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"Don Draper would have been working side-by-side with a brother."
September 19, 2011 7:55 PM   Subscribe

The Other Mad Men. It's been accepted more or less as a truism that black people didn't work on Madison Avenue in the 1960s. But facts are stubborn things. There were black people in advertising even then, some (a few) in high places. Contrary to the popular assumption, blacks in that era met with success and challenges on Madison Avenue, like everywhere else.
posted by sweetkid (28 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh man, this is so great. Just what I've been waiting for:

Far from just being a PC move, including black people in the Mad Men universe makes sense in the context of history.

Jason Chambers' 2008 book, Madison Avenue and the Color Line: African Americans in the Advertising Industry, recounts how Madison Avenue's attention began to pivot toward black consumers shortly after Ebony was launched in 1945. Its editorial focus on African-American upward mobility and the acquisition of creature comforts was different from that of black newspapers, whose editorial line tended to embrace a protest model.

Chambers examines the rise of what he calls the "Brown Hucksters," the group of African-American marketing and advertising specialists in the 1950s who helped deep-pocketed advertisers realize that black consumers spent money, too.

In his book, Chambers recounts the career of Georg Olden, an African-American trailblazer in advertising. After the United States entered World War II, Olden, the Alabama-born son of a Baptist preacher, left college and got a job as an artist for the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. He later went to work at CBS and left there in 1960, at the age of 40, to pursue a new career in advertising. He signed on as the television art group director with BBDO.

In 1963, much in demand, Olden accepted an offer to move to the influential agency McCann Erickson to become vice president and senior art director. That same year, he became the first African-American designer of a postage stamp, a stylized depiction of a broken chain that marked the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Olden went on to win seven Clios (the advertising industry's equivalent of the Oscars) for his work throughout the 1960s. (Icing on the cake: Olden himself designed the actual Clio statuette, inspired by a Brancusi sculpture.)


The defenses of Mad Men's absurd ignoring of black characters have always been paper-thin. This is perfect. Great find, sweetkid.
posted by mediareport at 8:06 PM on September 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


I heard that Mad Men has just been saving their "blacks in advertising" card til this upcoming season where Don Draper welcomes unconventional young go-getter Putney Swope to the firm.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 8:13 PM on September 19, 2011 [12 favorites]


I work in advertising and a lot of people there watch the show, and it's baffling how much people just accept it as the truth that there were just no African American people at all in offices in the 1960s who weren't cleaners and elevator operators. Really? I love Mad Men, but I don't think Weiner is leaving out minority characters out of wanting to keep to some historical authenticity.
posted by sweetkid at 8:13 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


For reference, here's Matthew Weiner talking to the NYT on the lack of black characters in his show:

Q. We’re now well into 1965 on the show, and there are no major black characters, no characters who are any kind of racial minority -

A. Do Jews count as racial minorities? Because there have been a lot of Jews on the show.

Q. I don’t think so. But is that its own commentary on the reality of the world these characters occupy?

A. That is the world they move in. It’s like saying, well, you’re telling a story about baseball, where’s Jackie Robinson? I’m like, Jackie Robinson is Jackie Robinson because he was one person, and this story is not taking place in that other universe. I’ve tried to show, obviously, as time goes on, this is going to change. By the way, it changes socially. It does not change in advertising. It still has not changed. And I will go to the mat on this thing. I defy any of these companies outside of their corporate retreat photos to show me people of color in positions of power. And those people who are out there, who have positions of power, who are of color, I have been in contact with and none of them think there should be more black faces in that office.

Q. I don’t mean it in an accusatory way.

A. I don’t mean it defensively. To me, I’m telling a story about segregation and assimilation, and who’s coming along at what time.

posted by mediareport at 8:15 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


The key phrase there, of course, is "I defy any of these companies outside of their corporate retreat photos to show me people of color in positions of power."
posted by mediareport at 8:22 PM on September 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


So why doesn't Spike Lee sell a TV series?
posted by Ideefixe at 8:26 PM on September 19, 2011


Wasn't this already covered in Putney Swope?
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:32 PM on September 19, 2011


Dammit Obscure Influence!
posted by Senor Cardgage at 8:37 PM on September 19, 2011


Mad Men has always struck me as wanting to have its racist, sexist cake and eat it too; the "bad old days" are so thoroughly aestheticized that it's really hard to take any claims to social criticism seriously, it's just a minute recreation of a white male fantasyland.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:37 PM on September 19, 2011 [9 favorites]


Better link for Putney Swope.
posted by mediareport at 8:38 PM on September 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Obscure Reference: Sort of.
posted by rhizome at 8:38 PM on September 19, 2011


villanelles: that criticism of the show falls apart, in my estimation, when you realize that none of the inhabitants of this supposed fantasyland are ever happy for very long. Sure the show's backdrop is highly aestheticized but the show's characters (i.e. why we keep showing up) are by turns doing heinous things to people and having shitty things happen to them.
posted by silby at 8:55 PM on September 19, 2011 [10 favorites]


I heard that Mad Men has just been saving their "blacks in advertising" card til this upcoming season where Don Draper welcomes unconventional young go-getter Putney Swope to the firm.

No shit?
posted by louche mustachio at 2:59 AM on September 20, 2011


The defenses of Mad Men's absurd ignoring of black characters have always been paper-thin. This is perfect.

Absolutely. It's irrefutable proof that there were at least three black men in mid-60's advertising. Therefore Mad Men should be obligated to shoehorn in some black characters to appease white liberals who watch it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:55 AM on September 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh come on, Curley. The fetishization of historical accuracy on the part of the show's creators and fans is common knowledge. That a complete lack of black characters in advertising - despite the creator's "I will go to the mat on this thing" challenge - may not be historically accurate is truly noteworthy for any fan of the show.

Which includes me, by the way. I've loved it since Peggy pulled herself together in the ladies room in that first or second episode (btw, I don't agree with the "it's just white male fantasyland" criticism, given how much time and obvious care the show devotes to women's perspectives). It handles so many things so well that the clear decision to avoid handling any black people in anything more than a glancing way grew more and more stupid as the seasons went on. I've been squicked by this since the beginning (and complained about it multiple times here), but when the Draper's maid



[SEASON 4 ENDING SPOILER ALERT]






, the most visible black character in the show, was written out of the picture (or so it seems) at the end of the last season, that was it for me. The linked article just puts the final nail in the coffin of what to me has always been the insulting stupidity of Mad Men's intentional erasure of black characters from mid-1960s New York.
posted by mediareport at 4:55 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking of Mad Men, did you know you can now watch TV on your phone?
posted by exogenous at 4:58 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Someone I know wrote a pretty interesting book on a group of African-American salesmen hired by Pepsi from the 40s-60s :

The Real Pepsi Challenge

"Capparell deftly portrays the optimism of the immediate postwar years, especially regarding what she calls the “dizzying number of firsts for African-Americans” — in business, education, politics, entertainment and, of course, baseball — in the banner year of 1947. That year Mack hired the 33-year-old Edward F. Boyd, a National Urban League staff member working on housing issues, with a promise that Boyd could hire a dozen African-American salesmen. A slump in the soft-drink market kept Boyd to just four hires at first; his staff grew to eight in 1950, and finally reached 12 a year later. The book mostly recounts the story of Boyd’s special-markets team — the employees’ backgrounds, how they sold the cola, the coverage they received in the black press — and Pepsi’s shifting fortunes in an often volatile market."
posted by HopperFan at 5:38 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


This could be my lack of reading comprehension skills talking, but...it seems as though most of the African-American ad execs were working for exclusively African-American firms? It would be interesting if one of SCDP's rivals in Season 5 was from an AA firm...
posted by pxe2000 at 5:49 AM on September 20, 2011


it's just a minute recreation of a white male fantasyland.


Word. As opposed to all that other hard hitting social commentary in serialized TV drama these days. That's why I prefer "reality" TV. Truth!
posted by spitbull at 6:50 AM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The show is about a small boutique agency. We really only see about a dozen of the employees. There were African-Americans working in the industry for sure, but it doesn't seem like a stretch that this firm wouldn't have any. If one were added it would start to seem like the writers were going through a checklist: ONE woman executive, ONE gay guy, etc.
posted by solmyjuice at 7:51 AM on September 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


The show is about a small boutique agency. We really only see about a dozen of the employees. There were African-Americans working in the industry for sure, but it doesn't seem like a stretch that this firm wouldn't have any. If one were added it would start to seem like the writers were going through a checklist: ONE woman executive, ONE gay guy, etc.

People say stuff like this all the time to excuse homogeny in television, but it's silly reasoning. As said above, people look to this show for historical accuracy, and it's shameful that the only African American characters are relegated to sideline/service roles, especially because the show does put a positive spotlight on the changes women were going through in the era. The point is that people watch this show thinking this is representative of 1960s corporate culture, and as such I think the show would do a great benefit to the culture in general, *for all of us* to show that there were indeed black copywriters, black clients, etcetera. It's not about a "checklist." It's not about Spike Lee needing to make this show instead for it to have any black characters in it. It's about all white casting calls for a very popular show, when it doesn't need to be this way. It's about having some responsibiity and interest in showing a range of experiences for people. Weiner doesn't want to tell stories outside the white experience on his show, and that's his right, but that doesn't mean that it's IMPOSSIBLE for him to do so.
posted by sweetkid at 8:39 AM on September 20, 2011


The reverse happened with MASH--there was an African-American doctor in the movie and the first few episodes of the TV series, who then disappeared when they realised there were no African-American surgeons in the Korean War. (So the story goes. It seems a little odd to me that if they were going to find the inaccuracy a problem to the point of writing out a character, someone would have noticed sooner. On the other hand, no one working on Doctor Who noticed the Starship Titanic reference in Voyage of the Damned until a really late stage.)
posted by hoyland at 8:47 AM on September 20, 2011


That's really interesting, hoyland.
posted by sweetkid at 9:06 AM on September 20, 2011


People say stuff like this all the time to excuse homogeny in television, but it's silly reasoning.
I wouldn't pretend to know the motivation behind it, but the show has gone out of its way to establish Sterling Cooper as the epitome of WASP privilege.
Blackface at the country club, the name drops of exclusive summer destinations, the horror during the Admiral storyline.
A black person in any sort of position of authority wouldn't make sense.

The new agency formed during the last season, I would think would be more welcoming than Sterlng Cooper, especially since they'll be hungry for business.

Me, I'm just waiting to see Sally go full-on Summer of Love hippie.
posted by madajb at 9:35 AM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The reverse happened with MASH--there was an African-American doctor in the movie and the first few episodes of the TV series

You mean "Spearchucker" jones?. The gag in the movie was that they went to great lengths to find a black surgeon because he was good at football. It is was pretty cringeworthy when they had a nurse ask about his nickname and he replied they called him spearchucker because he threw javelin in college.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:49 AM on September 20, 2011


The gag in the movie was that they went to great lengths to find a black surgeon because he was good at football.

The whole football thing (including Jones) was taken from the book.
posted by drezdn at 11:00 AM on September 20, 2011


For the record, TV Tropes' MASH page claims there was indeed a black surgeon in the 8055th during the Korean War:

The creators were mistaken on there being a lack of Black Doctors during the Korean War. From the memoirs of Harold Secor, an online memoir of a doctor from the 8055th MASH unit (the same one as Richard Hooker [the pseudonym of the author of the original book]): "In Secor's quarters, there was...Captain Miles, a black doctor from Virginia...." Richard Hooker arrived near the end of Harold Secor's stay at the 8055th and based many of the stories that appear in the book off stories he heard from Secor and other doctors. For more information search the Memoirs of Harold Secor.

And TV Tropes never, ever lies.
posted by mediareport at 5:04 PM on September 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cite for those who think TV Tropes ever lies:

Doctors lived in four-person tents that were heated with an oil stove. In Secor's quarters, there was Secor from Texas; Captain Miles, a black doctor from Virginia; Lyle "The Duke" from Georgia; and Dr. Mike Saline from New York City. "We all liked and respected each other," he said. "We were all very fond of each other and got along with no troubles. My specialty, other than triage, was the treatment of closed fractures of hands. I told Captain Miles that if I ever needed surgery, I wanted him to do it. He was one of my friends and he was accepted as a good surgeon with no prejudice."

It's hard to imagine that the MASH creators didn't know there was a real black doctor in Korea, given that the guy who wrote the book served with someone who worked with one, so there may have been another reason they dropped the single black character aside from "historical accuracy."

Hmm.

Oh and by the way, I can't help adding this gem from Secor's memory:

Secor believes that the personnel serving at the 8055th MASH in Korea were the models for a number of characters in Hornberger's book. He thinks that he and two other doctors in his tent were Hornberger's characters Hawkeye and BJ. The 8055th's very capable, blond-haired head nurse (Captain Dixon) was a Major just like the movie's Margaret "Hot Lips" Hoolahan, but she was not anyone's girlfriend....There was a short, dedicated company clerk with Radar-like qualities in the real 8055th. Surgeon John Lyday was a real "Trapper John" type individual stationed in Korea The 8055th also had about 12 gay men living in one tent. He said that one of them was "the queen of the bunch, who dressed as fancy as he could." Secor thinks that the cross-dressing Corporal Klinger was fashioned after this true-to-life person at the 8055th.

Dang, who'd have thought this thread would lead me to *that*?
posted by mediareport at 5:14 PM on September 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


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