The fourth episode of AMC series Mad Men Season 6 featured the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While the voices and televised images of 1960s newscasters occasionally drown out the main characters’ dialogue—and a few characters offered commentary on the event—the overall storyline handled matters in a clumsy and awkward style.
Peggy Olson and her secretary, Phyllis, shared a brief scene of emotional support. Pete Campbell and Harry Crane staged an argument where Campbell played the liberal and Crane was mostly concerned about how King’s death might affect media buys. Don Draper and Joan Harris had an uncomfortable exchange with Dawn Chambers. Peggy and a real estate agency discussed using the subsequent riots as leverage to reduce an offer for an apartment. A prospective client felt inspired by the memory of Dr. King to suggest an insensitive advertisement. Later, Don took his son to see Planet of the Apes (not sure about the appropriateness of presenting the movie in this context) and the two had another uncomfortable exchange with a Black theatre worker.
Can’t help but think MLK’s murder posed problems for culturally clueless creator Matthew Weiner and his writers. However, Advertising Age claimed the depictions were accurate, and Mad Men correctly recreated the details and reactions. If true, it only confirms that Madison Avenue has made little progress since 1968—and the industry’s current majority players are more pathetic than ever.
After all, the advertising business has completely failed to realize MLK’s vision for the country. Yet agencies have never hesitated to display hypocrisy by saluting and exploiting the iconic leader. And of course, most agencies annually take the day off to celebrate MLK’s birthday. But like Mad Men, it’s just a series of momentary disturbances to be instantly forgotten.