Mad Men posters under fire from families of 9/11 victims

Posters for the fifth season of ‘Mad Men’, showing a “falling man”, have sparked controversy in the US due to similarities to one of the most famous images from 9/11 of a man shown jumping to his death from the Twin Towers.

The sister of one victim, who piloted the jet that crashed into the Pentagon, has called the AMC posters “cruel and tasteless”.

The posters, featuring the familiar silhouetted man falling from the sky, have been around for a while, but it is only in the last week or so when they started appearing on the sides of buildings in New York that the outcry is getting more heated and the complaints more pointed as the memory of 9/11 is invoked.

Deborah Burlingame, whose brother Charles piloted the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, said she found it impossible to believe that an advertiser could put up a billboard in New York that “shows a human being tumbling down in space and not imagine that this will evoke the tragic memory of those poor souls on 9/11”.

When you look at the two images side by side it is easy to see why some are upset, but as the Mad Men falling image is very familiar to fans of the show from the opening credits any the similarity is unfortunate rather than an intentional move by AMC to generate publicity through controversy.

No one would want to denigrate or lessen the pain the families of 9/11 victims, but at the same time this is Mad Men’s fifth year and the image of Don Draper falling has been there in the credits since the start. This is what AMC has told The New York Times after it decided to ask families of victims what they thought of the posters:

“The image of Don Draper tumbling through space has been used since the show began in 2007 to represent a man whose life is in turmoil. The image used in the campaign is intended to serve as a metaphor for what is happening in Don Draper’s fictional life and in no way references actual events.”

There is good piece in Esquire by Tom Juond who wrote the original piece in the Esquire's Falling Man spread from 2003magazine in 2003 called “The Falling Man”, which game the famous AP picture its title (until then it had no name, it was just a frightening reminder of that terrible day).

He argues that the controversy is manufactured by bloggers in search of pageviews:

As a result, bloggers have created something of a controversy around the poster, suggesting that unnamed “people” are “upset” with it, when apparently the only people really upset with it are the bloggers looking to create controversy. Still, when a television network is accused of exploiting a sacred 9/11 image for its own purposes, it’s worth looking once again at the image in question to see what those purposes might be. In particular, it’s worth reminding ourselves that the guardians of American culture have been exploiting sacred 9/11 images since at least 9/12, and that Drew’s photograph was initially deemed anything but sacred — was declared “exploitative” — because it told a truth that could not be easily exploited.

At a time when the country was greedy for heroes and martyrs to give purpose to its pain, Drew’s photograph portrayed a victim representative in his fear, his desperation, and in his solitary resolve. At a time when the country was desperate for images that were communal and redemptive, Drew gave it a man left to the mercy not of God but of gravity, and dying utterly alone.

Despite his comments appearing before the Mad Men posters began appearing on buildings his comments stand. They are supported by those of other relatives. While some, as you read above, are outraged others have taken a different attitude that shines an uncomfortble light on the media and bloggers as The New York Times piece details:

“I am so worn out by you guys coming to us in order to create a kerfuffle where none exists,” wrote Rita Lasar, whose brother Abraham J. Zelmanowitz was killed on 9/11. “You may think you are being sensitive to our feelings, but in reality you are just using us so you can write a story that refers only to your own feelings.”

Anyone who knows Mad Men knows the image of Draper and is aware that his fall represents not only that of one man on Madison Avenue, but is symbolic of a larger decline of America, that Draper represents America itself, and its fall, which reached its destructive denouncement when the Islamic fundamentalists launched their murderous terrrorist attack on the United States one day in September 11 years ago.

What’s surprising is that it has taken so long for this “controversy” to ignite as Draper’s image jumped from TV screen credits to poster ad campaign, suggesting very strongly as Juond says in his story that this is one controversy that has manufactured to play on people’s feelings concerning 9/11. Never a nice thing to do.