I wasn't expecting to join in the NewCritics new Sunday weekly blogfest over Mad Men, mostly because with my lack of cable, I'll be at a certain disadvantage. As it turns out, though, AMC is
making episodes pretty quickly available on iTunes, and the chance to rejoin something I was getting a pretty big kick out of turned out to be irresistible.
Mad Men has become, unfortunately, one of those "high quality" TV items where the prestige appeal overwhelms its fairly simple ambitions, and people are spending time making a lot more of it than it is. That includes the TV Academy, which showered Season 1 with more Emmy nominations than I think was seemly (though they did give long overdue recognition to my silver-haired mancrush John Slattery).
The lavish attention, I think, has a lot to do with the extensive period detail on display in Mad Men, I think. Like a number of popular efforts these days, there's an obsessiveness to the period details in Mad Men that simply seems like overkill. Sets scream sixties modernism, the male cast wander around with their high and tight hairdos and narrow suits like mini-Ratpackers, while the women - especially the secretarial set - mince around in cocktail sheaths and pumps as if drinks hour is just around the corner. Which of course, it always is.
Such highly stylized production design can easily subsume the actual story, and for many, I think, seeing Mad Men is seeing the design for the trees. In fact, Mad Men is an interesting, fairly cerebral exercise on the social customs and mores of our recent past... and on that level, it also delivers handsomely. Where I think it falls down is in relating its period musings to our modern day, and thus its airlessness (literally, given the heavy smoking) can seem especially stifling. It's not what's on display, but the challenge of figuring what it has to do with our modern life that can make Mad Men... well, maddening.
The question of whether Brideshead Revistedis better now or in the fondly remembered 1981 TV version
is the wrong question, as it turns out. Perhaps the film's best recommendation is that, approached fairly, it renders the comparisons moot. And perhaps that, in itself is proof of its success.
If only things were quite so simple.
Brideshead Revisted is an impressive, lavish attempt to retell a familiar story... and yet, ultimately, the questions of its remoteness, and its relentless moralism are what really complicate the assessment of this film's appeal. If the piece makes you think... does it matter that the thoughts are often quite negative?
It's a little odd having something as majestic as the Hudson just a couple of minutes away from your door (my sister has a Hudson River view from her bedroom, so it really is a family affair, here). Mom and I went and had a little picnic in the local park, then retired to the small-ish riverfront
beach for a quick dip.
And all for the low price of less than $5 parking (plus a little food for the picnic).
In the getting back to basics, it's nice to recall that the simple things - like lying in the sun - are basically free and can provide hours of enjoyment, for the whole family. That's probably why the best indications of America's multicolor and multi-culti melting pot are probably here as well: from the large gathering of an Indian organization (such lovely saris), to hugs Hispanic family gatherings, to the more nuclear families and local high school teens, the cross-sectional appeal was clear. And we all share some things in common - the massive hardware collections (rolling coolers parked in a small armada, industrial size food packages of hot dogs and chips and ketchup and chicken cutlets) to the rolling playpens (I saw at least two), we are a nation that doesn't just "go" to the beach - we assault it.
So we haven't fully learned the lessons of conservation or making do; economizing, after all, is probably more a matter of force than free choice. J and I face a similar prospect in about 6 weeks when we make our much loved trek to the ocean, a plan we still want to follow even if it mens seriously making do with less. Today it was just nice to soak up the sun, share some quiet conversation, and take a dip in the water. And I'm betting, old friend, that when I'm with you it will be all that, and more so.
When writing about the recently passed, it's easy to fall into certain traps: there's an obvious sentimentality and a tendency to overstate accomplishments, as well as the "that was so unexpected" notion that belies the fact that death is, well, pretty much what comes next.
When I started this blog, I didn't realize that my own interests in memorializing would be as strong as they have turned out to be; sure, in real life, I was often the one passing the "guess who died" news to others (I've always been a fairly obsessive news reader and death notices tend to jump to the top of web updates). But I still am leery of making too much of dying and those who are gone. And I try, imperfectly, to try and relate my "Memoria" writings to other topics and larger ideas.
If you don't know about him - and I can't believe you missed it - Randy Pausch was a Professor at Carnegie Mellon University who rather famously gave a talk called "The Last Lecture" last year. Pausch, a popular Computer Science teacher, had been diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer, and had only been given months to live, and participated in a new lecture series at the University, meant to give professors a chance to give a lecture on "big ideas" across fields, billed as "what would you talk about at your last lecture?" As it turned out, Pausch actually gave it.
The lecture was something of an internet sensation - Jeff Zaslow, a Wall Street Journal reporter who attended the lecture, wrote about it for the paper, and included the clip in his web article, and eventually worked with Pausch to turn the lecture into a book.
For what's resonating with me this morning: not ten minutes after reading this post from Ezra about airline travel, a friend called me to express frustration that some "flight coupons" she'd been given were, essentially worthless: though she'd tried everything in her power, she could not get the flights she wanted, to the city she wanted, and, in essence, the vouchers were probably of no use at all.
Well, I could have told her that (and I did, as gently as possible) - the post Ezra links to, from Chris Hayes, is a response by an "airline industry insider" who says what's been said for some time: airlines are in a terrible way, they're basically desperate to control costs and make money, and pretty much every choice they make is done with that iin mind.
It sort of surprises me that people haven't figured this out yet. We're in a recession (no, really, we are), the stock markets are in serious Bear territory... and yet the realities don't seem to sink in. There's a lovely "la la la" quality to the way many people still talk about gas prices, or housing foreclosures, as if minor inconveniences will just, eventually, go away. Later, the thought seems to go, when gas prices get back to normal... this will all be fine.
It's the reason I think the dividing line in this country now is not left/right but economic - either you're already living the financial crisis... or you will be. And from the Crisis side, let me tell you, I don't worry about plane tickets. Or home sales. I'm mostly worried about how to pay for lunch tomorrow. Seriously. There's no more free rides and as more people get cornered into bad circumstances... I'd say, watch out. Because there's no telling what a cornered animal will do. There's no more free rides... and the reason not to look the gift horse in the mouth... is because they bite.
Two weeks ago, while house sitting for friends in Manhattan, I had the opportunity to catch the ever enticing morning lineup on Lifetime (Television for Women... and Gay Men. Still). This meant two back-to back episodes of The Golden Girls. I made it through about half of one (you know the one
where the gals get into some misadventure... and hilarity ensues.... Oh wait), and then fell back to sleep halfway into the next.
It's odd to realize that for seven years, four older women were the hottest stars on television (well, five actually; Angela Lansbury was also top ten at the same time), commanding top salaries and holding a network to their demands. It's also worth remembering the power of the Golden Girls - which did not leave TV as a ratings failure - and other shows when people say "nobody wants to see older people in the leads", or when suddenly no women are holding the leads on their own shows. Women actually do want to see other women, even older women, in the main roles.
I don't have much to say about Estelle Getty, who passed away yesterday, just shy of her 85th birthday (is it indiscreet to say she was the likely one of the four to pass first?). But it seems a shame not to say anything. I've never been in the cult of the Golden Girls (I'm not that gay... or that woman), never really loved the show, and thought it beat a fairly innocuous premise into the well worn ground. What saved it, always, was the insane amount of talent thrown at the material: four veteran comic actresses, all in top form. And though all the performances devolved into caricature, that didn't mean they didn't know how to zing. Especially Getty, who often had the most tart responses, whether insulting Blanche's life as a loose woman, or continually putting down her daughter Dorothy (the title of this post comes from a line J always loved, which I believe in full was "that's pretty scary" which she says to Dorothy, "and so are you in something backless.").
Like all The Golden Girls, she won an Emmy - but just one - for Sophia... but was nominated every year. And while she's gone, she never really will be. One thing the show is, at least for my lifetime (television for women and gay men. always) - is timeless. Also, a little scary.