Sisterhood Blog

Toward a More Perfect Primetime

By Gabrielle Birkner

Sarah Seltzer has written extensively on The Sisterhood about television’s resistance to developing characters of color.

She has wondered why all of the titular girls of HBO’s “Girls,” are white girls, and has challenged the idea that a more diverse cast would make the show any less “real.” “We live in an era in which homogeneity isn’t mandatory for authenticity,” she wrote last week.

And as “Mad Men” returned to the air last month after a 17-month hiatus, Sarah made the case for the hit AMC series to take its portrayals of black characters beyond the symbolic:

While I acknowledge that [“Mad Men” creator] Weiner’s past omission of significant black characters is a direct (and accurate) commentary on the segregated, isolated world his show depicts, after several seasons I grew frustrated with a lack of interiority when he did introduce the rare character of color. This wouldn’t have been impossible to do right. His Jewish characters who came in and out of the picture, for instance, such as Season One fan favorite Rachel Menken, were peripheral to the Sterling Cooper world. But they were crucially allowed to have their own scenes — witness Rachel talking on the phone with her sister, who (rightly) declares that Don is a no-goodnik.

Why not allow the Drapers’ former nanny and housekeeper, Carla, a phone call with her sister? Why not allow one of the few black love interests — Paul Kinsey’s girlfriend, Sheila, and Lane Pryce’s “chocolate bunny,” Toni — their own asides with colleagues or friends, their own chances to reflect on the action?

So it’s not surprising that when The New York Times was looking to host on its website a lively debate about race in primetime, they’d ask Sarah to participate.

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Is 'Mad Men' Finally Poised To Tackle Race?

By Sarah Seltzer

AMC’s “Mad Men,” which returned last night with a two-hour premiere, is a show with a relatively small audience, but a disproportionately active one. Sometimes it feels that 99% of that viewership consists of media professionals who look forward to writing their own recaps and tweets the next morning — not to mention designing animated .gifs of the funniest scenes of the previous night’s episode. Remix videographer Elisa Kreisinger has taken the playing to a new, thought-provoking level, creating detailed remixes of scenes from the show’s seasons, including this feminist musical rendering of the women of “Mad Men”:

Mad Men: Set Me Free from popculturepirate on Vimeo.

“Mad Men” is tailor-made for the chattering classes because creator (and Member of the Tribe) Matthew Weiner uses enigmatic moments, historical events and symbolism to create buzz and speculation. Unlike other media-darling shows like “Friday Night Lights,” which is less polished, but whose characters feel like solid, lovable friends, “Mad Men” characters always feel as though they’re just millimeters beyond my grasp. I think I know what they’re up to but I’m uncertain enough that I have to check with my neighbors to confirm my reactions.

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Another Jewish Flame for Mad Men's Don Draper?

By Sarah Seltzer

Getty Images
Actress Cara Buono, who plays Dr. Faye Miller on ‘Mad Men.’

Actress Cara Buono, who plays Dr. Faye Miller, psychologist and new paramour for Don Draper on “Mad Men,” has been making the interview rounds recently as her character’s role expands. Despite her cool blond exterior, Dr. Miller is a girl from the neighborhood, and she may even be a Jewess.

Some have noticed the distinctly Yiddish origins of a particularly salty kiss-off Dr. Miller shouted from a payphone as well as the New York ethnic accent that slips out when she’s heated or vulnerable. We know her dad is a candy-store owner with Mafia connections, and that like Don, her chic exterior hides a less privileged past. So of course, we’ve been wondering: Is she really a Jewish girl, or did she just have Yiddish-speaking neighbors in the borough of her youth?

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'Mad Men' and Our Mad Cool Sukkah

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

“Mad Men” is my favorite television show. I know, I’ve got lots of company. But the plaudits are well deserved for a show that relieves us of overstatement and laugh tracks.

Best about the incisively-written show is the recondite emotional life of its women. Sure, Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) tries his hunky best to have mysterious moments, but the other men seem one-dimensional compared to the female characters written by Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner.

Peggy Olson, played by the fabulous Elisabeth Moss, is a female copywriter working in a man’s world. Her talent is big but her opportunities few, and her frustrations about the limitations of her roles professionally and socially play out on her expressive face.

No woman on the show is able to be her own person, really. All of the strong female leads, including secretary Joan Holloway and Betty Draper, Don’s wife, are limited by their men and the circumscribed roles generally permitted women in the early 1960s.

In their silences and facial expressions, these characters show how airless the life of middle- and upper-middle class women often was. (See Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” for more on that.)

Mad Men has also gotten lots of press for its detailed period décor.

Web site Double X has a new article by Kate Bolick about what the various environments in which the action takes place reveals about the era and its inhabitants.

That Double X piece got me to thinking: What décor defines a Jewish home?

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'Mad Men': Bring Back the Smart, Scrupulous, Sultry Jewess

By Sarah Seltzer

One of the most beguiling characters on “Mad Men” was a smart-minded, sexy Jewish broad — bring her back!

As early-60s ad-world drama “Mad Men” gears up for its third season, I have an almost obsessive desire to Rachel Menken (Maggie Siff), return to the show. Rachel is the Jewish career woman and sultry beauty who has come closest of all the show’s women to genuinely stealing Don Draper’s heart.

Everything about Rachel’s plot arc does Jewish women proud (thanks, Matthew Weiner). Don initially dismisses Rachel, due to his ingrained sexism and antisemitism. He storms out of their first business meeting snapping that he won’t be lectured at by a woman, and the unspoken addition is “a Jewish one at that.” But a few episodes later, the famously reticent ad-man is lying on Rachel’s sofa, post-coital, spilling his guts about his tragic childhood. Rachel manages to do what no one else on “Mad Men” has done: bring out Don’s vulnerability without scaring him away. And later, when she breaks off their affair, it proves what an anomaly she is: the only person insightful enough to see deeply into Don’s tortured psyche, the only woman strong enough to resist his wiles, the only one of his paramours to consistently bring up moral scruples about being with a married man. Despite being ahead of her time, though, she’s also human: She falls for Don against her will and suffers as a result of the affair, too. Her father apparently finds out that she’s shtupping a non-Jew, and she takes off on a three-month cruise that is most likely fraught with regrets.

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