Skirts, cars and 202s
I'm alternately annoyed and amused by Hollywood's tendency to miss the culture and style of earlier periods.
The most annoying and universal tendency is pure Socialist Realist propaganda: they depict the normal taboos and prejudices of the earlier era as evil and repressive, by contrast with the Ahead-Of-Her-Time Heroine who proudly carries this month's rigorously orthodox Leninist taboos and prejudices. She manages to Re-Educate the more Enlightened Ones of the Evil and Repressive Natives in that Horrible Time, and the remaining
Nazis continue to Heil each other in their Swastika-bedecked Pigpens.
Hollywood's errors in style are not so intentional or heavy-handed, but still annoying. Can't they hire someone who lived through the '50s or '60s? Surely some of their writers and producers are old enough to remember these things accurately.
Focusing on this point today for two reasons:
1. The new series Mad Men
on AMC refreshingly avoids the standard propaganda tricks. Mad Men
depicts the taboos and prejudices of 1966 with amazing accuracy and sympathy, and doesn't shove modern taboos and prejudices down our throats to Raze Our Consciousness. The show even distinguishes between 'enlightened' and 'less enlightened' views by the actual standards of a 1966 adult, leaving the viewer to decide which era's peculiar bigotries are preferable.
Despite such careful objectivity, Madmen
misses the mark on style. The female hairstyles belong in 1959, and some of the clothing dates from 1948. The cars are also too old on average. It's true that 50's cars were still around, but only in the hands of teenagers and old ladies. No self-respecting social-climbing businessman would dare to keep a four-year-old car, let alone a 25-year-old clunker. This failure is especially puzzling because the three-year obsolescence cycle was created
by the same admen featured in the show!
*** Much later note: As I was searching for something else, I noticed an error in this entry. For some reason I thought Mad Men was set in 1966. In fact the first year of the series was set in 1960, so the 1959 hairstyles were just right, and the 1958-59 cars were also within the 3-year obsolescence cycle designed by the ad men. In other words, the show is 100% accurate! ***
2. I've acquired a little more sympathy for the writers and producers, after encountering a period puzzle of my own.
Polistra is displaying a digital model I'm building: a Western Electric 202 phone. It's destined to become part of the furnishings in my version of Nelson's Dream Village Motel,
a Route 66 landmark in Lebanon, Missouri. The Dream Village grabbed my esthetic soul for some reason, and I've been working on it sporadically, as a background project when other work wasn't pressing, for quite a while.
Here's the puzzle. Nelson's Dream Village was built in 1934, and its heyday was in the late '30s. When I set out to give the cabins a room phone, I knew that the 'candlestick' phone was still common at that time, but wasn't sure if the newer square style would have been available. Perusing online sources, I found the 202 was supposedly
the most common phone in the '30s.
Yet I've never seen a real 202 before, and I'm reasonably certain that it wasn't used in Missouri or anywhere in the Midwest. Why certain? First, before the ATT breakup most folks kept their phones forever. It was just too much trouble and expense to switch the company-owned phone. I saw plenty of candlestick-style phones still in use through the '50s and '60s, but I never saw a 202. Second, I've been focused on electrical gadgets since birth, and spent a fair amount of money and time collecting old phones and radios. If this strikingly beautiful phone had been in a house or motel anywhere within my travels, I would have remembered it with affection; if it had been in an antique shop or auction, I would have bought it with joy. So I'm sure it wasn't used by Bell in the central part of the country, but it must have been common elsewhere, perhaps in the Northeast, judging by the number of 202's available on eBay.
Well, what to do? I finally decided to include it in the Dream Village model
on the shaky grounds that it's the sort of thing Colonel Nelson would have wanted in his motel. He had an eye for style, and if this phone had
been available from Bell, he certainly would have used it. (No, the actual reason is that it's the sort of thing I like, and I enjoyed building it!)
= = = = =
Much later note: The 202 ended up as part of the Arcade Hotel
set, after the Nelson set didn't sell well.