Does Mad Men Season 5 Poster Do Disservice to 9/11 Victims?

Everyone’s talking about the new promotional poster for the fifth season of AMC’s period drama, Mad Men. The poster is minimalist — the silhouette of a man falling headfirst against a white backdrop, with the date of the season premier printed in Mad Men’s recognizable font across the bottom — and is a direct reference to the show’s opening credits.

Various bloggers have argued, however, that the poster is an even more direct reference to Richard Drew’s photograph, “The Falling Man,” which depicts a solitary man falling headfirst from the one of the Twin Towers on September 11th. Natalie Zutter at Crushable.com says, “so far, the response has been to assume that this poster is hinting at a depressing season 5,” but that “now the designers have managed to offend New Yorkers who suffered through the September 11 attacks.” Many are calling the poster exploitative or tasteless, and the claims have drummed up quite a response from readers.

On Esquire.com, Tom Junod disagrees. He asks whether the poster is “a desecration,” or, rather, as he suggests, “just how we continue to reckon with 9/11?”

Junod reminds readers that after its initial publication, Drew’s then untitled photograph was protested as exploitative, “because it told a truth that could not be easily exploited.” He continues, “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.” It wasn’t until 2003 that the photo was republished.

Junod claims that just as the “legacy of moral unease” left behind by 9/11 was expressed in “The Falling Man,” this legacy has also “been mined brilliantly by the makers of Mad Men.”

And here is where I have to disagree with Junod. It seems highly unlikely to me that the creators of the poster are attempting to help Mad Men viewers reckon with 9/11. 

Instead, I would venture to guess that the creators anticipated the kind of controversy that is currently taking place surrounding the poster, and wanted to capitalize on this controversy in order to gain publicity for the show’s premier, a move that — unlike Drew’s photograph — is tasteless and exploitative. The poster does not tell a truth, it does not portray a victim. It’s an advertisement, for a show about advertising.

Photo CreditWikimedia Commons