August 2007 / 4 posts found

Live-Blogging Mad Men: The Nixon Men

by Tom Watson
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According to the previews, tonight’s episode brings the Nixon account to the fore at Sterling Cooper – the account being the 1960 presidential campaign of Richard Milhous Nixon, the bright young Vice-President from California. Widely viewed as the first mass media election in U.S. history, the Kennedy-Nixon race was fought on television and on a national scale, filled with advertising and slogans and images.

Nixon’s crew had some Mad Men in it, most notably the driven advance man H.R. Haldeman, a World War II vet and Californian who worked for J. Walter Thompson for 20 years. He failed Dick Nixon in 1960 but was widely credited for pushing Nixon over the top eight years later – and he later did 18 months in Federal prison for his role in Watergate.

A model for our man Don Draper? Perhaps, but Haldeman had moregoing for him than the dour and strange Draper. He had ambition, he had plans, he had moxie – even if he was a famed Republican felon in the end. The stiffs in Mad Men have none of it. They’re old men before their time, slumping through their days on booze and pathetic jokes.

Late Summer Reading: Books About Terrible People

by Tom Watson
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Most of the characters in Claire Messud’s lush and vicious fourth novel, The Emporer’s Children, are funny, bright, entitled New Yorkers – and they’re all fairly horrible human beings. You recognize them, you walk along with them, but you don’t sympathize. And why would you? The “emporer” of the title is lordly literary genius Murray Thwaite, an overblown writer and man of both letters and talking head territory – a haughty waste of a man surviving on his reputation and cruel to boot. He seduces his 30-year-old daughter’s best friend, ignores his loyal wife, looks down his nose at his upstate relations, and enables his daughter’s failures.

Yet, the world of Messud’s tale revolves around Murray’s dwindling light – until the karmic bill comes due in September, 2001. I appreciated that Messud didn’t avoid stereotypes; she plumbed their depths and found some wellspring water instead. And she captured the climbing, selling, soul-numbing existence that’s necessary – absent evident and productive brilliance – in New York’s literary business.

In the end, these truly horrible people finally confront an emotional crisis and the idea that that an outside world can indeed puncture the ambition of their reading circles. The question at the end is simply “why?” Were these self-absorbed people worth plumbing – or was their shallow narcissism the very point. Messud’s book came out last year, but I read it last week and it seemed a good marker against some of my other summer reading, fictional side of the coverlet. It left me unsettled and unsatisfied; I admire the skill in crafting the relationships and the storyboard, but wondered about the flimsy underlying message – did I somehow miss it?

In terms of self-absorbed New Yorkers – and women who write and aspire – I much preferred Laura Jacobs’ 2003 novel, Women About Town, which I read earlier this summer. Why? I liked those characters, especially the loony lampshade designer with the blue-blooded pedigree. They were more of a gas to hang out with. (So call me shallow. Go ahead. I dare you.)

Live-Blogging Mad Men: The Debt to Cary Grant

by Tom Watson
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Mad Men

“With Summer TV this Good, Who Needs Fall?” asks the TV Addict. And I’d answer: me. I’m looking forward to the new season, and hoping against hope that House will be less formulaic. I think the summer season is vastly overrated – I’m don’t care for John from Cincy, except to see old Deadwood actors gainfully employed. Damages? Army Wives? The Closer? Nah, parting gifts for all, Johnny Olson.

But Mad Men…well, it’s held our interest. And I do mean “our.” I’d have checked out halfway into week two without the crowd on this lovely blog. (I’ll admit it here: The Bronx is Burning is better than I originally gave it credit for). But I must admit, lately I’ve been thinking a lot about George Blandings.

Now, Mr. Blandings was first and foremost an advertising executive, before he tried to be a general contractor on a fixer-upper in Connecticut – a good 60 years before Flip this House hit cable. I’ve also thought a lot about Mrs. Blandings. that would be Myrna Loy, but it’s for a whole other reason, and really a bit prurient for this post, I’d think. Myrna Loy. Well.

But back to Cary Grant’s George Blandings. A dullard really, with good comic timing – and not much of an ad man besides. Sort of like Don Draper – except for the comic timing. Don’s a dullard, a lousy ad man, and he’s no fun at parties. Can’t do the pratfall. No self-deprecation in his bag of tricks. No, Blandings was the better character. And his slogans were better than Draper’s:

Compare the price – Compare the slice. Take our advice: “Buy Wham!”

If you’d buy better ham, you’d better buy Wham!

This little piggy went to market,
as meek and as mild as a lamb.
He smiled in his tracks when they slipped him the axe –
He knew he’d turn out to be
Wham!

Beats the hell out of the Bethlehem Steel work, that’s certain. Amazingly, Cary Grant played not one but two crucial ad men on the screen: Blandings and Roger O. Thornhill from North by Northwest. Both careers were merely foils, silly little pursuits that set up situations the directors could exploit – comedic or dramatic, or both.

Live-Blogging Mad Men – Chain-Smoking Tough Guys

by Tom Watson
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Once upon a time in the west – and in gritty noir backlots – rough and ready men carried guns, drank hard liquor, and made violence a part of their daily lot. That’s the way they were portrayed, at least. And the idea of “real men” inhabiting a cushy mid-town Manhattan office building was a ludicrous as, say, Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill being a secret agent in North by Northwest. See, Hitchcock got the joke. But as David Hinckley points out in today’s Daily News, our idea of tough guys has changed. “Mad Men” also reflects something else that’s been […]