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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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