As is common, this post was inspired by a previous Lipp sister post.
Just this morning I was reading an article and came across a quote about the economic crisis that said that “the needle was stuck in the groove.” And for a second I thought, Hmm, like a hypodermic needle? That’s kinda… sick. And then I remembered, Oh, yeah, record player needles! Anyone under the age of 30 would be thrown by that (okay, I’m 39.) Technological changes have an impact on the way we experience life. Just for fun, here’s a list of 60s gadgets and their modern equivalents that influenced our perceptions.
Polaroid instant camera vs. digital camera – In Babylon, Don has an epiphany when he looks at a Polaroid of Madge and her beatnik boyfriend. Yes, the Polaroid instant camera was cutting edge in the early 60s. From what I remember ,the digital camera became affordable to the general public around the late 90s, early 00s. A key difference between the two is one of touchability. You took a Polaroid and you had to shake the resulting rectangle, peel the backing and then wait for the image to appear, magically, before your eyes. No matter how “instant,” there was still a process, so to speak, a series of steps that you had to take in order for the picture to emerge. Would the picture be any good? You had to wait and see. Doesn’t this seem like a commentary on the creative life? You have an idea, you take aim, shoot, and even after the project is finished, there’s still work to do while you wait patiently to see how things will develop. Botched the picture or the project? You had to take it again. You had to be more thoughtful about the angle, the composition, etc. Meanwhile, you can compose a digital image in-camera before you hit the button. How much care do we all take when composing a digital picture anyway? And this is truly instant technology. Goodbye, anticipation. It may take you ages to get prints of your pictures, though. Don might never had had that epiphany if he used digital because, like most of us, he would’ve gotten too lazy to develop the damn pics. Plus, that Polaroid was Madge’s anyway, Don might never had seen the resulting pictures. Also, looking at a tiny screen on the back of a camera doesn’t seem conducive to epiphanies. As a coda, the Polaroid Corporation discontinued production of instant film in February of last year.
Television vs. hulu.com – Well, all right, TV really began making inroads in the 50s but we’re talking about its use in Mad Men, so I’m cutting myself some slack. While TV was always ad-driven, in the early days the shows were actually sponsored by the corporations. In fact, the shows were often named for them, ie, the Philco Television Playhouse, Kraft Television Theater, Lux Video Theater, the Ford Theater, etc. Ads were the price you had to pay if you wanted to watch TV for free; regardless, you didn’t have any choice since there was no cable then. In The Benefactor, Harry Crane understands that this system gives the corporations a lot more say in the way stories are developed and presented. He has to use his powers of persuasion in order to get a sponsor for a episode of The Defenders that deals with abortion. Although this particular plot was based on an actual event, it wasn’t until the 70s that nervy Norman Lear dared to tackle equally controversial subjects in his sitcoms. Who would sponsor the dark and edgy TV shows of today? There’s a reason HBO pioneered the complex narrative structure and darker storylines that mark great TV shows nowadays. On the other hand, most of us have to pay a pretty penny for our cable bill. Television is no longer free. Except on hulu.com which is — you guessed it — ad-driven. Another difference is that in the “old” days, TV was a family event. You gathered around the TV set much like Neanderthals might’ve gathered around a campfire and everyone was held captive by a narrative. Maybe in the Stone Age, the tribe would’ve listened to Guku’s exploits in escaping from the jaws of a saber-toothed tiger while in the 80s we were spellbound by the last episode of M*A*S*H but, either way, the experience was communal. When is the last time you and your friends gathered around your PC to watch you-tube? No matter how big your screen, online TV-viewing is mostly solitary.
Telephone vs. cellphone — There are many instances in which Don goes on the lam, so to speak. He is unreachable, not only symbolically but in actuality. In The Marriage of Figaro, he runs away from Sally’s birthday party with the excuse that he’s picking up her cake. In The Jet Set, he even eludes his bosses for several weeks. (Mind you, I didn’t quite buy Bert Cooper and Roger Sterling’s lack of concern or anger about Don flouting his responsibilities.) He is literally incommunicado. In the days before cellphones became prevalent, it was understood that people were not always available. From what I remember, it was somewhat frustrating but if no one could reach you for whatever reason, it was a fact of life. And then came the cellphone. Instant availability was no longer a pipe dream of the needy, it became the norm. There’s only so many times you can turn off your cell and not return calls or texts before people become indignant or irate. People even take cellphones into bathroom stalls. And have you ever turned off your cellphone to take a break, only to find a barrage of messages demanding to know why you weren’t around? How would Don evade people nowadays? Knowing Don, he would use the cell as another tool to thwart connection. While Betty talked, he’d stop every so often to check his messages or to text his underlings (Don is too adept at secrecy to ever use the cell to communicate with his flings, imo). But still, someone like Don actually needs to get physically away from everyone and the cell eventually wouldn’t do. Plus the fact that cells are traceable would likely cause Don much anxiety (which he would mask fairly well). There IS something disempowering about constantly being on call. Can you imagine John Wayne with a cell? He’d send you straight to voicemail, if he bothered to set his cell off vibrate, that is. Hell, even Betty didn’t need a cell when her car broke down in For Those Who Think Young. She had to rely on her wits and her feminine wiles. That’s what happens when you’re cut off. The situations might be more dangerous but that also makes you more resourceful.