In 1986, ad veteran Jane Maas published her autobiography titled, “Adventures of an Advertising Woman.” Roughly 25 years later, “Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the ‘60s and Beyond” seemingly reworks and repackages Maas’ tale to capitalize on the popularity of AMC series Mad Men.
For blog visitors seeking a legitimate review of the book, Businessweek delivered an honest and accurate critique, and Kirkus Reviews chipped in a polite summation too—rightly opining that “Maas’ memoir will likely not have the impact of her classic 1977 tome How to Advertise (co-written with Kenneth Roman).”
MultiCultClassics will forgo the comparisons and contrasts to the author’s other works, preferring to examine the cultural similarities between the imagery presented in Mad Women and the altered realities depicted in Mad Men.
For starters, Maas attempted to address the inequities, discrimination and harassment present on Madison Avenue, although almost entirely from a gender perspective exclusive to Whites. The book’s index tells the story, where words such as “stereotypes” and “bias” tie to the challenges Caucasian adwomen faced. However, Maas doesn’t really take a stand or condemn anyone, opting for the safer “it was what it was” position. Contemporary activists for gender equality in our industry won’t find an ally in Mad Women.
Regarding race and ethnicity, Maas’ book follows the AMC series by virtually ignoring people of color. It’s interesting to note that while Don and Betty Draper employed housekeeper and nanny Carla (a Black woman), the Maas family included lifelong housekeeper and nanny Mabel (aka Carmen Dyce, a native Jamaican living in Brooklyn, New York). The loyal Mabel receives decent coverage in the book, albeit similar to the role Carla played in Mad Men.
The word “diversity” appears in the book’s index, yet it just leads to a couple of pages discussing WASPs, Jews and gays. Ogilvy & Mather President Jim Heekin once asked Maas, “Do we have too many homosexuals at this agency?” Maas admitted to being dumbfounded and unable to answer the question. Apparently, nobody ever queried if there were too many minorities in the office.
Oddly enough, the only minority reference pertaining to the advertising business comes one page ahead of the pages designated for “diversity” by the book’s index. Here’s the total paragraph:
Mad Men has it right about the lack of diversity at agencies in the 1960s. The only black faces you see on the show are Hollis, the elevator operator, and Carla, the Drapers’ maid. Ogilvy & Mather hired its first African-American copywriter in 1968, and assigned her to my group. The day before Betty arrived, the copy chief of the agency took me aside and told me quite seriously that if I became aware of any “anti-Negro comments or gestures,” I had full power to fire the perpetrator on the spot. Nobody said a word. Betty came quietly, stayed with us for about a year, wrote some effective ads, and moved on to a better job at another agency. She helped us take a big step forward.
Unlike every other individual in the book, Betty is not identified by her last name. It’s difficult to determine who this female Jackie Robinson might be, and MultiCultClassics will happily accept assistance from any knowledgeable visitor to properly recognize the woman. Can’t help but wonder if the lack of last name was an unintended slight or an inability to completely recall the person who “helped us take a big step forward.”
Despite its cheery reminiscing over the advertising industry, Mad Women mirrors Mad Men by reflecting all the cultural cluelessness still present on Madison Avenue today. We haven’t come a long way, baby.