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The Heretofore Unknown Mad Men-New Yorker Connection

Filed under: Looked Into   Tagged: , , ,

Emily Gordon writes:

Just as when I read a magazine, I read a magazine, when I watch a show, I watch a show. That usually means (since I don’t have cable) that I watch a whole season of something I’ve become interested in, old or new, and then watch the entirety of the special features and commentaries. If it’s good enough to watch the whole season, it’s good enough to see what its creators, set and costume designers, writers, and (sometimes) actors have to say about the process of making it.

Anyway, I’ve been glutting myself on season one of Mad Men lately, and partly as a way to stave off the inevitability of what I hear is a less sublime season two, I’ve been in full-time commentary and documentary mode; fortunately, the DVDs perfectly reflect the creators’ already obvious obsession with detail, and provide as much of it as anyone could want. (I haven’t even scratched the surface of the show’s online fan base, but it’s clear that they’re at least as consumed with historical perfection.)

One conclusion that I’ve drawn from season one’s commentaries is that many of the people involved in Mad Men, from Matthew Weiner to the set’s hairdressers to writer’s assistant/writer Robin Veith (she moved up, since Weiner seems to promote an apprentice system—I wonder how common that is?), would make terrific New Yorker fact checkers. Etch-a-Sketch wasn’t invented for a few more months? Can’t put it in the episode. Hydroponic apples? We didn’t have them yet—take them out of the supermarket scene. Character a little broke or dowdy and unlikely to wear the latest season in fashion? Put her in something from 1958. Nice touches, and the show is full of them—they’re what makes the show, and the actors say (and repeat many times through the commentaries) that the clothes, corsets, and hair creations do half the acting for them.

Part of the research the team does for every episode involves literature—magazines, books, ephemera, period flotsam—collected not just year by year, but month by month for the time the show’s covering. It’s impressive, and one gets the impression it’s blowing the cast’s minds to read Sex and the Single Girl and similar guides to being alive in the time of Helen Gurley Brown. And here’s Robin Veith on doing some of that research: “I read a lot of the New Yorkers from the period.”

So there you are: the DNA of Mad Men has The New Yorker as its cytosine. In honor of the show and of the recently departed John Updike, here’s a link to one of his Talk pieces (November 17, 1962), on “faces in Manhattan,” that some of the junior admen in the show—the ones obsessed with getting published in The Atlantic Monthly (as they quaintly refer to it)—would rush to read and sigh over. From the abstract: “Perhaps 15% of the faces—invariably male—bear some more or less purposefully shaped ornament of hair, & not more than 5% are marked by duelling scars, shaving nicks, or deeply dimpled chins. One out of three faces wears twin framed panes of glass in front of its eyes, and in one out of three of these the panes are tinted dark…”

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