Mad Men and Modern U.S. History

Since both Historiann and Clio Bluestocking have posted on this, I thought that as a recent U.S. historian I would weigh in on the subject of the AMC series “Mad Men.” I have to side with those who say the show is very entertaining and extremely well-written. if it weren’t on so late at night, or if I had a DVR, I’d watch it more often (looks like I’ll be getting it on Netflix)

I would add that it’s a great way to remind ourselves of the way things were BEFORE the women’s movement — perhaps it should be mandatory viewing for women (and men) who think feminism was “irrelevant.”  As to historical accuracy, the costumes, sets, hairstyles, mannerisms, and so forth are very similar to those of TV shows and films from circa 1960 (e.g. “The Apartment” — on of my favorite films. In fact, the male sexual misbehavior in Mad Men appears to be modeled exactly after that in this film, except there’s no Jack Lemmon to serve as a moral center).

In contrast, CBS’s latest attempt at historical fiction, Swingtown, set in the mid-1970s, is really boring — which is saying a lot for a show about sex!  If you’re really interested in getting a feel for the material culture of that decade, “The ’70s Show” is the best. [seriously, Donna’s wardrobe could have come straight out of my closet circa 1977).

Theater Review: Carrie Fisher in “Wishful Drinking”

My husband and I just went to see the closing performance of Carrie Fisher’s one-woman show “Wishful Drinking” at Hartford Stage.  [follow their link to see a hilarious promo for the show and hear an NPR interview with Fisher].  I have to say this is one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, even funnier than “Postcards from the Edge.”  What a way to humanize the subject of mental illness without looking like a “freak.”  [although she is a “specimen” in an abnormal psychology textbook, which uses a photo of her as her “Star Wars” character Princess Leia)

She started off by stating that she had recently undergone a course of ECT, so if she blanked out or lost her place  that was why (she did use a teleprompter although didn’t look at it much).  The act covered a lot of ground — her scandal-ridden family history, her acting career, her marriage to Paul Simon, and of course her multiple experiences with rehab and psychiatric hospitals.   Her mockery of George Lucas and the whole “Star Wars” experience aftermath (including her own special class of stalkers) was especially funny.   I wish I could remember more of the brilliant one-liners — the only one that sticks is “Marx said that religion was the opiate of the masses, and I’ve taken masses of opiates.”

I also liked her idea of having a bipolar pride parade — the depressives could staff the floats from their beds if needed,  while those who were manic could have marching bands.

It’s too late for those in Hartford to see the show, but if it comes to your town, I highly recommend going to see it.

Going to Berlin

No, I’m not talking about Senator Obama’s upcoming speech this afternoon.  This is simply a plug for my study abroad course next summer, “The Berlin Wall in American Memory.”  Brief course description:

This course explores a range of historical topics that have emerged in the twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. Questions that this course will consider include: What has been the historical relationship and interdependency between the United States and Germany? What was the significance of the allies in first crushing fascism and then rebuilding West Germany with the Marshall Plan? How did the United States assist Berlin when the city was isolated by the Russian military in the late 1940s? How and why did the Berlin Wall go up? Why and how was it taken down? What signs of post-Cold War Europe are still visible in Berlin twenty years after unification? What was the role of American, German, and Soviet political leaders in helping to end the Cold War? What was the role of the mass media and the film industry in facilitating and documenting change? To answer these questions, this course will visit historically significant sites in Berlin and selected cities in the former East Germany.

Now, all this is tentative, given the weak dollar, outrageous airfares, and the fact that I’m competing with 37 other study abroad programs next year, including four or five others in history.  Maybe using this video as advertising will give me an edge:

Word to My Chiropractor

I’m a recent convert to the benefits of chiropractic for back pain — was suffering for months before I finally decided to give it a go.  The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine also lists from persuasive scientific evidence in favor of use of chiropractic for certain conditions.

Now, my chiropractor is a nice guy and does an excellent job at spinal manipulation– but he’s about to venture outside what I consider to be the appropriate boundaries of his profession by giving a lecture at our local tea shop/herbal apothecary about childhood vaccines — the title of the talk is vague, but it’s clear from the description that he’s not in favor of them, suggesting that they overwhelm the immune system. This, I think, goes too far — after all, chiropractors are not trained in immunology — and this crackpot theory has not been scientifically proven. [see the CDC website for mythbusting on this issue]

What is very clear, though, is the impact of declining vaccination rates on disease incidence in certain communities in the United States.  Take Colorado, where the rate of vaccination (75%) is below what is needed for herd immunity.  Between 1996 and 2005, 208 adults and 32 children in Colorado died of diseases that could most likely have been prevented by vaccinations. The state spends millions of dollars per year caring for children and adults with diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough), influenza, and measles that could have been prevented by vaccination.  California has also seen a sharp increase in rates of childhood diseases — e.g. a recent epidemic of measles in the San Diego area.

Now, some might say, well these childhood diseases are harmless — when we were kids, we just all got the measles at the same time and we were fine.  Well, historical facts show a different story — before the measles vaccine became available in 1963, there were typically 250,000-500,000 cases of measles per year, resulting in 500 or more deaths.

All this leads me back to the work I’m doing on HPV vaccines, which I’m revising for the Society of the Social History of Medicine conference in Glasgow this September.  Our Bodies, Our Blog recently posted a critique of “fearmongering” in a CNN report on the HPV vaccine.  I like the moderate and sensible position they take: they state that “of course we should keep watch when a new drug, vaccine or product is approved and is targeted to women” but “incomplete and inaccurate reporting and misrepresentation of the science does nothing to assist women and families in making decisions about vaccination and safety.”

Knitting at the Berks

Eleanor Knits

Those of you who attended this year’s Berkshire Conference may have noticed a small cadre of us knitting while listening to sessions. I had intended to bring my digital camera to capture all the creativity that was going on around me, but since I’m an air-head, on Lamictal which makes me more of an air-head, I forgot to bring it with me. So, I’ve substituted the photo above from an American Experience documentary. Apparently, ER used to knit in UN meetings, not just in the privacy of the White House. So, the next time someone gives me a hard time for knitting in Senate or some other faculty meeting, I’ll dig out this key fact.

Off to a Bad Start

Well, everything was going so well — my flight was on time, got my bag right away, got to the hotel quickly, saw lots of friends, nice dinner. I’m staying in the Holiday Inn for the Berkshire Conference since the U. is paying for the trip and because it’s quieter — except for last night! Some very unfriendly person turned on her TV very loudly after she arrived at 1:30pm, to some Christian show (could hear the preacher praising Jesus through the wall). I’ve had scary encounters when I’ve confronted folks myself, so I called the night manager to ask her to turn down the TV. My instincts turned out to be right, since she proceeded to scream at the manager that it was her right to watch TV, she was paying for the room, yadda, yadda, yadda. After threats to call security she finally shut up and turned off the TV. I was so rattled by the incident that I never got back to sleep. So, now I’m off to the gym. I can suppose I can take a nap this afternoon (although not during anyone’s talk — ha, ha!)

Unfortunately, the Inn is fully booked and I don’t want to sacrifice convenience for some really selfish, for lack of a better word, bitch. I hope she’s not with the conference — but she probably is since everyone else here seems to be. Looks like I’ll be dodging her in the hallway unless I can find another room

P.S.  The hotel upgraded me to a suite at the same price — it helped having Priority Club.  The first day of the conference went very well too, will write more about that tomorrow.

Getting to Know you Meme

Historiann has been tagged with the following meme, and requested that her regular readers answer the following questions. Here it goes:

1) What was I doing 10 years ago?

Same thing, except I was an associate professor not a full professor.

2) What are 5 things on my to-do list for today (not in any particular order):

  1. Drink coffee
  2. Answer email
  3. practice guitar
  4. grade papers (although I may find a way to procrastinate yet again)
  5. department meeting

3) Snacks I enjoy:

Tostados lime flavored tortilla chips, pita crisps, wasabi peas, cashews.

4) Things I would do if I were a billionaire:

1. retire

2. move to Nova Scotia

3. buy a vacation home in the South of France

4. start a charitable foundation or donate to the one Natalie Portman endorses

5) Three of my bad habits:

1. constructive procrastination

2. answering contentious emails without thinking first

3. pulling at my eyelashes

6) 5 places I have lived:

1, Newport, RI (birthplace)

2. Athens, GA

3. Norfolk, VA

4. White River Jct., VT

5. Ithaca, NY

7) 5 jobs I have had:

1. Lifeguard

2. chambermaid (for one week)

3. restaurant hostess

4. Interlibrary loan assistant

5. historian

Pass it along!

Back to the Kitchen, ladies: Washington University will give honorary degree to Phyllis Schlafly


According to this article in Inside Higher Ed, officials at Washington University in Saint Louis have announced they will award an honorary Ph.D. to noted conservative, anti-feminist activist Phyllis Schlafly. Now, Mrs. Schlafly certainly has a number of impressive academic credentials, so why does she need this one? Given that she’s spent the past thirty-five years opposing equal rights for women, including Title IX, even going so far as to call feminist critics of Lawrence Summers a bunch of whiners, I wonder what kind of message this sends to the young women who will be graduating from WUSTL this year?

If you think this is a bad idea, please see this Facebook group.