Sunday, October 11, 2009

Mad Men, Mad Times: Art Imitates Life

"It's makes me wonder about civil rights. Maybe it's not supposed to happen right now."

On tonight's episode of Mad Men, this was Betty's comment to Carla, the black house servant. They were discussing the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham that left four little girls dead. Four murdered children, and Betty's response wasn't about finding the murderer or drawing a line once and for all on hate crime and racism. Betty, an ultra-privileged white woman living the American Dream instead questioned if the time was right for "negroes" to get a little bit of equity. Maybe, the implication was, black America should just wait.

If this business of suggesting that the disenfranchised not make so much noise and piss off their oppressors sounds like a deja vu it might be because serendipity called for Mad Men to air on the night of the day that tens of thousands of gays and lesbians marched on Washington to demand their basic civil rights. It's also the day after our president, Barack Obama, made a speech before the Human Rights Campaign in which he spoke vaguely and without commitment about his intention to champion equal rights for gays and lesbians in the United States.

If you're anything like me, you found Betsy's "Maybe it's not supposed to happen right now" appalling, and all too familiar. By her twisted, privileged logic, those four little girls from Birmingham died not because of the murderous act of a cowardly bigot, but because of the black community's impatience. Betty believes in desegregation in theory but, really, how dare they expect equity a mere 100 years after the civil war!

This is exactly the sentiment Barak Obama puts forth every time he talks about his deep and abiding belief, in theory, in equal rights for gays and lesbians: sure, you queers deserve some satisfaction, but not right now...and the more you hem and haw about it, the more problems you're going to cause for yourselves.

When Obama says that he intends to do away with the military's Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy, but wriggles his way out of committing to a time line he's echoing Betty Draper's half-assed, not-in-my neighborhood brand of liberalism. In 2009, looking back at this logic in action in 1962 on a fictional television drama is appalling. Seeing it in action today, in real life, and from the leader of the most powerful nation in the world? Unacceptable.

© 2009 Lana M. Nieves

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves

Thank you to FlyingPeanuts for use of her photo.

1 comment:

ocean1blue said...

Yes, how very sad that the LGBT community seems to be getting a pat on the head from Pres. Obama, as if to say, don't worry, one day you'll have equal rights too. I just have more important stuff to get to right now, but I'll keep y'all in mind. I wish the President could find time in his busy schedule to talk with Judy Shepard, a true hero, and explain to her that her son's death, while tragic, just doesn't mean that there is any kind of urgency to making sure that all Americans have equal protection under the law.