Saturday, August 04, 2007

Too soon old and too late smart

We were watching the sports wrap-up tonight when a sportscaster did a little feature blurb comparing Barry Bond's 755 home runs with Hank Aaron's 1974 season, and making a Canadian connection by comparing Aaron's achievement with the Paul Henderson 1972 goal.
His stats were right, but he chattered on about how race in America was not as much of an issue until the 1970s and how Henderson's goal didn't mean anything outside of the Canadian hockey world --- and as we listened, we realized: he was getting it all wrong!
We lived through those years, and so we know.
You young whippersnapper, it just didn't happen that way!
And I guess I'm turning into an old crank pretty fast. I might as well face it -- I'm going to be hearing more and more errors like these from now on, as more and more of the people who are broadcasters and journalists and talk-show hosts and actors and writers are just too young to actually remember the 60s and 70s.
It's a human trait, I guess. In western society at least, any time period before we were born is "old-fashioned" and "quaint"; basically, we all feel that nothing happened in the past that could possibly have meant as much to anyone as the things that are happening now.
Wolcott has some comments today along the same lines. He's blogging about a new TV show called Mad Men, which purports to be set in the New York advertising agencies of the 1960s. He quoted a comment about it:
People, people. You can't really think that human beings in 1960 were really like this! These are mirages, twists of smoke. The ad men of that time were lethal motherfuckers, profane and funny, exhausted, bleary-eyed, and really smart with ivy league degrees on their resumes. And the women were not zombies who stood around overdressed in kitchens smoking with their dish washing gloves on. In fact, no one in this show seems to know how to smoke. I wanted to physically shake the divorcee's arm to unfreeze it, and tell her use the prop and not let the prop use her. Yes, everybody smoked then but it didn't look like this. . .
The list of wrong things in this show is nearly endless, but it's not just the verisimilitude that sucks, it's the way they missed the mood of the period. This was a time of urgency, when modernism was feverish and drove everything in the city and the post war suburbs seemed to be as much a part of that rush to the future as Madison Avenue. This show is a shadow play on a wall, completely without dimension.
You know those lists of attributes of today's college students that professors are supposed to understand -- they don't remember the Soviet Union, they've always had cell phones and computers and half-pipes, they don't remember Kim Campbell.
Well, maybe today's 30-somethings need a list of little-known facts about the 60s and 70s -- like, for example, that Paul Henderson's goal was a defining moment for everyone in Canada, not just for hockey fans.

There -- that'll learn 'em!

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