Race on Madison Avenue: Season 6 is My Dream Deferred

My plan was to write a part 2 and 3 to this piece that I began in the beginning of season 6 of MAD MEN. I didn’t, and I’m not sorry, and this is why…

    When season 6 of MAD MEN began I was thrilled! Ecstatic! Anxious! Overjoyed!  And when I realized this season didn’t start in the 70s as I had mistakenly predicted, but, rather, in 1968, I was like, “Heeyyyyy!” as if a DJ  had played my favorite song, because in US history, 1968 is the hook that made me proud to be African-American.

    My excitement for the return of MAD MEN is partly because it’s the only show for which my husband and I share mutual investment. Our ritual of downloading each episode from our iTunes subscription (we’re cableless), preparing/ ordering food, decanting wine, and screaming “Oh no he di’int” while watching D. Draper act selfishly foolish, has become a most cherished ritual.

But this season…. Oh, this season….

Our screams at Draper turned into gasps, cutting of eyes, and straight-up pauses, mid-scene, as we, “What the fucked?!” our way through each soap operatic episode. In season 6, our frustrations turned from Draper’s character flaws to Matthew Weiner’s misuse of his artistic license, even provoking us to change our pronunciation of the creator’s surname. Call us juvenile, but I’m 5 seconds from calling someone Racist, or at least Bigot for short.

    My initial enthusiasm for the series’ second to last season was quickly derailed by the absurdity of certain lines, scenes, and jigaboo representations of Black folks (i.e. “the biggest, Blackest prostitute,” Grandma Ida and her fried chicken, and the background noise of Peggy’s dangerous/ black & brown neighborhood). My  will to write an open letter of mere inquiries to Weiner mid-season was replaced with an angry, unpublished letter I will keep in my personal archives. And my plan to write a season analysis was unapologetically neglected for me giving myself some space from this season’s kaleidoscope of madness.

This is “Grandma Ida.” She is one of the few Black characters we see in season 6. She robs the Draper household, by pretending she’s Don’s mother. The only redeeming piece of this scene is when Bobby excitedly says, “Does this mean we’re Negro?!” But, maybe even that’s problematic.

My distaste for this season isn’t solely for the irresponsible dealings with race politics. It’s also for the farce-like quality of drama moving through scenes of domestic stabbings, hunting accidents, and familial encounters in brothels. I’m also sitting with my own tiring of D.Draper’s addictions to sex, alcohol, and self-destruction—weeee get it… Don’s a hot mess.

    Before the season began, I  read Weiner and Jon Hamm say that in season 6, they were going to do things they’ve never done before. My optimistic self was hoping they’d, I dunno, have a fully developed Black character… and when my dreams went wild, I’d insert Latino and Asian characters- not caricatures- but characters, since, by 1968, these racial groups had also been inhabiting NYC for a hot second —I know, I’m radical. A sadly mistaken radical. The twists and turns of season 6 had nothing to do with the war against racism that was actually going on in 1968, but instead was simply continuous moments of “you gotta be kidding me” gore-drama.

What happened to the good ol’ days when an episode would end, and I knew that understanding what was really going on, meant unpacking scenes, and making connections between past seasons? The MAD MEN of subtle drama that forced the viewer to look within their own [family’s] darkness and flaws seems to be replaced with in-your-face tragedy that is distracting, and has never served my taste.
Maybe I’m being too dramatic.
I’ll admit I’m taking some of Weiner’s artistic choices personally… How can I not, when most scenes that have characters representing Black folks was utter nonsense?
But, I’m not done with MAD MEN. My husband and I both have invested too much time, memories, and rituals to throw the series away. My hope is that in the future, when I come across the few beings who have not enveloped themselves in Draper-darkness, I’ll say something like, “You haaave to watch MAD MEN! Season 6 is the wicked stepchild of the other seasons, but thankfully, for season 7, Weiner and Co. got themselves together, and even hired some people of color to write responsible scenes featuring p.o.c’s (insert smiley face).”

But, until then, I’ll treat MAD MEN like I do my racist relatives— with a cutting eye and sharp tongue, but still an appreciation for what’s good. What did I find good about this season? I appreciated how Weiner and Co. dealt with Don in the season finale (not going to give ‘it’ away for  readers who aren’t done with the season). The last few scenes of the finale reminded me of the good ol’ days… when a MAD moment felt like it came out of nowhere (without necessarily having blood and tits in your face), but when you reflect on past episodes, and consider past seasons, you realize the writers were actually holding your hand to this moment of D.Draper-destiny.

From one of the final scenes of season 6… Finding out his D.Draper-Destiny.

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