Well, Mad Men fans and critics wondered how the show would handle the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hosts Tami Winfrey Harris, along with Renee Martin from Womanist Musings and Fangs for the Fantasy and Racialicious staffer Joe Lamour, chat about how Weiner and Co. does, as well as how plaids mark a character and why white hipsters wouldn’t live in Brooklyn yet–“yet” being the operative word.
You know the drill: spoilers. And here we go…
Tami: Before we get into this Mad Men episode that deals with MLK, Jr.’s assassination and the racial unrest of the late 1960s, I have to ask: Where does the group stand on Matt Weiner’s treatment of race in Mad Men up until now?
The crew at Sterling Cooper Draper Price were definitely trying to hold on to something this week–a sliver of self-respect, an image of the role of other people in their lives, a job. Tami and I, along with Womanist Musings‘ and Fangs for the Fantasy‘s Renee Martin and Racialicious staffer Joseph Lamour, talk about who had to hold ’em and fold ’em in this week’s ep–along with a bunch of spoilers, like our seeing several Black people in this episode. No, seriously…
Tami: I was watching Mad Men in bed Sunday night with my husband beside me near dozing, but obviously listening to the program, too. Just after 10 p.m. he sat up: “Wait. Are those black people? There are black people on this show now?”
Yep, Sunday night Matt Weiner and Co. make Mad Men history with a scene populated completely by black folks–walking, talking and being black. Since we’ve seen Dawn and her friend sitting together and talking about their lives, does this mean Mad Men passes the race-based version of the Bechdel Test?
Renee: One scene cannot undo years of racist, sexist exclusion. They are not going get a cookie from me for doing the the bare minimum to create a change. It has after all taken Man Men six seasons to have a scene with two Black people in it.
Tami and I, joined by Renee from Womanist Musings and Fangs for the Fantasy, watched this week’s ep in horror: yes, at Peter Campbell’s state of perpetual swaglessness and Weiner’s needless explanation of Don’s sexual hardwiring, but most importantly, the frosted lipstick on the lips of Phyllis, Peggy’s Black executive assistant. And you can read on in horror, knowing that we got lots of spoilers in this roundtable…
Tami: Lots of collaborations in “The Collaborators”: the sexual sort, the political sort (North Korea and the Viet Kong), the business sort…
We talked about the theme of evolution, death, and aging last week. I think those things continued in this week’s episode of Mad Men. The gigolo persona that seemed so sexy and exciting in early seasons is getting old and starting to stink.
Renee: Only if you mean running in as many ways as possible, from the lives which the characters have created. For me it was another sign that what people are told to want, or rather what will make them happy, is not, in actual fact, what they need or desire.
Tami: It occurs to me that we’re just months past the Summer of Love when this episode occurs. And the ethos of “free love” seems to have filtered down from counter-culture into the suburbs and tony Manhattan living rooms. Even good Midwestern girls and middle-aged, Catholic doctor’s wives are trying to get a piece. But “love” really isn’t free when you’re a grown up.
Why did I write an episode of Mad Men with Negroes? And by that I mean with “Negro” characters in it, not with.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Anyway, why did I write an episode of TV that I know will never be made?
ThoughI work as an actress and have pitched and sold a television series or two in my time in Hollywood, I’m not a writer on Mad Men,so this episode won’t appear anywhere but here. Why, then? And why negroes? Aren’t we finished with all that? In honor of the Season 6 premiere, let me tell you about it.
I like Mad Men. A lot. I like the subject matter (advertising); I like the cast (Don Draper is hot); I like the look (sexy Eames meets Op Art); I like the writing (Matthew Weiner is a storytelling beast). I love the writing.
I have only one issue with Mad Men (OK, with a bunch of shows, but let’s stick with this one): I’d love to see more diversity. I’m a Black actress, so diversity is an issue that comes up for me. A lot. Mad Men, Game Of Thrones, Girls, Veep–these are cool shows, except for the fact that they would really rock with more people of color, series regulars or otherwise. I complain, wtf?…and bemoan, WTF!…but alas, for all my years in TV, I’m not able to make a difference in my own living room. Or am I?
Mad Men‘s season premieregot Tami and me–and guest ‘tabler Renee Martin–thinking about how much Mad Men is about aging: yes, about how we physically and emotionally age–and how different decades of life meant different things in, well, different decades–but also how institutions, like Sterling Cooper Draper Price, get on as the founders get on in age, and US society itself gets on with mediating changes, like the counterculture of hippies and wars with people of color. Conversation and spoilers after the jump.
Welcome to Retrolicious, a series of discussions and analyses about period dramas. First–get your pinkies up–editors Andrea Plaid and Tami Winfrey Harris explore the lives of English nobility, as presented on Downton Abbey, contrasted with 50s/60s cool of Mad Men. Oh…and spoilers are all over this post.
So, shall we?
Downton Abbey blew up Twitter timelines this year. We may never hear Laura Linney exclaim (per Scandal’s advertising) that it’s “the #1 show on Twitter” (!!!!), but it gets its fair share of love. Why?
Tami: “Why?” really is the question.
I love a good period drama. Mad Men and Downton Abbey stay on my must-watch list. (Though, after this last season, Downton’s days may be numbered.) But this idea of exploring period dramas came from the team at the R interrogating just that question.
Embedded in a lot of the love of Downton and shows like it, is a romanticizing of “good old days.” And though Downton can be frank about issues like gender inequity, it also (I think more so than, say, Mad Men) minimizes other oppressions, like that of gay people, in order to make characters appealing to modern sensibilities. The result is a lot of modern people sitting about yearning for what really were “bad old days” for all but a privileged few, because of the pretty dresses and dashing gents in white tie.
Andrea: But I think this “why” is more specific than just interrogating period dramas, though we’ll get to that question later on. This particular “why” is “why Downton Abbey over other Masterpiece Classic shows, or even other PBS shows?” I mean, are we going to tweet about the Jeremy Piven-led costume drama Mr. Selfridge? Maybe…and I’m sure PBS is hoping we will.
Tami: Jeremy Piven? Eeechh…no.
Andrea: I know, I know. He plays some pretty gross characters. See, I think Piven was a sexy MF circa Ellen…with his chest full of hair. I hold out hope against hope that he’ll grow it back. But I digress…
So, there’s something about Abbey specifically that gathers people around screens and carrying on on my timeline.
And after slogging through three seasons of this show, I’m still at a loss. I’m still suffering boredom from watching this show. Maybe I’ve lost my taste for period dramas?…No, because I’m totally down for The King’s Speech, Elizabeth, Mansfield Park, and old Masterpiece Theatre (before they re-branded themselves to Masterpiece Classic) joints like The Buccaneers. And, if they’re still on Netflix, I want to check out a couple more Masterpiece Theatre classics: Brideshead Revisited and Upstairs, Downstairs. But Downton Abbey gives me a case of the “mehs,” though it’s a beautifully shot show.
Late in the second season of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, there’s an episode where the Klu Klux Klan comes to Colorado Springs in the form of a bank official peddling a “social club” for men. “Like the lady’s quilting circle,” the women claim, unknowingly sewing uniforms for the men to use during their first outing.
But when they put those uniforms on and Grace, half of the show’s one Black couple, is cornered by three Klan members, the situation takes a disturbing turn. The Klansmen grab her in broad daylight and hold her down against one of her restaurant tables. At first it seems an act of rape is imminent. Yet, somehow, when they rip her hair down from the carefully constructed bun she wears and begin to slowly carve it away with a barbershop razor while she screams, it seems almost worse–more intimate–than what could have been.
That episode, “The First Circle,” aired during a season where the show averaged 13.46 million viewers per episode for CBS–an incredibly strong showing for a family-oriented show that aired at 8:00 on Saturday nights. As the 49th most watched show in America, it was up against the 104th and 113th most watched shows from ABC, NBC, and FOX, and was outperformed only by another CBS Saturday-night show, Walker, Texas Ranger.Dr. Quinn, which starred British actress Jane Seymour, had a relatively family-friendly facade and–since “family-friendly” often goes hand-in-hand with a sugarcoating of American history–the topics it chose to handle are always a welcome surprise.
Episodes like “The First Circle” were an indication of not only how good Dr. Quinn could be, but how much television has changed and what our current period television dramas often fail to do and acknowledge. In its own way, the show regularly dealt with issues like racism, immigration, and gender equality, but often touched on more nuanced subjects as well. The white encroachment on Cheyenne lands, mob lynchings of African-Americans, marital rape, and domestic abuse were only a few themes explored throughout the series. Unlike many period dramas, Dr. Quinn never shied away from dealing with the difficult realities of its setting laid out. Read the Post Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman And The State Of Period Dramas
By Guest Contributors Kendra James and Jordan St. John and Managing Editor Arturo R. García
In case you hadn’t guessed, the TV Correspondents here at The R watch a lot of television. Unfortunately, not everything of interest makes it into article form and, with that in mind we present the weekly TV Roundup: a catch all of televised pop culture tidbits that might not warrant a full column, but you still want to know about. Big SPOILER ALERT in place for the items under the cut.