Friday, April 06, 2012

Mad Men

James Lileks has some thoughts about Mad Men similar to mine about The Muppets.
When a show becomes an object of cultish adoration, and the fans assemble to worship together, there’s always that moment when it’s just . . . not as good as you expected. Or hoped. Or remembered. 

He goes on to comment cleverly on a show I know little about. (I have referenced Lileks before, as he is perhaps the best at capturing the era. Oddly, there is also a Lileks link in a post about Bethany's old blog. Her brand new one is Bad Data, Bad, sidebar.) I have caught some spillover information about the Mad Men phenomenon. I imagine I would have mixed feelings about it.

It takes a special artistry to get a period feel exactly right. You have to condense the telling details enough to chime the right notes, or it's not art, it's just tedious. Verisimilitude isn't worth watching, because it's too much like your own life even now, with boring people, laundry to do, and errands to run. Yet neither can you descend into simple stereotypes, as has been done too often with the late 60's. Let's have her wear a paisley minidress! Let's have him talk about The War with a friend we know smokes marijuana but he doesn't! Put Jimi Hendrix posters on the wall!

Okay, actually you can do that. Happy Days did it for years. Happy Days is also the show where the phrase "jumped the shark" comes from, you may recall.

So I would be charmed by the touches they did get right, but shake my head at the ones they just missed. We store knowledge about eras in compact form, because that's how we store all knowledge. Yet when you see something "representative," you often recoil and say No, no one would actually have said/worn/done that. The magazines of the period would let you think so, but it wasn't so. Such things would likely jerk me out of whatever plot was on. It is thus precisely the sort of show my sons should refuse to watch with me, as my comments would be infuriating.

Unless of course, setting me up so they could enjoy watching me making comments was the point. Jonathan did that with "A Mighty Wind," a movie in which they got the music right by going only 20% over-the-top, but got the era wrong by going 40% over.


Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

You know the real problem with eras? They refuse to stay neatly within their decade. They’re out of phase by 50% all the time. The first half of the 40s is totally dominated by WWII and sacrificial lifestyles, the second half by climbing prosperity of the middle class and budding consumers. The 50s (as we like to selectively characterize them) didn’t really start until mid decade (rock & roll, Elvis, malt shops, sock hops, DAs and tail fins). The hippy 60s didn’t start until the British invasion of 1964-65 and the development of an anti-Vietnam War movement after that (check out the top 40 hits of 1960-64: girl groups, novelty songs, leftover doo wop and older crooners). Then the 60s music and culture spilled over into the mid 70s and the 70s into the mid 80s. I’m not sure how to explain Disco. It’s all messy I tell you. Somebody ought to straighten it out and get us in sync.

Assistant Village Idiot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Assistant Village Idiot said...

Ach. Edit first, then hit "publish," eh?

If FDR hadn't done all that crazy stuff to extend the Great Depression, it would have been over by 1934 and we would have been a rising economy well before the war. Everything goes back in sync. If you want to add in Hoover, who did essentially the same things that Roosevelt did but is perceived as being the opposite, fine.

Alt history fans would suggest that all bets are off at that point. A rising America keeps the Japanese from attacking; it might even prevent Hitler from looking westward for conquest at all, and the whole of WWII would be German and Japan versus Russia. Even with a war, it;s over much faster. Not the issue here. But there is a chance that things would be otherwise the same and the 50's rock rebellion, expressed only in art, and the 60's rebellion of acting on it, would have taken place on schedule five years earlier.

Of course, that means Sponge-headed Scienceman became a dope-smoker instead of a geologist, and was merely sponge-headed, with no science involved. Be careful what you wish for.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

...that means Sponge-headed Scienceman became a dope-smoker instead of a geologist...

There's a law that you can't be both?