Sunday, February 13, 2011

Memo to Max Frankel

Calm down and don't take it so literally. It's fiction. And see Alex Ross, too.

4 comments:

john_burke100 said...

On one hand I sorta sympathize with Frankel. Like him (and Nora Ephron in her latest, which is less fluffy than I had feared) I am strongly tempted to invoke my memory against what seem to me clumsy efforts at capturing the recent pas: I'm thinking in particular of Mad Men, which despite fanatical attention to detail gets (I think) the flavor of the period completely, teeth-on-edge wrong.

On the other hand Frankel seems to want to defend Henry Kissinger, who is and always will be indefensible.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Wow - lots of people I know think Mad Men gets it right. I have never seen it, so i have no opinons one way or the other.

Frankel/Kissinger - yeah.

john_burke100 said...

In the early and mid-60's (and the 60's was at least three periods, as Louis Menand wrote) the ad business itself was undergoing a major cultural shift exemplified by Doyle Dane Bernbach's work for Volkswagen. The market was changing, styles in type and humor and fashion were changing, and the agencies themselves were in upheaval: old-line WASP outfits like Ted Bates and J. Walter Thompson were being first infiltrated, then abandoned by a cohort of young ethnic types who hadn't gone to Ivy colleges and weren't afraid to treat the client's product with less than religious awe. (A wave of them jumped ship and started boutique agencies of their own like Della Femina & Partners and Wells Rich Greene, and produced brilliant advertising.)

My sense of "Mad Men" is that enormous effort went into getting the hats and hairstyles right, but nobody bothered to look at the cultural dynamics of what the business itself was doing; they just created a period setting and put a soap opera in it. Sure, accepted ideas about gender and race and sexual orientation were impossibly retrograde; it was the past, that's sort of how you can tell. The show suffers from what E. P. Thompson called "the enormous condescension of posterity;" you can't get the past right, at any level deeper than wardrobe and decor, if you keep measuring it by the standards of the present instead of thinking your way into it as someone else's present.

sfmike said...

The first time seeing "Nixon in China" was the broadcast from its Houston premiere on PBS with Walter Cronkite, who I believe also went along for the epochal trip. Before each act, they showed news footage and it was totally amusing seeing how close the libretto stayed to actual events, down to Pat's visit to the Pig Farm. Frankel seems to think that the story should have been about Frankel and his amazing insights about the brainwashed Chinese.

And I'm with John Burke on Frankel's defense of the war criminal Kissinger. Gay Talese, in the Notes & Comments section in this week's New Yorker, does the same thing. Peter Sellars said as part of his research for the opera, that he read the entirety of Kissinger's very long official memoirs, and it made him just about physically ill. Making Kissinger a buffoonish villain in the opera is actually a great piece of historical image-making revenge.