Navigate to News section

Dear Matt Weiner: Free the Jew!

Why Mad Men needs to bring Ginsberg into the fullness of its American story

Rachel Shukert
April 25, 2014
Michael Ginsberg. (Mad Men)
Michael Ginsberg. (Mad Men)

Mad Men, the show that is almost never on despite everyone talking about it always, is actually on again. Although only for another five weeks, as AMC, with their patented passive-aggressiveness, have chosen to break the final season up into two parts with probably about a decade in people-years between them. Already one can feel narrative threads beginning to wrap up (what is the deal with Megan and that creepy house in the Hills? You can almost see “Kill the Pigs!” scrawled on the wood-paneled walls in her blood.)

This being Mad Men, however, we know more about what won’t happen than what will: Don won’t find a sense of peace, stability, or contentment with himself and what he’s achieved; Peggy and Joan won’t ever truly be treated as equals by the stodgy and increasingly irrelevant males with whom they are forced to do business; Roger will not go gracefully into old age; Betty will not secretly turn out to be Betty Friedan; Pete, despite the wishes of a thousand fan-fiction forums, will not ride off into the sunset with the mysterious Bob Benson (although knowing Pete, Bob would have had to drive.) I’m beyond expecting Matthew Weiner to take the considerations of the fans who just want to see the people they’ve followed assiduously for the past seven years to snatch just a little bit of happiness from the decaying jaws of their own impotence.

But I have one request—and I’d like Mr. Weiner to take it seriously, as a MOT: can we please see a little more of Michael Ginsburg before the dying of the light?

I’ve written before about how one of Mad Men’s major-minor themes is the slow emergence of Jewish culture into the American mainstream. It’s mostly done this through the evolution of its minor Jewish characters, or rather, the kind of Jewish characters it has portrayed: from Rachel Mencken, the department store heiress who in 1960 was treated by the then Judenrein Sterling Cooper as an exotic visitor from another dimension to Dr. Faye Miller, the pre-Megan paramour of Don’s whose Jewishness was confined to a Yiddish expression here and there in otherwise extraneous conversation. But no character has been as defined by their stereotypically fast-talking, socially-inappropriate, brilliantly creative Jewishness as the fast-talking, socially-inappropriate, brilliantly creative Ginsburg, who, for whatever reason, is the only Jewish character on the show who has really seemed like an outsider.

Unlike Rachel or Faye or Jane Siegel Sterling, Roger’s gorgeous—and short-lived—second wife, Ginsburg has not breached the WASPy walls that encircle the main characters, never become enmeshed in a plotline that doesn’t involve his being alone in his depressing Lower East Side tenement apartment while his Holocaust survivor father tries futilely to set him up with girls. This is a travesty. Can we please see him interact with the world outside? An encounter with Peggy perhaps (who, as the ill-fated Abe Drexler demonstrated, has a bit of a yen for difficult Jewish men)? A bender with Roger! Or maybe he should marry Dawn, Don’s African-American former secretary, in a symbolic union against the crumbling edifice of the white mainstream.

Just get him out of the apartment, Weiner. After all, he’s never going to meet a girl there.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.