One of the more striking aspects of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner’s recently flurry of interviews is his repeated distinction between Jews and “whites.” I wanted to come up with a picture of Matthew White with a black person to see if system of categorization makes much sense, but while Weiner gets his picture taken frequently, he does not get his picture taken with blacks or other nonwhites very much at all. The only black I could find him photographed with is film critic Elvis Mitchell below. For comparison sake, above is Weiner with George Lucas, who is primarily of British ancestry.
For example, from Salon:
MONDAY, MAR 30, 2015 03:59 PM PDT
Weiner discussed depicting “Jews coming into their own in postwar America” at a Museum of Jewish Heritage event
ANNA SILMAN Follow
This weekend, “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner sat down with New York magazine film critic Matt Zoller Seitz at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage …
“I don’t like sweeping generalizations about the show, but if you want to say it’s the story of how we all feel like outsiders, absolutely,” said Weiner (who joked that “the only insider in this whole thing is Roger”). Throughout the evening, Weiner repeatedly emphasized the horizontal experience of marginalization; as he put it, “That [assimilated Jewish] identity is the same story as Don’s identity — how do we become white, how do I get my kid to go to Wesleyan so he can be in that line, what’s it going to take?” (Wesleyan, by the way, is where Weiner went to college.)
Here are some of the other fascinating ideas that came up:
On Rachel Mencken:
It can be tough to remember at this point, considering the number of mistresses Don has had, but one of his first extramarital relationships on the show was with Jewish department store heiress Rachel Mencken. Right from the get-go, her presence was a way for the show to explore the racism that was such an integral part of everyday American life. (As Pete Campbell observed in the pilot: “Adding money and education doesn’t take the rude edge out of people.”)
“The Jewish part of it, the female part of it, all of it was basically to establish the segregation, even in New York City,” said Weiner (who also reminded the audience that one of the early lines in the pilot was Don telling Rachel, “I’m not going to let a woman talk to me like this.”) Weiner explained that Pete’s line about “adding money and education” is something that he heard said in front of him as a child, growing up assimilated in a predominantly non-Jewish community, and that he wanted to show that this sort of “casual” racism can still be deeply harmful. “It is institutional, and it is villainous, and it is a separation,” he said. “And being of color, there’s no way to cross it.” …
One of Weiner’s goals, he suggested, was to simultaneously remind people of the overlap between Jewish culture and the culture at large, while also pointing out Jews’ non-white status and the sophisticated anti-Semitism that surrounded it — the fact that no matter how much Jews were able to pass, they always remained Other. …
Weiner also addressed early speculation that Don was Jewish, saying the idea was “totally surprising” to him, and that the name Dick Whitman wasn’t a reference to Don’s poeticism; rather, it was meant to indicate “White man.”
Other recent Matthew Weiner quotes making similar points:
- “I wanted to talk about America’s love affair with Israel. I love this idea of people like Don, who is white, looking at us and seeing us as heroes.”
- I think boutique agencies breaking off also started to bring Jews into the picture. These these were white agencies, populated by white people, using all of the typical philosophies that are used to exclude people.