I don't watch "Mad Men." (I couldn't even make it through the first episode. I thought it was boring, not to mention that all the cigarette smoke gave my phantosmia fits.)
Elisabeth Donnelly does watch "Mad Men." And she wrote about it on the back page of The New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago. Donnelly couldn't understand why her mother, who had experienced the early 1960s first-hand, found the show "painful."
Flash forward to Adam Gopnik, writing in The New Yorker last week. Gopnik talked about something he named the "Golden Forty-Year Rule," which suggests that the prime site for nostalgia is the forty-to-fifty-year period prior to the present time. During the 1940s, the aughts were the bee's knees. The 70s were in love with the 30s. Following that pattern, it comes as no surprise that culturally we're smitten with the 1960s.
Gopnik has a interesting theory on the reasons behind his rule, mostly having to do with who it is that actually controls the creation of pop culture. And then he leaps forward to four decades hence and considers how the 2010s will look when viewed through the lens of the forty-year future.
For the 1960s, Donnelly is that future. But confronted with a TV show and the first-person reflections of her own mother, Donnelly tips toward the media view. She's a reluctant believer in the realities of that era as expressed by someone who lived through the time.
All this leaping forward and looking back had me thinking this week: No one owns the final word on what a decade was really like. Even the past five minutes can be questioned: ask anyone who's witnessed a traffic accident what it was that actually happened. The future will collect the bits and pieces we leave behind and create the narrative as it will. All we can do is toss and scatter the best of ourselves, then settle back with our remotes and hope we'll be able to enjoy the show.