Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Far From the Mad Men Crowd

I haven't been keeping up with Mad Men because I figure, that's what DVDs were invented for, right? But when I read stuff like this and this, I wonder if I'm missing out, or sparing myself a lot of headache:
See, if you’re writing to catch Mad Men in an uncharacteristic mistake (one that Weiner admitted some time ago), it’s fine to say, “As it happens, however, Bryn Mawr has never had sororities.” Saying “of course Bryn Mawr has never had sororities” is quite another speech act, something akin to using the phrase “non-U genteelisms” a bit later in the paragraph.  U and non-U!  Ah, now, that one takes me back ... to a time before Schwarz and I were born.  It was just before teatime, I believe, the fall of 1954, Henry Pordes bookshop in Charing Cross Road, and Schwarz and I were chatting about Nancy Mitford’s essay.  “Die” was definitely U, we agreed, and “pass away” very non-U.  “An egregious stumble on the part of Mad Men, that Bryn Mawr business,” I said.  “Indeed,” Schwarz concurred, “though seemingly a small one.” “Of what,” I asked, “is it generally and specifically emblematic, do you think?  And have the cognoscenti largely ignored any of the show’s quiet virtues while extolling what are really the show’s considerable flaws?” “Ah,” replied Schwarz.  “I’m glad you asked.” 
I have officially run out of cultural capital. Bankrupt! Not only do I know nothing about the inner machinations of Bryn Mar (or which Seven Sister is which for that matter), but I didn't even know there was a difference between U and non-U. How can I possibly hope to keep up? After all I thought it was just a costume drama set 50 years in the past where the central pleasures were derived from vicarious smoking, drinking, and non-pc attitudes. For the real fan, it's apparently a fantasy show that recalls a better time when the collective "we" were separated by class - its signifiers and shibboleths - and those who were non-U knew their place.