Friday, February 19, 2010

So long, Sal

He's one Mad Man who won't make a comeback. According to New York Magazine, Bryan Batt — the actor behind Sterling Cooper's suave former Art Director, Salvatore Romano — has not been asked to sign on for Season Four of Mad Men.

For those who don't watch the show (you fools!), Sal was a closeted gay Art Director struggling with self-hatred over his own sexuality. He was unhappily married to a woman, and constantly made awkward heterosex-talk with the boys at the agency, even while turning down a romantic opportunity with an interested peer, harbouring a secret crush on a colleague, and eventually cheating with a bellboy on a business trip.

This last assignation was accidentally spotted by Sal's boss, Creative Director Don Draper, who kept the knowledge to himself. But when an abusive (and also closeted) big tobacco client gets turned down by Sal in a dark corner on an ad shoot, the client insists Sal be fired. Sal went to Don for support, and was summarily dismissed with a sneering reference to "you people".

TV Guide has this explanation from the TV show's creator, Matthew Weiner:

“We don’t murder people on our show, but for there to be any stakes, there have to be consequences. [losing Bryan's character] was a tough moment for the show, but that’s where we are. I know how people felt about Bryan. I obviously love working with him, and he has been an indelible character since the pilot. But I felt it was an expression of the times that he couldn’t work there anymore. It’s the ultimate case of sexual harassment.”

An expression of the times — New York City in the early '60s. Sexism, racism, and greed abound.

But how far have we really come?

Sure, violent gay-bashing and discrimination in the workplace are now illegal (but not unknown). However, open discrimination — of the kind that would not be tolerated if it were talking about "race" — continues. Just this week I saw a Houston Chronicle editorial by Unitarian Reverend Dr. Matt Tittle, describing the seminars held for law students at the fundamentalist Liberty University as "dehumanizing homosexuals":

"On Friday, they held a conference titled, 'Understanding Same-sex Attractions and Their Consequences.' The keynote speaker was Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, an organization whose stated goal is 'to effectively communicate the message of freedom from homosexuality.'

'On Saturday, they held a symposium titled, 'Homosexual Rights and First Amendment Freedoms: Can They Truly Coexist?' The titles of individual panels at the symposium were:

'Homosexuals or Homo Sapiens: Who Deserves Protected Class Status?'

'Hate Speech and Free Speech: Will the Advancement of Homosexual Rights Silence Others?'

'Hire Them and Don't Fire Them: How Homosexual Rights and Privileges Have Eroded Employers' Rights and Destroyed Religious Freedom.'"

The Reverend thinks Liberty's law school should lose its American Bar Association accreditation over this. But we all know that systematic discrimination against gay people continues in the majority of States where same-sex marriage remains illegal. And even here in Canada, the "anti-gay-marriage" lobby is pretty damn strong.

Personally, I don't get it. From my point of view, being anti same-sex marriage today is like being "anti-miscegenation" back in the 1950s. If the government wants a hand in the legal contract that is marriage, then it should be available to two men or two women as much as it is to a man and a woman. Why not? Who cares?

I admit that Pride Parades often make me cringe, though, because of all the silliness. Part of me just wishes that this issue would be resolved as an obvious human rights one, so I can go back to not thinking about it. I'm sure many people feel the same. But as my Mom, a Presbytery head in the United Church of Canada (and "breeder") reminds me: It's our duty as members of a majority to speak up and stand up for the rights of the minority.

So here I am, luring you in with a cool pop culture reference and hitting you up with the gay agenda. But I also have to be honest with you. While I've cast plenty of families with parents of mixed ethnicities in my ads, I have yet to show a family with two mommies or two daddies without any obvious advocacy in mind. You know, as if it "ain't no thang". I'm seriously starting to wonder when we'll get there.

The last time we saw Sal, he was cruising Central Park at night.


  1. Check out the "family" pictures on the windows of Pharma Plus. No same sex couples with or without kids.

  2. The problem, Mom, is that consumer advertising is not a leader in social change. It's a mirror, reflecting back whatever focus groups want to see. I can imagine myself doing ads with same-sex couples in the same way we show ethnic diversity — but it's often still painfully purposeful.

    I long for the day when it just happens, without any virtuous subtext or moral reaction. We call that achieving "normalization".

  3. Ontario Health, I could swear, showed a same sex couple in one of their ads recently. It stuck out, only because of how few ads we see representing this portion of our society - and how unpolitical (for lack of a better word) the portrayal was.


  4. Some advertisers are getting very clever with coded portrayals. You see two people of the same sex in domestic situations, and you're not sure if they're supposed to be friends, siblings, or lovers. That way, you can just project whatever you want into the ad. It's been going on for years.

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