'Mad Men' and Black America

Slate blogger Tanner Colby says that Man Men, long criticized for failing to address race in advertising, may finally address the civil rights movement in its upcoming season.

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Mad Men's Season 5 cast (AMC)

In a blog entry at Slate, Tanner Colby checks in on the wildly popular AMC series Mad Men, which has long been criticized for sidestepping the issue of race. It may address the subject in a big way in its upcoming season by focusing on the civil rights movement.

... For the past four seasons, Mad Men’s writers have been slowly, deliberately peeling back the facade of lies that papers over America’s personal and societal sins. It makes sense that they would leave the biggest lie for last. The opening scene of the very first episode of the entire series -- the grabber that Matthew Weiner used in the pilot to sell his opus -- was Don Draper sitting in a bar, trying and failing to share a cigarette and a little conversation with a black bus boy. Don, the man who can bullshit his way into connecting with anyone, hits a wall that even he can’t talk his way through. Why start there if not to come back to it? A few years from now, when we can look back on Mad Men from start to finish, it may well turn out that the whole thing was about race all along.

Matthew Weiner is notoriously secretive about pending developments in the show. But thanks to his fetish for historical accuracy, one need only to crack open a few library books to see where he might be headed when Season 5 starts on March 25. In part to accommodate the natural aging of Kiernan Shipka, the young actress who plays Sally Draper (the actor playing Bobby Draper has been replaced so many times he doesn’t seem to matter), the real-time hiatuses in Mad Men’s production schedule have always manifested as gaps in the show’s fictional chronology, and the arc of each season has typically taken place over the course of nine months to a year. Since it’s been 18 months since the end of Season 4, which ended in October of 1965, it’s reasonable to guess that Season 5 will open sometime in the spring or early summer of 1967.

In the short time we’ve been gone, America’s real-world racial landscape has changed more radically than it did in the entire decade prior. Stokely Carmichael and Huey Newton’s calls for Black Power have begun to drown out the moderate voices of the older civil-rights establishment. The urban riots that started in Watts have spread to Cleveland and Omaha. In the media, Bill Cosby and Nichelle Nichols have become the first black male and female actors in starring television roles on I Spy and Star Trek, respectively. And if this upcoming season unfolds over the long, hot summer of ’67, that real-world landscape will see bigger and more destructive riots breaking out in Detroit and Newark, N.J., the Supreme Court will outlaw bans on interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia, and Martin Luther King will become a more polarizing, radical figure, openly denouncing the Vietnam War and the exploitation of the poor.

Read Tanner Colby's entire blog entry at Slate. 

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