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Mad Men: Advertising, New York City, And The American Dream

March 21, 2010 in Uncategorized

Photo by Rainbow Media, AMC TV

We recently covered one aspect of 1960s society with our article on counter-culture and the influence of writer and merry prankster Ken Kesey.  This week we turn to AMC’s hit television show Mad Men to help illustrate another, more mainstream, side of the American coin.

A friend of mine once described  Mad Men as being about “nothing more than a bunch of white men drinking, smoking, and sleeping around.”  While this may appear true to a casual viewer – and certainly, much has been made of these less savory aspects of the series – Mad Men is about so much more than the characters’ vices.  It is at once an exploration of our culture of consumerism, a study of the lives of several representative characters, and a portrait of the rapid changes that shook America throughout the 1960s.

In our newest feature article, Paul Millward takes a look at advertising culture and the significance of the American dream, a phrase that has become so common that it has almost lost all meaning.  But with a little help from Mad Men and Millward, it becomes possible to see how advertising appeals to the same portion of the human psyche that is willing to invest in something like the American dream.  Consumer culture is only one type of wish fulfillment, yet it represents our near constant need to always seek out something more, something greater, something forever beyond our grasp.

If you’re anything like me, there is no such thing as too much Mad Men.  However, even a veteran watcher like myself can appreciate a new, fresh take on the much-discussed show, which is why I suggest you take a moment this week and read Millward’s ode to Don Draper, New York, and the dream merchants of the 1960s with his piece Mad Men: Creating a Perfect World on the Avenue of Dreams.

Patti Smith’s Just Kids

March 15, 2010 in Uncategorized

After I finished Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, I put my hand over my heart and wept. After that, I ordered a dress-form and a swath of gold leather online, dumped all my paints, pencils, brushes and duck cloth onto the floor, called my grandma, and downed a glass of chocolate milk.

Patti Smith’s latest book (she’s published a couple non-fiction and poetry books) was so well-written. And her lifestyle in New York City in the 70s was shocking–both for it’s mundane rhythm and it’s provocative statement. It’s an artist’s statement in a way, a collection of stories that express her body of work as a writer, performer, musician and activist.  But most important: she tells a good story about friendship. Her romantic, serious phrasing, reminiscent of the French poetry she obsessed over, would seem contrary to her rock and roll persona if she weren’t so sweet-natured.

Patti Smith has been a truly significant voice for environmental and human rights for many years, but in her memoir, her tender phrasing peals apart the most sensitive (and often saddest) passages of her. Her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, whom she lived with at The Hotel Chelsea, was saturated with sad comforts and colors. To say they knew each other intimately is an understatement. Before he died, Smith promised Mapplethorpe she would write their story: a love story about growing up in a quickly-changing New York art scene,  where artists were lucky if they got out alive. If they did, they lived to tell their story. In Just Kids, Smith is an incredibly believable character. She travels and grows and sours and butterflies in a categorically common way. She harps on regular frustrations like her day job, then graciously extends her hand when we can’t believe her luck. And Mapplethorpe was on her arm throughout it all.

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A list of influencial names collected from Just Kids:

Robert Mapplethorpe; Godard; Brian Jones; Midnight Cowboy; Williams Burroughs; Anthology of American Folk Music; Crazy Horse; Anna Kavan; Virgil Thomas; Arthur C. Clark; Oscar Wilde; Dylan Thomas; Thomas Wolfe; The Golden Bough; Tim Bukley; Ossie Clark; Wages of Fear; Banny Fields;  Of Human Bondage; Jackie Curtis; Ray Roussel; Locus Solus; Gautier Michaux; Thomas de Quincey; Gregory Corso; Bobby Neuwirth; Patty Waters; Clifton Chenier; Albert Ayler; Blonde on Blonde; Genet; Arthur Rimbaud

 

Flower Power: Ken Kesey And The Lasting Allure Of 1960's America

March 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

More than any othPhoto by Urban, 2004 Wikipedia, CC Licenseer decade, the 1960’s have come to represent an almost mythical time in American history.  Perhaps this is why we return to them, again and again, in books, movies, and song.  The nostalgia for this bygone era is thick and long lasting, lingering into generations of young adults and children who were born too late to experience the magic.

Raised by two former hippies, I have been hearing stories about this amazing decade since I was old enough to teeter around in my mother’s worn fringed boots.   Upon entering my teenage years, I discovered Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Cool Aid Acid Test and through it, Ken Kesey and his band of merry pranksters.  One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was the next logical step in my counter-cultural education.  Fortunately, Kesey’s sensitive and nuanced portrayal of those that society deemed unfit ages well, and felt just as relevant to a child of the baby boomers as it did to the original generation of free-thinkers.

Kesey was in many ways the quintessential hippy, and Cuckoo’s Nest can be read as a manifesto of the anti-establishment creed.  It is fitting, then, that in our newest feature article, writer Paul Millward takes a trip to the place where it all began, the city that has come to embody a certain ideal of the counter-culture experience: San Francisco.

Like many before him, Millward views his visit to Haight-Ashbury as kind of a pilgrimage, a journey to discover some lost time and place.  Join Millward in rediscovering Kesey’s legacy by reading our newest feature: Flower Children of the 60’s & Ken Kesey, Father of LSD and Hippies.

But even while tripping through Millward’s piece, don’t forget about the other, more mainstream side of 1960’s culture, featuring the literary wordsmiths of the hit television series Mad Men.  Take a look: Mad Men: Creating a Perfect World on the Avenue of Dreams.