I’m usually content without the clatter of manual typewriters, or the smog of cigarette smoke that fills nearly every movie that’s been set in a newsroom before the 1970s.
But every once in awhile, I look around the office and feel like I’m missing something. The perpetual popularity of musicals such as “9 to 5,” or TV shows set even earlier, such as “Mad Men,” proves that I’m not alone in feeling a little nostalgic.
Recently Adam Gopnik proposed a “Forty-Year Rule” in the “New Yorker,” claiming that pop culture generally promotes whatever era came between 40 and 50 years before the present day.
His reasoning was that producers, directors, writers — everyone who can be said to be “in charge” of what becomes popular — tend to have experienced childhood about 40 years earlier.
While that explains how the show may have come into being, it doesn’t sufficiently describe why generations who can’t remember the 1960s have latched onto it. The creators would have you believe it’s the compelling characters and plot line, but I never sat around with friends and said, “You know what really fascinates me? The lives of 1960s-era advertising executives.”
I think the explanation is much simpler, and best put by my younger brother, who called me out one evening when I tried to tell him I cared about whatever ad account the men on screen were negotiating.
“You just like the way they dress,” he said.
He was right. As superficial as it sounds, I don’t really care which secretary is crying in the break room, or who had too much scotch to drink at a business lunch, as long as they do it in the proper attire.
Natalya Cody, who runs Creatures of Habit in downtown Paducah, unknowingly made my case for me the other day when she said that the style of clothing she prefers — anything that comes from the late ’40s or early ’50s — flatters a lot of different figures. “It’s just appealing. It’s feminine, yet it has a mystique to it still,” she said.
Part of that mystique may be that the clothing is often less revealing, and, as a result, appears more tasteful, even in hot pink or chartreuse.
The other part? Put simply, it’s old.
People are, and always have been, captivated by what came before them, even if they’re told — as I often am, by people who have lived through it — that it wasn’t so great.
If that’s a good enough reason to have history museums, it’s probably a good enough reason to watch “Mad Men.”
Call Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 2700-575-8641.