Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mad Men (or lack thereof)

I’m very disappointed that there will be no “Mad Men” in 2011.  I started this blog to analyze the connections between pop culture and history and “Mad Men” was prime material.  The show was a fascinating take on the social changes of the 1960s as producer Matt Weiner arranged many of the seasons to culminate around a major historical event. 
In season 1, the show ends with the Kennedy/Nixon election (1960).  In season 2, it concludes with the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962).  And in the third season, Weiner did an interesting look at how everyday people dealt with the Kennedy assassination (1963).  The “change” wrought by the assassination also meant change for the major characters, with Betty and Don Draper getting divorced and several of the principals leaving Sterling Cooper to create a new firm.  In season four, the season doesn’t revolve around a particular event, but we started to see the Vietnam War come into play with Joan’s husband in the Army.
Over the first four seasons, the show has often been best in depicting the early years of the women’s movement, particularly though the characters of Peggy and Joan.  We see Peggy encounter the tremendous difficulties that a career-minded woman faced before the initial successes of second-wave feminism.  Despite mildly open-minded superiors such as Don, she still faces tremendous sexism in the workplace and pressure from family and friends not to work so much (who fear it will prevent her from finding a husband).  Joan faces a different set of obstacles in a more traditional position as an office manager, though everyone realizes the firm can’t really run without her.  She even gets a promotion with no increase in pay, a common phenomenon during the period.
I’m sad we won’t see (for a while) how things would evolve in 1966-67, when the fifth season would presumably get underway.  Beyond the historical issues, I’m very curious to see how Don’s new marriage to his secretary will work out.  Not well I would imagine.  What will happen to Betty, who was far less a presence in season 4, after her divorce from Don?
I feel that Don’s desertion from Korea and his forging a new identity is going to become more of a problem as the Vietnam War expands during the mid-to-late 60s.  With resistance to the draft becoming more of an issue, it would be hard for the U.S. Army not to take a hard line on him should he ever be exposed.  It seems that at some point everyone will know Don is really Dick Whitman and Don may regret not biting the bullet and revealing himself earlier.
Let’s hope for answers in 2012.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Wire

I just finished watching season 1 of “The Wire.’  I heard a lot of good things about the show, but did not see it during its run on HBO.  It was very entertaining and I highly recommend it. 
The show seems very much influenced by the “Godfather” saga.  The show’s producer, David Simon, reveals a world where there is an interlocking relationship between drug dealers, the police, and public officials, just as Francis Ford Coppola does with the mafia and established institutions in the ““Godfather.”   The Barksdale family, the primary villains in the first season, seems very similar to the Corleone family.  Though the first season premiered in 2002, Simon seems to have been an early critic of the war on terror, criticizing federal officials for moving resources away from traditional crimes and toward the prevention of terrorism.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fab Five Documentary

Finally watched the ESPN documentary on the Fab Five.  For the non sports fan, the Fab Five was a group of college basketball players who played for Michigan in the early 1990s, making the national title game in ’92 and ’93 (as freshmen and sophomores) .  Jalen Rose’s comments about Duke have gotten all the attention, but that is only a small part of the piece.  It is an interesting look at how the team reflected the rise of hip-hop culture at the time.
The film also looks back at the mistaken time-out Chris Webber called at the end of the ’93 national title game.  Apparently, some of the players on the bench were yelling for him to call a time-out (though the Wolverines were out of timeouts and the technical foul shots sealed North Carolina’s victory.)  I didn't remember that. The film shows how crushed Webber was by what happened; the players are still friends and never discuss this with him. 
Juwan Howard notes that fans still remember him for being part of the Fab Five, as opposed to any of the pro teams he has played on.  Rose observes that people can’t remember any of the starters of the ’93 UNC team that defeated them.  The Michigan teams are certainly among the most famous teams never to have one a national title

Sunday, March 20, 2011


I highly recommend “Paul.”  It will be very funny for everyone, but particularly to sci-fi geeks.  The film is sweet and full of references to the great Spielberg and Lucas films of the 1970s and 1980s.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Serialized TV (part 2)

I have liked The Event since its return.  Again, neither V or the Event is 24 or Lost, but those shows both had their weak moments as well.  The Event does seem to be accelerating the action and hopefully it will continue to be compelling

Serialized TV

The new V finished its abbreviated second season this week and I hope ABC renews it.  While it certainly has its weaknesses, I think the show is beginning to pick up.  There have been only 23 episodes, so it really has had only one season's worth of episodes.  Elizabeth Mitchell, who plays the lead character, was excellent in Lost and is good in V as well. 
   I'm not sure why they brought back Jane Badler (Diana in the 1980s miniseries) to play a different version of the character (who seemed to be a "good" Diana as opposed to the original, who was one of the all-time great sci-fi villians).  Along the same lines, they have now brought back Marc Singer (the hero in the 80s miniseries) for a role.  Singer was never a very good actor and the new show needs to stand on its own.  I say this as someone who loved the original miniseries and has seen it more times than he cares to admit.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ali-Frazier 1

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Ali-Frazier 1 in 1971.  The retrospectives reveal a number of important things.  First, most Americans have forgotten how polarizing Ali was back in the late 60s/early 70s because of his conversion to the Nation of Islam and his opposition to the Vietnam War.  The anti-war movement and the counterculture embraced Ali while many working-class white supporters of the war backed Frazier because they viewed Ali as an unpatriotic draft-dodger.
Furthermore, Ali-Frazier 1 was one of the biggest sporting events of the 20th century and engaged people who were not sports fans or boxing fans.  Today, boxing has almost disappeared from the sports landscape.  The last fight that casual fans may have been interested was Tyson-Spinks in 1988 or maybe Tyson-Holyfield II in 1997. 
Check out an old HBO documentary, Ali-Frazier: One Nation Divisible, for more.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Saw "Adjustment Bureau" over the weekend.  It was fun and again had the feel of a 70s thriller, though, as one review pointed out, it was not as dark as most of those.  Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are being monitored by an organization which has its own "rules" as to when it can intervene, a bit of a reflection of post 9/11 debates over civil liberties.  Some of the meetings between Damon and offficals in the "Adjustment Bureau," particularly Mad Men's John Slattery and Terrence Stamp (General Zod in Superman II), are slightly reminscent of Robert Redford and Hal Holbrook in "All the President's Men."