Mad Men: An Exception to the Diversity Onslaught?

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Yesterday I read an article on JAMZ about Mad Men and how diversity advocates might threaten the show's authenticity. The author called Mad Men un-nostalgic and a "world where white men were kings." In what appears to be a reasonable justification to crystallize Mad Men as its own white male ecosystem, the author concludes:

Everyone is smoking, drinking, closeted, desperately unhappy. Choices and options are limited. That's the fabric that holds 'Mad Men' together. To suddenly throw in a little diversity would rip it to shreds.

I get the dude. It would be unrealistic to pepper those executive suits with black and brown faces for the sake of the PC police.

But it's also dangerous to use Mad Men as an excuse to shut diversity out -- something agencies are still too good at. That's gratuitous and unrealistically romantic. There's plenty of room to broaden Mad Men's scope without harming its precious and purported authenticity.

Ed McCabe pointed out that advertising was among the first industries to raise women to executive positions. In the '60s inhabited by the real Mad Men, the star of Mary Wells Lawrence was rising at DDB. She ultimately left to found her own successful agency. By '69, she was the highest-paid executive in advertising.

And Mary's no exception. Other top females in '60s advertising included Paula Green, Phyllis Robinson and Rena Bartos. Given the constraints of the time, a lot of them ended up starting their own agencies, but there's a story in that too: how did traditional agencies butt heads with maverick woman-run ones? Were there love affairs, power struggles, client conflicts?

Women aren't the only minorities shortchanged by Mad Men. While African-Americans weren't fixtures of the advertising community, they were targeted on the sly by cigarette and alcohol firms. Politics kept agency execs from using minority faces too readily in ads, but I'm sure there were plenty of (mostly vice) clients that plotted to hit minorities on the quiet, if only to take advantage of their dire straits.

Civil rights were also a big issue in the '60s. What were executive run-ins like with angry black people on the streets -- people with political messages that were getting increasingly heavy play without the help of an agency?

Lest we forget, '69 was the year of Putney Swope, a movie about a black man accidentally elected to the executive board of an advertising firm. So yeah. So even if color was at a minimum in '60s agency life, it was definitely part of the conversation of the times.

Image credit: Multicultclassics. And special thanks to the people at Paramount Market Publishing for deluging me with cultural anecdotes about advertising in the '60s.

by Angela Natividad    Jul-24-08   Click to Comment   
Topic: Agencies, Online, Opinion, Television   

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