berry ends up playing a desi woman, what would you think? Would she be pulling an Angelina Jolie? Or would it be a little better because she at least is a woman of color too?

Hat tip to Stereohyped.