Tag Archives: Mad Men

The Mad Men Guide To Life

Does anything more need to be said about the brilliance of Mad Men?  The production value soars above most cable series and the story lines have not faltered.  The series has benefited tremendously from continuously casting relatively unknown actors.  Above else, unlike most retro productions, they get very little wrong.  Credit the producers for perhaps having been alive during the early 1960s or at least having the good sense to hire people who were.  Mad Men is 99.44% anachronism free.

While much of the period perfect depictions seem quaint and distant, there is much that is timeless.  Every generation thinks they are covering new terrain and making new discoveries.  Every twist and turn in life seems unique and in need of a brand-new solution.  But there is much to gain from being reminded of the continuity of life and its annoyances.

Work is Demanding – Long before instant communication, Peggy was working nights and weekends.  Personal lives were impinged upon with after-hours work related functions.  Before technology companies put playrooms and free dry cleaning in the workplace (to keep workers at the office) companies had coffee carts.  Break rooms, sandwich machines and even office bars, were designed to keep workers in the workplace.  Work has never been fair or nice.  Meetings will happen without you, you will be left off of organizational charts and someone might just run a lawn mower over your foot.

Thin and Pretty Sells – There is nothing new about selling a female ideal. Media has been single minded in its affair with pretty, young thin women.  Before Spanx, there were girdles.  Creating a perfect form was a rite of passage for a young woman.  Pointed bras bore no more resemblance to the human breast than the wonderbra of today.  Before diet shakes, there was melba toast and cottage cheese.  Women carried lovely little boxes of (deadly) saccharin in their purses and smoked like chimneys to avoid eating.  Clothing was expensive and spandex wasn’t invented yet, so not being able to zip your dress meant not being able to leave the house.

Marriage is a Mystery – From a wedding guest’s perspective, do any two people really belong together?  Don cheats with the same woman, over and over again.  He craves emotional attachment with an intelligent, professional brunette, but married Betty.  Kitty is happily married to Sal, a man who doesn’t want Ann-Margret, he wants to be Ann-Margret.  Joan, in her early thirties, with a panic she feels deep in her bones, grabs what looks like a gold ring.  There is nothing new about making fear based choices and there rarely is anything good that comes from it.  Joan married beneath her on so many levels, and we wait for the “we regret to inform you” letter from the war department.

Fake it Till You Make It – The only people who don’t at one time or another feel like a fraud are sociopaths.  Everyone, regardless of achievement or talent has feared being found out.  Don struggles with that issue most of his adult life.  Joan, herself her greatest creation, visibly stumbles at times.  Peggy, a woman whose emotional sophistication belies her tender years, forces herself past those moments.  She gets the job, the haircut, the wardrobe, and the office, incrementally and with intent.  She always had the talent, if not the experience, but by the time she’s done with herself, she looks like a competent middle manager (at 23.)

Parenting isn’t Pretty – Glossy magazines aside, there’s nothing pretty about raising children.  Betty didn’t feel the need to self-censor when she likened the presence of her children in her car to that of horse poop.  The children misbehaved and developed strange behaviors, they refused to eat and sleep, they got sick at the most inopportune times and mixed a pretty lousy drink. But parenting was made a little easier, not just because of the drinking and sedatives, but because of a bit of emotional distance.  When little Sally ran amok in the house (with a dry cleaning bag on her head) her mother was concerned about the mess, but not enough to put out her cigarette and interrupt her adult conversation.

Experience Breeds Calm – There is much to savor in getting older, even during the youth revolution of the 1960s.  Bert Cooper is a sage beacon of calm during many a storm.  Sure, he knows firsthand how to succeed in business, but it’s more than that.  His Eastern sensibilities and embracing of modern art, speak to a man who is taking a big bite out of life.  He enjoys the fruits of his labor and has a deep generosity of spirit.  He takes his relationships as seriously as he does his job.  He is not feared but revered, a management lesson, yes, but also a life lesson.


Posted by on February 13, 2012 in Childhood, Cultural Critique, Style


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Pow, Poo, Ooblee-pooh*

If you have waited in line to make a purchase in a chain store lately, I’m pretty certain you have been called forward by the nonsensical phrase; “the following customer.”  I admit, the first few times I actually waited to hear what came next.  The befuddling phrase does get my attention, I’ll give them that.  “The following customer will receive all of her items free.  Come on down Brenda!”  “The following customer really shouldn’t be buying those leather pants.  Sorry Brenda.”  What’s even more curious than the incomplete phrase is the fact that it has caught on like wildfire.  Is there some sort of chain store customer service standard of practice national convention.  Was there a vote?  How else do we begin to explain how so many salesclerks (not working for the same parent company) are spouting the same gibberish?  The trouble maker in me sees a wonderful opportunity for foul play.  We could sneak into the next (c.s.c.s.s.o.p) national conference and persuade them to beckon the customer forward with Ubbi Dubbi or Pig Latin.

I’m all in favor of creating or adjusting words.  Language should stay current to fulfill its mission.  But used incorrectly (which no doubt I’ve done several times already) just makes me nuts.  When did Americans decide that the word “anyway” needed an “s” on the end?  (Twenty years ago or so, if memory serves.)  Why?  What purpose does it serve?  It’s not just teenagers who add the letter, NPR commentators do it as well.  I can (mostly) ignore words such as “ironic” and “awkward” being thrown into the conversation willy nilly.  (Just so we’re all clear though, “ironic” is not synonymous with “coincidence.”)  Misuse is not the same as flat out cuckoo.  When I thank someone, what does it mean when the thanked replies “no problem?”  Who exactly has the problem?  I don’t even understand the origin of that reply.

I find myself starting to navigate my world as if I was in France.  I have mastered French at the level of a 4 year old slow learner.  Most of my request for directions, food and shoes in my size are pretty much dependent on gist.  As I go through my day in these United States, I must use all my senses.  Luckily, I know a smattering of sign language too.

My personal daily Nell ministrations aside, I worry about the apparent unconsciousness of this bastardization of language.  Like anything, if you’re going to do something, do it with intent.  My assertion of unconsciousness is egged on by the recent spate of “period” television.  I personally do not have memories of the Mad Men or PanAm time period.  But I will bet the farm that no one was slapping on an extraneous “s” to “anyway” in the 1960s.  I also don’t think people tossed around phrases like “workaholic” or “postpartum depression.”  It’s just a hunch.  Maybe I’m too binary, but what this says to me is that there isn’t anyone working on these shows who was alive during the portrayed period.  Not surprising by the way, is the fact that the British do a far better job at avoiding anachronism on the The Hour.  They did invent the language after all.

*Arthur Laurents’ slang for West Side Story (1956)

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Posted by on October 22, 2011 in Cultural Critique


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What’s What Walk

It seems that squeezing my eyes shut and mumbling; “la la la la” is not going to make the “slut walk” go away.  The fact that it has spanned two continents (already) means it can no longer be ignored.  For those of you in the enviable position of knowing not of which I speak, do let me elaborate.  Under the guise of feminism, women are organizing walks to protest the sexualization of women.  They engage in these demonstrations while dressed as scantily as weather, the law, and their own wavering sense of decency allows.  They have christened these protests: Slut Walks.  The organizers claim they are “reclaiming” the word.  (To the ghost of Elizabeth Cady Stanton; “I’m really sorry you have to read this.”)

For fun, let’s dissect the obvious, feminists never owned the word slut.  In fact, no woman, feminist or not, ever owned the word slut.  The word was created and flung by men who resented any display of female sexual power or choice.  I have no problem with the word per se, in fact I think far too much is made of political correctness of language (which in essence is putting an artifice on top of an artifice.)  I suspect this “reclaiming” claim is to give political resonance to an action that is difficult to explain.

Sexual (or any) violence against anyone is never excusable.  The walkers are attempting to point out that there is no such thing as “asking for it” which of course is accurate.  I support any attention to violence (sexual or otherwise) but I’m not comfortable with the intentional linkage of a woman’s appearance and her risk of victimization.

Unless you live in a very religious community, you’ve probably noticed (ahem) a certain shift in fashion, over the last ten years or so.  We’ve all bemoaned (and by “we” I mean Bill Cosby) the wearing of a gentleman’s trousers far below his gentles.  I’ve yet to hear anyone posit that men are more subjected to violence (sexual or otherwise) by virtue of the fact that they dress like an idiot.  But what of the women? This summer I have seen frontal, backal, gentles, everything a woman has to offer on the streets of the city.  In the workplace I have seen shirts cut so low they could only be called pasties.  I have been seated across from women and could discern what style of waxing she preferred.  Oh, if only I were exaggerating.  Let’s face it, private parts are no longer private.

I will never be convinced that dressing uber-scantily has anything to do with sexual empowerment.  I also don’t believe that teenager girls servicing teenage boys has anything to do with sexual empowerment.  I do believe that we are experiencing a crushing backlash to the second wave (1970s) wave of feminism.  One need only listen to lyrics, or tune into one more sitcom in which the sloppy overweight unattractive doltish man is married to a gorgeous pin-up, to get the message.  It’s no coincidence that women are sexualized and marginalized in pop culture while making earth (and glass ceiling) shattering progress in the real world.  Being a man is not the greatest guarantee of lifelong success and dominance, it was once.  Is it any wonder that television is bubbling over with 1950-1960s shows (The Hour, PanAm, Mad Men, Playboy?)  We could package them all in a dvd boxed set named; “remember how great it was to be a man?”

So while I applaud the notion of women coming together to march for political awareness and cause, I don’t think this is a well thought out endeavor.  Has violence towards women spiked?  I don’t know.  But I do know it only adds to the objectification of women to even suggest that her appearance has anything to do with potential victimization.  I would be thrilled at the opportunity of dusting off my protest shoes, but will not do so if that is all I’m wearing.  The current phenomenon of dressing sexually is too distressing to take lightly.  It is irresponsible and unseemly to equate the phenomenon to victimization, and violence is abhorrent and should never even remotely be suggested to be incited by the victim.

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Posted by on October 4, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Style


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