Mad Men: The Suitcase - Don Draper's Racism In Ali vs. Liston

In my previous post on Mad Men, I blogged this:

Mad Men and Ali v. Liston 2: May 25, 1965

To put things in perspective, I was born August 4, 1962. What's great about being alive now is that there are shows like Mad Men that reach back to my very early years, but I'm contemporary such that I can express what I was seeing then, now using a blog. By then I was barely three years old, but I remember the buzz about this Cassius Clay guy and how some people in Chicago said he was Muhammad Ali.

A lot of people, black and white and whatever, wanted Ali to lose that fight; not true for my parents, who never communicated a negative thought about Ali. But it was all over: neighbors talking to my dad. On radio. On television (we had one.) Ali was this bad guy who talked too much.

Ali kicked Liston's ass. I was happy then, and happy to see Don Drapers face sag as he drove his cigarette into the ash tray.

Yes. Happy. Prior to his visit to the local bar with Peggy (which was a pretty bold step to bring a woman not your wife to a bar in 1965), Don Draper commented that Cassius Clay was a big mouth who talked to much. "Why does he have to say it; just do it."

Draper spouted all of the fears that America, circa 1965 had about Muhammad Ali. If you were black, you were supposed to keep quiet. Not say anything. In those days, in some areas of the United States, it was considered not legal to even have a white girl friend. In the South, just looking at a white girl would get you lynched. That was the era Mad Men is focused on.

I mention sex because sexual advance toward a woman is the common act of male sexuality. The simple fact is, even at a time of same sex marriage, being able to overcome the fears of rejection of a woman and learn the female language is considered the ultimate act of manhood.

The other ultimate act of manhood and adulthood for women is self-expression of prowess: that is to say I'm the best. For someone black to openly say that in 1965 was considered a threat to a white World.

Thus, many Americans regardless of color did not want Ali to win, let alone "be Ali." They wanted him to be Clay. To remain in the background. To be a boxer and not a political symbol. Donald Draper embodied all of that in Mad Men: The Suitcase.

I'm glad he lost his bet.
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  1. Anonymous5:12 PM

    I don't think Draper's comments were about race. These character's exist in a different time, therefore that's where their thinking comes from. However, I think Draper's comments reflect his attitudes as man, not as a "white man". If you're a regular of the program, you could see EXACTLY why Draper liked Liston. Draper is a man who has always depended on his actions to speak louder than words. We see this in the current story line where Draper's professional nemesis, does nothing but trash talk- Draper just goes about his business and makes the guy eat his words. Become a fan of the show, then rewrite this posting....

  2. Anonymous8:44 PM

    So a white man makes a mildly critical comment of a, at that time, extremely controversial person, and it's racism. No mention by you of the fact that Ali had just joined the Nation Of Islam (I don't know why I chose to capitalize that but I did) The noi has said a lot worse things about whites and jews than Don Draper ever did about blacks. You should read "The devil and Sonny Liston" by Nick Tosches. Your are seeing racism in the carpet patterns, calma te.

  3. Anonymous9:00 AM

    I'm with the first commenter here: Don Draper's opinion of Ali has less to do with race than Don Draper's own personal values. To Draper, talk is cheap, value lies in action. The louder and more grandiose someone is, the more their words ring hollow. In short, Ali's grandiose verbiage tripped Draper's bullshit alarm. He put money on Liston because Liston had always let his gloves do the talking.

  4. I feel like the two commenters above have stopped watching the show. Don may present himself as a man of action over words, but this season has basically been about Don learning (or remembering) how to hustle. The rebound interview after the New York Times where he talks about leaving the old agency, his pretense of honor to the Japanese businessmen, weaseling his way into the job with Sterling after a drunk night when the book stunt failed-all show a similar sort of bravado. His striving may not be as visible as Ali's, but his disdain for Ali playing a game he himself plays is at the very least a contradiction, perhaps a sort of self-loathing for playing the game in the first place. In a complex character like Don, that contradiction is not necessarily about race alone but you can't just discount the possibility on the grounds that he is still a man of method.


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