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Sunday, September 02, 2007

I see the image, and I immediately hear again its soft hum and imagine it vibrating under my eager flashing fingertips

So AMC was replaying all of the first seven episodes of Mad Men today, and having read good things about it, I TiVo'd them. Ten minutes into the first episode, the knowing and experienced Madison Avenue secretary, while showing the new one to her desk, says (after a drag on her cigarette):

Now try not to be overwhelmed by all this technology. It looks complicated, but the men who designed it made it simple enough for a woman to use.

As she says these lines, she's uncovering this:

IBM Selectric typewriter

As continuity errors go — the show is supposedly set in 1960, and the original Selectric wasn't out until a year later (although a Madison Avenue advertising agency would indeed have been one of the places you'd have expected to see them first) — this one's forgivable.

For oh! How emblematic, how evocative! For purposes of grabbing those of us who fancy ourselves wordsmiths and came of age in the 1960s or 1970s, this was a genuinely inspired scene.

I still miss the Correcting Selectric II — recognizably a grandson of the machine pictured above — that I bought from IBM on a time-payment plan during law school in 1978. I loved it for many reasons, not least its pilcrow key. It was splendidly designed and engineered. Its gleaming silver typeball leapt and spun like a tiny, magical martial artist — chock! chock! chock! against the page — in an eager rhythm that could be quite intense, altogether passionate, but onto which the machine nevertheless imposed its own invariable discipline of methodical spacing and even strikes (with ne'er a double-strike).

And I'm sorry I sold it some time back in the mid-1980s. I didn't later find myself often genuinely needing it, and had I kept it, I would not likely have used it very often or much; the computer plus printer alternatives are just too practical for most of what I do. Typewriters lived in the moment, and I fancy that my prose needs a memory. (Although the title of this post suggests that it probably ought instead just be euthanized.)

But my Correcting Selectric II was elegant. And there are some elegant things you just ought to keep, even after you no longer need or use them regularly, rather than selling off at garage sale prices.


UPDATE (Sun Sep 2 @ 11:20pm): But then the first episode proceeds to disappoint: Forty-three minutes in, the young whippersnapper ad guy is being kicked out of his boss' office because during their important client meeting that afternoon, the whippersnapper had tried to pitch something from a written research report that the boss had, literally, trash-canned earlier that morning. The whippersnapper had secretly fished out of the trash can, but the boss noticed the report on the conference table at the meeting. So:

BOSS: If Greta's research was any good, I would have used it.

WHIPPERSNAPPER: What are you talking about?

BOSS: I'm saying I had a report just like that. And it's not like there's some magic machine that makes identical copies of things.

Gong! "Mad Men" scriptwriters, meet the Xerox 914, introduced in 1959:

Xerox Model 914 plain paper copier

It wasn't elegant, nor ubiquitous for many more years, but it was something that would have been in a top-flight Manhattan office as soon as it was introduced, and it was revolutionary enough to eventually turn the word "xeroxing" into a verb (and almost, despite its maker's best efforts at tradename protection, into a generic product description).

Most of the period details, and attitudes, ring true (although the latter are exaggerated for dramatic purposes). But when so much of the show depends on getting the look, sound, and feel (including the technology) of the era just right, this was something they ought not have missed.

Posted by Beldar at 10:17 PM in Film/TV/Stage, Technology/products | Permalink


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Tracked on Sep 6, 2007 11:49:33 AM


(1) Milhouse made the following comment | Sep 3, 2007 1:58:59 PM | Permalink

Since you're the kind of person who agonises over whether commas should be italicised, are you sure "TiVo'd" is right? I'd've written "TiVoed".

(2) PC14 made the following comment | Sep 3, 2007 5:35:44 PM | Permalink

Here's a short clip from youtube with comments about authenticity of the show. It includes the typewriter scene.

(3) Milhouse made the following comment | Sep 30, 2007 11:10:12 AM | Permalink

In a later episode they complain about Kennedy going around without a hat, and how this meant he couldn't be taken seriously. Campbell points out that Elvis does the same, which makes it a plus for Kennedy, and the older men snub him.

But Eisenhower frequently went hatless throughout his eight years in office, so by 1960 it should barely have even registered that Kennedy did likewise (as did most men by that time, not just Elvis).

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