The final season of the hit AMC TV show Mad Men is underway, and already we’ve had Irish slurs thrown about.
In the first episode of the final seven, which aired earlier this month, we learn that one of Don Draper’s colleagues has been fired from the ad agency at the center of the series. Kenny Cosgrove (not exactly an un-Irish name) is quite upset that he will be moving on to work for McCann Erickson.
Why is he so upset?
“I’m not Irish and I’m not Catholic,” laments Cosgrove, an unfortunate WASP who apparently feels like a bit of an outsider. Just in case we missed the point, Cosgrove also dismissed some of his new co-workers as “Black Irish Thugs.”
Ever ready with a one liner, Roger Sterling (played, ironically, by Irish American John Slattery) quips that many of the workers certainly “put the Mick in McCann.”
Ah, the good old days. Mad Men is given much credit for reflecting its era, so it’s fascinating to see a show set in 1970 -- a full decade after the election of John F. Kennedy -- show the anti-Irish sentiment which lingered in the halls of WASP corporate power.
Of course, it will be even more interesting if the show manages to explore why, exactly, McCann Erickson was such a strongly Irish and Catholic ad agency. At least in part, since so much of Madison Avenue was dominated by genteel WASPs, any agency that was known to be more open-minded towards minorities would attract talented young ethnics, including Irish and Italian Catholics, as well as Jews.
It certainly didn’t hurt the company, which spearheaded many of the most successful ad campaigns in recent history, including the “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” song.
Now, as fans of Man Men well know, McCann Erickson does not exactly come off as some scrappy band of noble, determined ethnics.
In a meeting with McCann execs, Joan and Peggy, two females in a male-dominated world, quickly come to understand that they are being mocked in a decidedly sexist way.
“You should be in the bra business,” one of the McCann workers tells the famously curvy Joan. ”You’re a work of art.”
For what it’s worth, left wing intellectual Gore Vidal also once commented about the ethnic and religious make up of McCann Erickson. Though a life-long defender of the little guy and the marginalized, Vidal didn't feel that way about the Irish Americans who’d gathered at McCann.
Instead, he lamented how they interfered with his artistic process when it came to writing for television.
“I remember being lectured by McCann Erickson, which was a deeply Roman Catholic right wing sort of outfit,” Gore was dismissively quoted as saying in the book Television in the Antenna Age.
Following the start of this final Mad Men season, The Wall Street Journal ran a feature story about how the show explores history, and particularly that of McCann Erickson.
The article begins, “Mad Men has for years skewered the misogynist culture of the 1960s, but the latest episode has painted a particularly unflattering picture of one non-fictional advertising agency: McCann-Erickson,” later adding, “McCann’s prominence this season is a mixed bag for the real-life advertising firm. The agency, now owned by Interpublic, didn’t give permission or correspond with the show’s creators, but has decided to just grin and bear it.”
McCann has even sent out some tweets making light of their depictions in this season.
“This meeting is so awkward. Our apologies on a purely theoretical basis,” McCann tweeted as Joan and Peggy were being verbally abused.
Later came the more comical, “ ‘Black Irish Thugs’ + ‘The Mick in McCann.’ We should call HR.”
“Like all things, the show is about entertainment,” The Wall Street Journal quoted John Dooner as saying. Dooner worked for McCann in the 1980s and later became CEO, and has been honored by Irish America magazine.
“Like all things about entertainment, there will be some exaggeration,” Dooner added.
The paper also noted, “There was also a rich Irish heritage at the agency.”
Let’s see if the remaining episodes of Mad Men have much to say about the distasteful reasons why McCann -- and other such companies -- had such a rich Irish heritage in the first place.
(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com)