Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mad Men

I'd seen ads for the AMC series Mad Men, but missed the first few, so I gave up trying to follow it. Too bad, because we enjoyed their previous original series, Remember WENN (about a fictional early-- Pittsburgh radio station; in fact, Pittsburgh had one of the first radio stations and a couple of the first TV stations in the country.) That was back in the days before AMC started running commercials, which is when I stopped watching its movies.

Ironically of course, Mad Men is about advertising. Now we're watching the first season on the commercial-free DVDs. All I knew about it was that it was set in 1960, and prided itself on fanatical attention to period detail, right down to not having a child play with an etch-a-sketch, because the episode was set just months before that toy was introduced.

Well, we've seen a half dozen episodes, and we like it: the writing and acting, and much of the period stuff. Although from our perspective now it doesn't seem possible that people could smoke so much, but, well, we probably did. (Not me in 1960 exactly--I was 14-- but later in the 60s.)

But I have found some period details that are wrong. I remember most of the clothes and furnishings, but I couldn't really tell you when they changed (except hats for men--they would disappear in January 1961, with JFK, and astoundingly, never appear again as standard attire .) But some of the music seems off. It's possible that they were dancing to Chubby Checker's version of The Twist in the spring of 1960, although it didn't really become a big hit until August, after the Democratic convention that nominated JFK. The timing in the show is a little ambiguous. But it's close. Still, some songs on the sound track seemed premature.

What isn't close however, is a reference to the term, "the medium is the message." That was from Marshall McLuhan, and it wouldn't become part of the national argot for five whole years. (To be fair, McLuhan did publish the phrase in a journal in 1960. But it didn't become widely known until after his book Understanding Media was published in 1964--really not until 1965 and 66.)

But nice try, Mad Men.

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