Mad About 'Mad Men' for urban faithThis week’s Pop & Circumstance is all about returns — the return of a compelling show, the return of an iconic magazine, the (surprising) return of a reality-show diva, and the return of BET’s fishy programming.

Race & Religion on Mad Men

I admit it — I’m a big fan of Mad Men, the critically acclaimed cable drama that begins its third season this weekend. But now I’m faced with this: Does Mad Men care about black people? That’s the question The Root has us asking about the runaway AMC hit set against the backdrop of the advertising world in the 1960s. In a piece called “Why ‘Mad Men’ Doesn’t Care About Black People,” Latoya Peterson argues that, given the show’s willingness to engage discussion around other minority groups, such as homosexuals and Jews, its failure to feature stories about African Americans is a glaring omission.

While it is curious that Mad Men has not yet introduced a more compelling narrative around African Americans (besides the small storyline involving the lead character Paul dating a black woman named Sheila), we don’t think there’s much cause to cry foul … not yet anyway. In all of its writing, the show has meticulously remained true to the social structure of the 1960s. And in staying true to form, it would be a clear casting of new millennium ideals of racial equality to integrate influential black characters into a corporate setting where they were historically excluded. Unfortunately during that restless decade of societal upset, we suspect few, if any, black people worked at large Manhattan ad agencies in executive or creative staff roles. In many ways the absence of black plotlines from the show about mid-20th century corporate America speaks volumes more than the inclusion of these stories might for political correctness.

We are, however, interested in how religion will shape the characters’ lives this season. The character Peggy Olson, the lone female copywriter played by Elisabeth Moses, has been battling an ongoing internal struggle with faith. She’s the one who gave birth to a colleague’s baby and then gave up parental rights to her staunch Catholic family in Brooklyn to hide the child. Given Peggy’s growing apathy toward the church, we wonder how this season will handle the reconciliation of her beliefs with her evolving role in the corporate world of advertising.

We also wonder what some of the other characters believe. Non-Catholic religious ideals have been fairly absent from the plotlines over the past two seasons. Was Manhattan completely devoid of spirituality in the 60s? We’ll find out when the season premiere airs this Sunday night on AMC at 10 p.m. ET.

Yo, the ‘Vibe’ Is Back

It looks like Vibe magazine is making a comeback, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. When Vibe shut its doors in June due to declining advertising revenue, the whole of urban publishing sighed at the loss. Unlike Domino and Portfolio, other recent casualties of the Great Recession and the evolution of print media, losing Vibe was like losing a cousin. Since 1993, the magazine founded by Quincy Jones served as a foil to Rolling Stone and a strong music-news source in its own right, giving voice to urban artists often ignored by other media outlets. With a circulation of 800,000, Vibe consistently delivered the freshest commentary on hip-hop, R&B, and urban culture. Now it seems the brand will return amidst reports that the magazine has been purchased by a group led by private-equity firm InterMedia Partners and Uptown Media. The tentative plan is to reinstate within the next couple of weeks and ultimately bring the magazine back to print by the end of the year. All we can say is, hallelujah. For urban music fans, it’s been a tough month without the old reliable Vibe commentary.

Will Omarosa Be God’s ‘Apprentice’?

In other reality-TV news, former Apprentice show contestant Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth is heading into ministry. The self-proclaimed “bad ass” of reality television has enrolled in United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, to pursue a doctorate in religion. No, you read that right. Omarosa is becoming a theologian. Of course we want to believe she’s serious about serving God in this new capacity, but we can’t deny it seems inconsistent with her reputation as the quintessential bad girl of the Trump reality-TV competitions. Besides, her official website still has a “naughty Omarosa” section, complete with risqué photos, leading us to believe she is still primarily interested in serving her own interests, whatever the cost or method. Since famously hearing “You’re fired” from Donald Trump in 2004, Omarosa has extended her 15 minutes of fame by capitalizing on her loudmouth, aggressive, “my way or the highway” persona. All we can say is God has a pesky habit out of using unlikely candidates to accomplish His work, so we all better watch out. Her stint in seminary might actually change her ways for good. We sure hope so.

‘Tiny & Toya’: Another BET Mystery

I just want to know who’s running programming over at BET, because lately I’ve felt like it’s my lazy play cousin Pookie. Have you seen the new celebreality series Tiny & Toya? The show follows Tameka “Tiny” Cottle, former Xscape singer engaged to rapper T.I., and Antonia “Toya” Johnson Carter, the ex-wife of rapper Lil’ Wayne. I finally caught an episode this week and I’m disappointed that BET would use up screen time to showcase the lives of these women living the consummate ghetto fabulous lifestyle down in Atlanta.

It’s not that the women are bad in and of themselves. Yes, the heavy southern twangs, which leave most of the dialogue unintelligible, and the baby mama drama can be hard to listen to but do reflect the real lives of these women trying to manage their lives without the high-profile Southern rappers who helped them create families and then left them behind for one reason or another. Yet, the show is a disappointment because it reinforces negative black stereotypes and normalizes behavior from which progressive African American culture is trying to find distance. The broken families, poor education, and wealth via the entertainment industry are just some examples. It’s too bad. Particularly for a network that is supposed to provide black entertainment for and about the lives of black people, the continued broadcasting of shows like Tiny &Toya may be perpetuating cycles of buffoonery among the culture for which it exists to serve.

What do you think about the show?

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