Mad Men’s premiere AMC Sunday had the world of entertainment aglow with the prospects of protagonist Don Draper (Jon Hamm) getting back in the game and dispatching his corporate enemies at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency in the highly competitive advertising world of 1960s New York City. Since its debut in 2007, the AMC Original Series has been the talk of water cooler gatherings and lunch room circles alike. However, when asked what I looked forward to most about the show’s return I simply replied, “I don’t really care. Never watched it.”
Once that quote is spoken, if you could see the looks of disbelief and disgust that I am bombarded with, it would be a wonder to all that I simply do not turn into stone. Deemed “a cultural phenomenon” by several media outlets, Mad Men centers around Don Draper. Creative director and junior partner at fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency. He is a chain-smoking, heavy drinking, adulterous, lying miscreant of a person who isn’t even who he says he is. These things are not that entertaining to me. They represent some of the very worst attributes in American society today. In my opinion, good television draws people in to a world they would not normally have insight into. Themes of sexism, alcoholism and racism by exclusion have always been apparent with Mad Men. And a turn off to me.
As the voluptuous ad executive Joan Harris, played by Christina Hendricks, goes about her work day; the leering and longing eyes of her male co-workers are constantly glued to her statuesque frame. I am reminded that the good old days for some weren’t the good old days for all. During a scene with Lou that featured Dawn, the first regular African-American cast member who debuted during Season 3, Lou jokingly asks, ‘Who do we have here? Gladys Knight and the Pips?” As Dawn escorts a group of executives into his office, I clenched my fists so tight I almost punctured my palm with finger nails.
African-Americans don’t mind being the butt of anyone’s jokes. Hell, playing the dozens and cracking jokes on one another is ingrained into our culture. But if you’re going to make a racial joke, or even insinuate one, it has to be funny to black people as well. Otherwise, it comes off as being mean and gratuitously racist. But perhaps that’s the point here.
When Don Draper arrived at LAX, he was picked up by his wife at the airport in a small convertible. After a brief conversation, Don instinctively attempted to open the passenger side door for his wife as if driving were a man’s right and women were to be permitted to drive only in his absence. I am aware of the times in which this took place, but it doesn’t make it any easier for me to see a time when the fraternal order of white male dominance was still in full effect.
As an African-American, the superficiality of race immediately pops into my head as a marker that would draw my personal interest. Yes, this is a lily white show with few exceptions. However, race is not the sole attribute that I look for in a television series. There are dozens of "black" shows that I absolutely abhorred. Shows that draw me in normally have at least one or two protagonists or antagonists that I can relate to. For example, the vast majority of the entire leading cast of HBO’s Game of Thrones is of European descent, but it is one of my favorite shows on television.
There are themes of family, revenge, power and fear that resonate with me despite the flaws that the characters might have in their personal lives. Certainly there are any number of people reading this who are thinking that the power hungry characters of Game of Thrones are even more vicious and lacking of morals than any other show on television, including Mad Men. However, the fact that GOT takes place in an imaginary land filled with mystical creature, where magic is practiced with as much precision as science, acts to balance my personal suspension of disbelief against the imaginary world created by the writers.
Yes, the characters are full and fleshed out, and they are all horrible human beings in one way or another, but the fact that they are based in fantasy make them far easier to digest. However with Mad Men, I found myself rooting against the entire cast. There are no sympathetic characters that I can relate to or themes that I found myself gravitating toward.
The lack of African-American characters on Mad Men is just too obvious a flaw for me to really go in on. Perhaps the writers of the show believe they are keeping Mad Men true to the times. But the notion that there were no African-American ad executives in during the 1960s is just a big fat lie. The writers and executives continually pander to the lowest racial and misogynistic denominator, in my opinion. That’s not sexy, attractive or funny in my opinion. It’s a reminder that everything people of some moral standing have been trying to change about modern society was fermented in the past by a bunch of self-important white dudes with no concept of self-analysis, remorse, or control.
To believe that things I personally deem are not for me should be disregarded by others is foolish and I don't mean to sound like a hater. The hitch in my understanding apparently is lost on most people who rant and rave about the show. As Mad Men premiered Sunday, I am sure millions tuned in, ranted and raved about the plot Monday morning. But not I.
This is not an indictment on those who love the show nor hate aimed at tearing it down. But I just don’t get it and that’s why I won’t be watching it. Maybe if the show was colored more along the lines of this Mad Men spoof I found to the likeness of the Blaxploitation film Black Dynamite, I could stomach it a bit more. But it doesn’t. So I can’t laugh or watch anything about Mad Men, other than this video below.