Saturday, March 24, 2012

Of Mad Men and Season Five? "Nigger Coke" and the Failure of Libertarianism on the Race Question

Mad Men isn’t cowardly for avoiding race. Quite the opposite. It’s brave for being honest about Madison Avenue’s cowardice. While Don Draper and Sterling Cooper may seem woefully behind the times, that just means Matthew Wiener is right on schedule, historically speaking. And if Mad Men’s schedule stays on the course it’s been following, it’s a safe bet that the season now beginning will finally bring us to the point when black consumers stand up and refuse to sit at the back of the advertising bus.
This Sunday we finally get to peer back into the lives of Don Draper and company on the long awaited season 5 debut of AMC's Mad Men. As I have done in the past, I will offer up some quick analysis of the show. Politics is popular culture and popular culture is politics--Mad Men is a great example of that concept in practice, and I am eager to get back into the habit of commenting on the show.

There are many twists and turns ahead. Will black folks become more central in a narrative that is very much about a type of ensconced and cocooned whiteness? How will The Civil Rights Movement, women's liberation, and the the rise of youth counter-culture play into the events of season five? One of the longest narrative arcs of Mad Men is how the world of a "simple," comforting whiteness--a Leave it to Beaver delusion driving the conservative political imagination--is being revealed for the lie that it is (and was).

Times are a changing: there will be much upsetness (and liberation) for the characters on Mad Men.

Slate ran a great series of essays on the role of race in Mad Men. There, Tanner Colby explored the rise of black ad agencies, how advertising and marketing firms handled a changing America that was forced to grapple with white racism by the Civil Rights Movement, and Mad Men's historical accuracy in depicting these events.

Knowing is half the battle. In reading the first part of Mad Men and Black America, I was surprised to learn the following:
After World War II, seeking a competitive advantage over market leader Coca-Cola, Pepsi’s staunchly liberal CEO Walter Mack decided to radically expand his company’s marketing efforts in the underserved black community. He hired a team of black sales reps and marketers to blanket the rural Black Belt of the South and the urban enclaves of the North. This team was responsible for hiring some of the first black fashion models used by a major brand. They created the first in-store, point-of-purchase displays targeting black shoppers and hired Duke Ellington to endorse Pepsi from the stage during his shows. Some even went so far as to marry their brand with the moral uprightness of the emerging civil-rights movement, disseminating information about Coca-Cola CEO Robert W. Woodruff’s outspoken support for segregationist policies and politicians. 
Black consumers, intensely loyal to institutions that showed them respect, turned out in droves. The campaign was a great success. It was so successful that it had to be killed, and quick. While Coca-Cola remained wholesome and All-American, Pepsi was becoming known as “nigger Coke.” Fearing a total collapse among white soda drinkers, at a conference for regional Pepsi bottling executives in 1949, the otherwise progressive Walter Mack took to the podium and said he would not let Pepsi become, in so many words, “a nigger drink.” His top black sales rep, who was in attendance, got up and walked out. Shortly thereafter, the company’s black marketing efforts were quietly scuttled. In 1953, singer/actress Polly Bergen was rolled out as “the Pepsi-Cola Girl,” a fresh-faced, lily-white makeover for the brand.
The color line ran so deep that it even impacted the marketing of soda. America is a sick society. 

We cannot forget that the consumers republic was a battleground for the Black Freedom Struggle. In our tendency to focus on marches, and the trials and triumphs of great men and women, we often forget that in America freedom is demarcated by the capacity (and ability) to fully participate in the marketplace.
The idea of "nigger Coke" reminded me of the controversies about Ron Paul, racism, white supremacy, and libertarianism that came to pass some months ago. As I have written elsewhere, libertarianism is better suited for the drug fueled late night conversations of college trustifarians who mentally masturbate over the rotten and putrid theories of Ayn Rand, than as a serious political theory with the capacity to structure society, and adequately distribute resources in the interest of the Common Good.

One of the central failings of libertarian thought, as embodied by the anti-Civil Rights positions held by Ron Paul, his son, and their acolytes, is a belief that the market can allocate all things fairly and justly. Libertarians often ignore what history has repeatedly demonstrated in the United States--social inequalities centered on hierarchies of personhood and identity are deeply embedded in the country's cultural, political, and social life. 

The market is not free from this dynamic.

As demonstrated by Colby's allusion to how Pepsi would rather sacrifice a whole segment of the marketplace in the interest of short-term profit seeking (and from a fear of white reprisal), racism often leads to outcomes that are sub-optimal.

This blind faith in the market, and a willingness to place black and brown people's full human rights secondary to the freedom of whites to discriminate at will, also ignores the economic realities of Jim and Jane Crow. White businesses engaged in cartel behavior and collusion against black customers and businesses. This involved active violence (the physical destruction of prosperous black communities and black owned businesses by white mobs).

Racism in the marketplace also worked through the mobilization of bias, and rigging the system such that the opportunities for success were fewer. Consequently, the cost of doing business higher for African American entrepreneurs and other strivers. The huge wealth gap between blacks and whites in this country at present is as much a function of racially discriminatory policies like the G.I. Bill and the FHA and VA home loan programs, as it is the result of active efforts by whites to destroy Black America's indigenous economy.

Ultimately, libertarianism is a great philosophy for the rich, the powerful, the in-group, and those on the top of the pyramid who already have all of the toys. For the rest of us? Not so much.

It will be fascinating to see how the characters of Mad Men negotiate the color line...as well as the financial bottom line in season five. What twists and turns do you think the show will have in store for us this season?

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your view on libertarianism and Ron Paul is interesting considering he wants to decriminalize drugs, an action that alone would free a huge number of encarcerated black youths.

But the real issue is that he's for small government and a reduction in social spending, something that you cannot be against and truly black at the same time, right? Because you believe that black cannot achieve economic parity with whites, that without the government to redistribute resources 'fairly' they won't get their fair share. I find that derogatory to people of color, because I think that anyone regardless of race can succeed. I have known many African Americans who have greatly suceeded in this country, but the did so by leaving behind what you see as black culture. Many of then are conservatives, who you refer to as 'house slaves' because they don't talk right or vote right. And yet they succeeded on their own. I think this paradigm of discrimination, bias, rigged systems, etc has broken black confidence and done more to hold back the race than any real oppression actually present in America. Times have changed, new generations think differently and are coming into power. This is a time that could be prosperous for African Americans if they would push for it. We'll see what they do. But the handouts of a big government system will only make you dependent on that system. It will never set you free.

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. Yawn. But, there are many talking point recitations you have learned as a petit conservative authoritarian to be processed here.

Also funny how in your imagination black people are somehow uniquely addicted to gov't spending, when white in both absolute and per capita terms suck more on that tit. I can't wait to see this small gov't rhetoric give birth to the mess that awaits this country and the know nothing tea party crowd.

There is a concept called "the submerged state" that you need to familiarize yourself with. Because it is going away--its destruction is fueled by the antiblack prejudice that drives all that right wing small gov't b.s.

Throcky said...

"Your view on libertarianism and Ron Paul is interesting considering he wants to decriminalize drugs, an action that alone would free a huge number of encarcerated black youths."

http://www.peopleofcolororganize.com/analysis/three-good-reasons-people-color-question-drug-legalization-movement/

Ending the drug war won't end racism in policing, sentencing, and all other aspects of society. Racism existed before the drug war and it will exist after it. If you want to end a problem, you have to grasp it at the root, not hack away at the leaves.

Anonymous said...

MM will of course offer up some shallow scripts about race in part because they have non Black writers..

I am one of those negroes who does not believe a white person can tell my story as I am a man unable to tale a woman's story..

I won't expect much from MM and why should I expect much from fictional accounts of race by white writers..

parvenu said...

Oh dear me. Chauncey brought up the question of Libertarianism. This is a subject that would be difficult to capture in a two semester term paper. Here are some of the highlights.

David Nolan the founder of the Libertarian Party was originally a member of the John Birch Society. The Libertarian Party suffered a severe split over the issue of ideological differences between "Principle" and Pragmatic" Libertarian viewpoints concerning American government.

Libertarians who subscribed to the Pragmatic viewpoint were recruited by Ronald Reagan to join the Republican party during his first run for President. The Pragmatist libertarian viewpoint was for the smallest government possible, and hence was comfortably compatible with Reagan's viewpoint that was dedicated to the goal of reducing the size of the federal goverment.

On the other hand Ron Paul belongs to the Principled school of Libertarians, which believe in the complete elimination of all government federal and local. Paul's goals are in reality strongly anarchist
and so extreme that few mainstream people take him seriously. However, the real gift of his place within the group running to be the Republican candidate for president is the tremendous amount of free publicity he has received. The Republican party has given Ron Paul a half a billion dollars in free advertising for his message touting his anarchist Libertarian Principles. As a result he has been able to dramatically boost Libertarian activities and membership among young college people, for it seems that anarchy naturally appeals to young people of this age. Ron Paul is not interested in the presidency, he is only interested in propagating his message across the land.

Ron Paul's racial history including his many statements as a Texas politician in his younger days make clear his feelings on this issue. For a man whose goal is to eliminate the entire federal government, the concerns of African Americans would be of little consequence to him. On the other hand he might possibly entertain a serious modern "back to Africa" program for all African Americans, providing all participants pay their own travel expenses to get to their destinations.

Ankhesen Mié said...

Also funny how in your imagination black people are somehow uniquely addicted to gov't spending, when white in both absolute and per capita terms suck more on that tit.

They always forget that part.

On the other hand he might possibly entertain a serious modern "back to Africa" program for all African Americans, providing all participants pay their own travel expenses to get to their destinations.

*dead*

Dan Boyd said...

@Anon: Your comment was excellent! I agree with absolutely everything you said!

Black victimization ideology is very dangerous indeed! How many interviews have you seen where some black athlete has thanked his coach for helping him get to the pros and says "he helped me to stay off the streets" Like there wasn't any other way for him to succeed.

Part of the reason I voted for Obama was that I wanted black school children to look up at the picture of the President and see a black face.

I want them to realize that despite the teachings of race pimps there is no limit to what one can achieve!

There exists in this country and around the world an achievement gap between blacks and whites. This is a fact! I would like to see this gap closed and I suspect you do too!

Anyway, great post!

The Honourable Husband said...

Starbucks recently addressed the issue of gay marriage in response to a hate-group stooge at their AGM. The response was, essentially, that supporting gay marriage was good for the workforce, and ultimately good for business. It struck me as odd that spokespeople downplayed the moral side of the debate—that it's the right thing to do, even if it might theoretically cost business. What say ye, Chauncey?

Weird Beard said...

@Dan(with the hitler avatar)/Anon
Again with the 'nevermind the racism behind the curtain' mentality. You just keep working twice as hard to achieve half as much. Let's just forget about history, this is a new day where we shell out the same old outdated Limbaugh style turds with a shiny new bow and proclaim a new generation of thinking. Let us keep pooping in the pool and complaining that if the pool cleaners would work harder they could really have a nice spot to swim in. We need no laws or regulations restricting our pool pooping activities, that is an affront to freedom. Let us instead myopically focus on the efficiency of the pool cleaners, maybe do some firings, and get those lazy cleaners out of here. Set some examples. Lets post up pictures of successful pool cleaners and rub the new hirees noses on it.

Weird Beard said...

If you have the time, here is a great nugget of context in which to view this timeline. Also a good analysis and counterpoint on some of this McWhorter lens.

http://c-spanvideo.org/program/Mid20

CD-I would really be interested in your take on some of this

@dan-this could really up your game if you can digest it

Dan Boyd said...

@Weird Beard: I'll check it out!

Anonymous said...

@anon

"I think this paradigm of discrimination, bias, rigged systems, etc has broken black confidence and done more to hold back the race than any real oppression actually present in America."

you are a complete fucking idiot.