Letters of the Week

Readers reflect on "Mad Men," cellphone bans, agent Scully and more.

Published July 26, 2008 10:03AM (EDT)

Read the story "Hang Up and Drive"
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We already have laws against running stoplights, swerving across lanes of traffic, blowing through crosswalks, failing to use a turn signal, and so on. If those aren't enforced, why add a new law for drivers (and police, once the excitement dies down) to ignore?

I don't use a cell phone while driving, but I don't really see what the big deal is either. Maybe next they'll discover the shocking news that driving around with two kids in the backseat is distracting and annoying, too. We'll all have to put our kids in muzzles and straitjackets before we get on the road, or install soundproof shields between the front and back seats like a New York City taxi.

Smoking while driving is at least as distracting as talking on the phone, and I see people doing that all the time. And eating hamburgers. And listening to the radio. And having conversations with people who are actually sitting next to them. Are you telling me you can't tune out your significant other on the phone for ten seconds (a skill most folks have perfected long before marriage) but a DVD player blaring SpongeBob from the back of your headrest is no bother at all? Come on.

The problem lies in properly enforcing the laws we already have, not in creating new ones.

-- Kafziel

Read the story "Scully Have I Loved"
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A lovely tribute to a wonderful character, Rebecca.

But what is the obsession everyone has with "dated" these days? Anything that's more than a few years old has "dated" elements; it's completely "dated" and therefore worthy only of derision.

Yes, styles and accessories and zeitgeist are of their time ... but why can't they be enjoyed as such, as windows into another way of life, another mode of living, instead of being fit only for a dismissive snort of laughter? "Oh, how ignorant and stupid and tacky they were then!"

After all, a few more years down the line -- probably sooner, given the accelerating pace of contemporary life and culture -- every daring, cutting-edge, utterly stylish item and idea of today will be equally dated.

When did snark become the primary lens for regarding the immediate past?

(I know, I know -- my complaint is hopelessly old-fashioned and dated.)

-- Tim Lukeman

Mulder and Scully were beautiful ... catastrophic failures. They were the most incompetent FBI agents in fictional history. Remember that little bit about how the FBI was supposed to protect lives? They mostly forgot that duty, and on the occasions they did, the body counts were particularly high. The truth is out there? They couldn't handle the truth! They bumbled around the truth, while the human and nonhuman enemies of freedom and life itself danced a little dance on the tattered and dying remnants of the human race. Mulder and Scully were out-"Foxed" at every turn, the same way that the Joker outmaneuvered Batman and the Gotham City police in "The Dark Knight." Or more appropriately, the way that Osama bin Laden and the terrorists have been outwitting George Bush and the entire American government since before September 11. "The X Files" is a celebration of American incompetence and stupidity, especially the stupidity of our most powerful and impressive-sounding leaders. In the forthcoming movie, it would be wonderful if Mulder and Scully were emotionally haunted and troubled by all the deaths and damage they caused or allowed to happen. But they're all bubble people, just like Bush. Why would that trouble their beautiful minds -- or the minds of their beautiful fans?

-- tomreedtoon

Read the story "Exposing Bush's Historic Abuse of Power"
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Land of the free, home of the brave

1781: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated ..."

2008: "What are you doing that is soooooo private?"

-- Paul Daniel Ash

Read the story "Stark, Raving Mad"
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As someone really into that period, the show's too heavy-handed.

With all the vintage narrow-lapeled sport coats and thin ties in my closet, I could walk out tomorrow looking like a "Mad Men" cast member. I love that whole postwar era, up to about 1970, for the incredible growth and evolution and in many ways squandered promise of American society. I was wild for Thomas Hine's "Populuxe," which perfectly captured the feel of that '50s-early '60s "Forward Look" optimism. That only scratches the surface of my interest in the period, which extends to reading period social critiques like Vance Packard's.

The problem for me with a show like "Mad Men" is that it feels forced because it's done through today's 20/20 hindsight, and some of that is the arrogance of thinking we're better than all that now. Oooh, pre-surgeon general's warning, they're smoking and drinking heavily! They're treating women as second-class citizens! There was more racism! They're more uptight! Take a closer look at our times and see how little we've really evolved. So we smoke less than then, to the point there's a stigma attached to it. Big deal. Are we really better people? After nearly 30 years of conservatism dominating politics and that right-wing mentality infiltrating the culture through the media, we've not had nearly the social growth we should have had, and in some ways we've regressed. Of course, there's Bush, but overlooked is the impact of the Supreme Court, which has gone from Brown v. Board and the Miranda ruling to recently reinforcing our gun-nut society, one that was not as gun-crazy in the postwar years. Who knows what other forms of progress the court could roll back?

It does not take a lot of effort (it does take expense) to get the period details right. What does take effort is capturing the correct feel of that period. The vast majority of people are not that conscious about the times and the society in which they live, they just move through it and in many ways simply adapt without agonizing over it or even realizing it, because few people care enough to drive social change. Society has become more accepting of gay people in the past dozen years (although still has far to go), but for most people it's not a conscious case of "I think I'll set aside my old attitudes and be more accepting." When Hollywood does a period piece about the '90s in about 2030, are they going to have people saying "I know what I am doing is wrong for the greenhouse effect [note forced '90s lingo], but sign me up anyway for that gas-guzzling SUV"? Not if they want to get the feel of the times right.

"Mad Men" would be a far more effective critique of society in those times if they treated the attitudes then as natural without calling attention to them. Period shows like "Route 66," "Leave It to Beaver" or "Twilight Zone" can still tell us a lot about attitudes then, but more subtly, because of course the writers and producers were living through those times. They didn't call attention to those attitudes unless it was a story with an overt morality message. "Mad Men" would do well to keep its focus on the angles about those times that censorship then would not permit, and let the other behaviors speak for themselves.

-- TruthandConsequences

Matthew Weiner has said that "Mad Men" does not literally portray the 1960s -- so despite the attention to period detail, we really can't watch the show and think either "Wow, so this is what life was like in 1960!" or about how much better or worse we are in 2008. Hey, people may be more gun-mad now, but remember how easy it was for Pete to exchange the chip-n-dip for a rifle? No waiting period for that phallic symbol!

As Heather Havrilesky's review articulates beautifully, the show is about the search for identity in the era of self-absorption and rampant consumerism, an era that continues unabated today. The characters on the show are all lonely yet utterly self-interested, unable to get past the surface. Don has (almost) convinced himself that he and other Madison Avenue execs invented love, desire and belonging, yet all of Season 1 shows his difficulty balancing his deliberately fatalistic, nihilistic philosophy with his unsatisfied need for real human contact, which he momentarily finds with Rachel. Yet appearances and lifestyle are just as important to Rachel as to everyone else--and she reminds Don how pathetic he ultimately is for revealing his vulnerabilities.

And the use of "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" at the end of the Season 1 finale was quite deliberately anachronistic. The "Mad Men" epitomize the cynicism that Dylan exposes in that song. The music just took a couple of years to catch up. (What 1960 song could the producers have chosen that would have been a similarly meaningful parallel to Don's emotions at the end of the show?)

-- wetnoodle

By Salon Staff

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