Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Matthew Weiner, "MAD MEN" and Issues


Ever since the characters Roger Sterling and Joan Harris were mugged by an African-American man in the latest episode of "MAD MEN", the topic of race in the series has reared its head again. The ironic thing is that many of the series' fans and the media are not criticizing Weiner for the series' minimal exploration of race. Instead, they believe that Weiner will gradually get into the issue by the time the series focuses upon the late 1960s.

Matthew Weiner reminds me a lot about the creator of "BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER", Joss Whedon. Whedon had engaged in a good deal of in-depth exploration of feminine issues, yet barely touched upon race issues. And I see the same in Matthew Weiner's handling of "MAD MEN". He tried to deal with the race issue with the character of Shelia White back in Season 2. But her character ended up being dropped in a very unsatisfying manner. And Weiner portrayed Carla, the Drapers' maid, as the wise and dignified "Negro" - someone who turned out to be not very interesting.

I really do not see why Weiner could have approached the issue of race from a perspective not shown before - an African-American character that also happened to be an advertising executive. Most people do not realize this, but African-Americans began being employed by advertising agencies as far back as the mid or late 1950s . . . and not as service employees. Weiner had plenty of opportunity to approach this topic in the past two to three seasons. There is no need for him to wait until the series is set in the late 1960s.

I thought he would also deal with gay issues with the character of Sal Romano. But in the end, Weiner backed away from that, as well. Some claim that Sal's story had ran its course. I disagree. Weiner had plenty of opportunity to continue Sal's story. He had barely touched upon the issue of Sal's marriage to Kitty, before he had Sal's character removed from the series in the Season 3 episode, (3.09) "Wee Small Hours". I found this decision to get rid of Sal very disappointing.

I suspect that like Whedon, Weiner will eventually approach the topic of race . . . but at the last minute. Hopefully, there will be a television series that will be brave enough to give equal time to the topic of gender, race and gay issues.

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