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Friday, October 01, 2010

ABF Friday:  Mimesis Edition!

At the end of last Sunday’s episode of Mad Men, as Don is looking at the Beatles tickets on his desk, Janet said, “I don’t think those tickets had the Beatles’ pictures on them in 1965.”

So, the next day, I gave her ... a ticket to the Beatles’ concert at Shea!  (Five dollars and sixty-five cents? That’s an outrage!  What do these Beatles think we are in America, a bunch of Rockefellers?*)

I love how Mad Men brings out the Mimesis Police in everyone.  I’m not immune—I foolishly objected, while watching the very first episode, that Reader’s Digest hadn’t weighed in on cigarettes and cancer until 1962.  I was right, except for the 1962 part.  After “The Suitcase,” I read someone in a comment thread assuring the world that 1965 was too early for Greek diners in New York City; after “The Beautiful Girls,” someone else appeared in a comment thread to complain that 1965 was too early for pizza delivery in New York City.  So clearly, there’s something about Mad Men that makes people desperately want to be wrong on the Internet.

It’s not surprising, really, since the show has so much invested in period mimesis.  But objecting to things like Greek diners or pizza delivery or Beatles pix on tix is like being off by a decade on Reader’s Digest.  If you’re going to be the Mimesis Police, you’ve got to do it right.  (As a typeface fanatic, i.e., someone who stays up late at night trying to decide whether the official font of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities should be Calibri or Tahoma, I especially appreciated that one.)

Janet and I have had this running argument for ... oh, at least 25 years now.  She will object to a double-high-five in Summer of Sam, saying that people didn’t double-high-five in 1977, and I will say that I lived in New York in 1977 (in fact, cut my Jackson-Browne-length hair down to something like its current configuration because the early word was that the killer was targeting brunette women with shoulder-length hair), and we damn well did double-high-five each other when the occasion demanded it.  Or she will point out that a woman did not go to church without a head covering of some kind in 1912 (see Titanic; also see famous modernist paintings that did not actually go down with the Titanic), and she will be right.  The one recent movie over which we had a good, substantial argument was No Country For Old Men.  It started with the motel sign advertising “Free HBO,” at which she poked me in the ribs.  “HBO started in 1972,” I hissed.  “It wasn’t free in cheap west Texas motels by 1980,” she hissed back.  It ended with our agreement about the ATM, which did indeed exist in 1980 but (iirc) was a far more limited thing than it is now—basically, you could only use your own bank’s machines.

Ah, I see that the Internet contains speculations on these critical questions as well.

So, folks, how do your mimesis police work?  What kind of gaffe totally ruins a movie/TV show for you? What kind of mistake doesn’t matter?  (Take for instance the references to the “69th Street Bridge” in Escape From New York: are you really going to complain about a mistake like that in a movie whose premise is that all of Manhattan has become a high-security prison ruled by Isaac Hayes, with Harry Dean Stanton ensconced in the New York Public Library?) And what kind of accurate, understated touch is worthy of a special Mimesis Award?  Special subheading: Medical Mimesis Police, charged with monitoring the accuracy of various representations of diseases and disorders.


Yes, yes, I know, $5.65 in 1965 is $39.11 today.  The point stands.

Posted by Michael on 10/01 at 01:17 PM
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Funky Nassau

As Sven notes in comment 29 of this most diverting thread, I’m on the road today.  I have to go to Hofstra and talk about stuff.  A train and a room and a car and a room and a room and a room, you know the drill.  But I wrote a bunch of new stuff just for the occasion.  If I had enough patience and/or energy I would say something snarky about Mark “let’s dynamize the university dynamically by abolishing tenure and creating dynamic undepartments of dynamism” Taylor or Andrew “why are professors writing books when they should be teaching?  I met a young man who wanted to write, and he made me mad, so we should abolish tenure. I had an onion in my belt, which was the fashion at the time” Hacker.  But I don’t, so this post-it will have to do.

Posted by Michael on 09/28 at 11:34 AM
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Monday, September 27, 2010

Counting down

Hmmmm, ye olde hit counter on the right sidebar tells me we need only 60,000 more visits to reach ten million, at which point Sam Elliott will appear, just as he did in Up in the Air.  And since we did the whole GNF asploding thing last time we shut down this humble blog, I’m thinking that we’ll have to try something else this time.  I know!  I’ll post all my program notes for Bad Futures.  Then I’ll pack up the old place, turn off the lights, and take my act over to Crooked Timber, where I’ll post this or that whenever I have a free moment.

But before that happens, we should take care of some business around here.  It’s been a long month.  Jamie’s all better and back in school, but he did miss three days last week, during which he ate no solid food.  Two weeks ago, 14-year-old Lucy the Dog, whose appearances on this blog are even rarer than Janet’s, lay shuddering in pain on the floor of the kitchen.  We took her to the vet ER and learned that she had mast cell tumors; we then took her to her regular vet, who did the necessary surgery; and she is now scampering about the house with a lampshade on her head, because (a) she still thinks she is a puppy, hence the scampering, and (b) she spent some time this past Saturday night chewing her dressing off and then licking out her stitches, hence the lampshade.

First item of business:  enumerating Stuff I Hate To Run Out Of.  Besides time and money, of course.  And faith and hope and charity and patience and reasons to be cheerful.  Little things the absence of which means that I have not been spending my time wisely or paying attention to things I need to pay attention to.  Paper products (paper towels, napkins, tp, Kleenex, coffee filters, lined pads for Jamie, printer paper for us), obviously.  Toner, because I haven’t been able to print stuff at home for a couple of weeks, and that’s totally half-assed.  Half and half, because it goes in the morning coffee every single morning, and should simply be available with the turn of a spigot, like tap water.  Asthma meds, because forgetting to refill your asthma meds is just teh l4m3.  Fresca and seltzer, because Fresca and seltzer in a 50-50 mix is far and away the most refreshing drink known to humankind.  I hope they keep making Fresca, because I fear that I am one of only eight people in North America who buys it.

And you?

Posted by Michael on 09/27 at 11:06 AM
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Enjoy the rest of your life … cereal!

Janet and I were having a nice anniversary evening doing Old Couple things like watching The Book of Eli when it became clear that Jamie was sick.  He didn’t sleep well, nor did we, and things occasionally got messy.  He’s home with us now, and we’re sitting around watching Animal Planet.  Right now it’s a series of abandoned and/or abused pets.

Sick kids—it’s just like old times!  We feel like young marrieds again.

Actually, Jamie hardly ever gets sick.  Send him good wishes, and let’s hope he keeps down that ginger ale!

So, no post-anniversary blogging.  I just want to say two brief followup things about Mad Men and Martin Peretz.  One, I bought Life cereal for the first time last week.  It really is very tasty!  I plan to eat it by the bowlful.  Two, you’ve probably seen this one already, but I have to say that Ta-Nehisi Coates is quite right to point out that Andrew Sullivan’s “Marty Peretz was a great boss who totally let me use The New Republic to promote the idea that black people are inferior” is not really a ringing endorsement of Peretz’s intellectual courage.  Defending Peretz from charges of bigotry:  ur doin it wrong.  But you do have to admire Andy’s timing.

And happy birthday to me mum, who turns 75 today.  Very busy month, September.

Posted by Michael on 09/22 at 11:58 AM
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The first 25 years are just practice

It’s a special day around here.  You do the math.

Posted by Michael on 09/21 at 03:41 PM
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Monday, September 20, 2010

Mad Men and women

After watching last night’s episode, I thought it would be a good time to unearth Larkspur’s comment on the whole entire show, from a thread on episode six:

What it is, basically, is a horror story.  It’s set in New York in the 1960s, and is NOT ripped from any of those headlines of yesteryear.  It’s about the American advertising industry, and even though it’s set at the beginning of the Vietnam war, World War II is omnipresent.  The United States was different from the other Allied (or Axis) countries in that is suffered virtually no war damage to its own soil or infrastructure.  (Contrary to popular belief, we Boomers did not ruin everything, but god knows there were hordes of us coming of age during the uproar.  And boy oh boy, were we a very fine and enticing demographic.)

The horror part of it is that like most entertaining horror, it takes a familiar world and injects something unspeakably hideous into the narrative.  This horrific element is, in “Mad Men”, primarily (but by no means solely) displayed in the tribulations inflicted upon the women and girls in the story.  (And remember, all female humans were “girls” except the ones who were “ladies”.)

Switchboard workers, steno pool, executive secretaries: stringent traditions of behavior and dress.  To get by, most female humans in the work force had to shut up and take it.  Take his coat and hat upon his arrival, take his colleagues’ undisguised ogling and verbal abuse, take and somehow avoid the presumption that you were a comestible not unlike the liquor and cigars in every exec’s office (kept sparkly and stocked by you).  And what’s more, you were encouraged to hope to marry one of your overlords.

And black people?  Men worked the elevators.  Black women you never saw in the office suite.  They labored elsewhere, sometimes with the offspring of the mad men, often in the laundries and factories.

There weren’t any actual gay people.  There were homosexuals, but they would burst into flame when exposed to the light, so you kept that door closed.

Part of the horror that extends even to the overlords is that some of them kinda sorta get it that they should flee the scene before the scary music gets too loud.  And they know that their jolly, convivial colleagues would happily drink their milkshakes and eat their branes if it’d give them an edge.  They worked scared.

And the socially connected men have been made uneasy, because they feel the country club’s foundations groaning. Stupid war.  Still, the upstart usurpers remain vulnerable to the freeze rays that can be deployed upon them by the aristocrats.

So the mission for an intrepid player in this horrorshow is to somehow navigate the environment and improve one’s lot in life, without getting killed ded, hopefully without killing others ded, thereby retaining discernible souls, all so that they can have interesting work and a chance at higher pay. And maybe fulfillment, or at least intermittent enjoyment.

They’ll keep trying even if they can’t get to the pump before the vandals take the handles.  They’re creative.  Peggy will figure it out.  I just wish I could give Joan superpowers.  But that would take us from horror to alternate universe.

But forget everything I said, because whatever the intentions of the show creators and runners, we are supposed to be blown away by how awesomely cool everything was when men were men, girls could type AND get coffee, and black folks couldn’t possibly ever be president of anything.

And the undergarments that enable the women to look so exotic and delicious?  Were very uncomfortable, left red compression lines all over your body, contained straps and doohickeys that broke or popped open willy-nilly, cost a lot of your paycheck, and did I mention they hurt?  And do not forget: they did not have spandex or other stretchy fabrics, and even though I am the sort of monster who happily rips the wings off of maxipads, the products preceding the adhesive age were worse.

But I enjoy the horror genre, so I’m kind of a fan.

Over at Basket of Kisses, I see that a few commenters are pissed that an episode in which Peggy brings up Fillmore Auto Parts’ refusal to hire Negroes is also an episode in which the guy who robs Roger and Joan at gunpoint is black.  Yes, it would be nice if there were some good, complex roles for African-Americans in this horror show, just as there are good, complex roles for women (one of whom thinks that Negroes should just work their way into hostile businesses, the way she did!  though clearly she’s having second thoughts about that).  But surely the point is that the civil rights movement was an urgent, world-historical thing, and any decent person should have been disturbed by a client’s refusal to hire black folk, regardless of whether any given mugger happened to be black?

A point that was lost on all too many white folk at the time.  “The time” being, oh, roughly then to now.

Posted by Michael on 09/20 at 09:16 AM
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