Mad Black Men Trailer by MadBlackMen
Last week, I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism and communication studies. During the last day of class in my public relations (PR) capstone course, I noticed (not for the first time) that I was the only black person in my class. At first, this seemed insignificant due to its frequent occurrence at a PWI (Predominately White Institution), but after much thought, I started to ponder several questions. Will I always be the sole speck in an office working on accounts or brainstorming in planning sessions? And what type of responsibilities will my token status bestow upon me? Will I be asked to speak on behalf of my people? Will I be assigned projects targeting people of color simply because I’m black? Will I end up like Ron Rapper working on a colored campaign for Mississippi Melons?
Who is Ron Rapper you may ask? He is the main character for a new web series on Dailymotion created by Xavier Ruffin called “Mad Black Men.” This show is a parody of AMC’s “Mad Men,” a show about an ad agency in the 1960s. After receiving criticism concerning the lack of black representation on the show, the creator of “Mad Men,” Matthew Weiner, responded by claiming the lack of representation is representative of the ad industry’s demographics during the ’60s. Ruffin took offense to this response, claiming there were several prominent African Americans working in the ad industry in the ’60s, “Mad Men’s” producers just chose to ignore them. But instead of complaining, Ruffin took action and created “Mad Black Men,” which he claims pays “homage to some of those hard working black ad executives and copywriters of the ’60s.”
Although I’ve never seen “Mad Men,” I commend Ruffin for taking it upon himself to address the lack of minority representation in a popular T.V. show and for creating what he calls a “counter” art. In an interview with Ad Age, Ruffin is asked how “Mad Men” misrepresents African Americans in the ad industry in the 1960s. Here’s what Ruffin had to say:
“It’s hard to misrepresent something when you don’t give it any representation in the first place. A lot of folks took issue with the lack of depth in the show’s few minority characters. That wasn’t my gripe. I get that the show is written from a certain perspective, where Black America wasn’t a priority so Black Americans took a back seat in the story. My gripe was with painting this white-washed picture of the industry and calling it truth when it is actually just an interpretation. In 1962 Georg Olden, a black man, was hired as a vice president at McCann Erickson. McCann Erickson is mentioned often in “Mad Men” as one of Sterling Cooper’s main competitors and they almost buy Don’s firm at one point. Matthew Weiner and company could have easily written an episode where Georg and Don cross paths and talk shop, if they wanted to show a man of color in a powerful position without fear of it being unrealistic. Georg would have been equally as popular as Don, if not more. He was so high profile he even appeared on TV and designed the Clio Award that Don wins in season four. Again, Matthew Weiner’s “Mad Men” isn’t misrepresenting African Americans in the ad industry as much as it’s avoiding them. I think the [creators] feel that if black ad execs start popping up on the show then their stories will have to be about race instead of the usual infidelity, alcoholism and identity crises.”
Ruffin brought up a very important point in his interview that I would like to highlight: the media is a representation, not a reflection, of our society. With a reflection, what you see is what you get. When you look in a mirror, there is only one version to be reflected back at you. But a representation is something depicted in a particular way and can have several versions. This is why, when it comes to media, it is important to remember that what is being mediated is not a reflection of society but a version of society representing a particular viewpoint. The question is whose viewpoint is being represented, and whose viewpoints are missing? Ruffin saw that “Mad Men” was a white man’s version of the 1960s ad industry and that it was missing a black perspective.
Although the issues I may encounter as a black female in the PR/marketing industry may not be as blatant as the racism Ron Rapper encounters in “Mad Black Men,” I do anticipate having a very different experience from that of my white counterparts. Already, as I begin to search for jobs and receive advice from mentors, race comes up in conversation. For instance, my mentors warn me how to carry myself. I have to be friendly, but not too friendly because then people will try to take advantage of me. And I can’t be too unfriendly because then I will be perceived as a mad black woman. No one wants to work with a mad black woman.
As I continue to figure out a happy medium between “pushover” and “mad black woman,” I highly recommend you all check out the first episode of “Mad Black Men,” which is broken up into 6 parts. Let me know what you all think about it, and leave your comments below!