Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Foreign Country

I today posted this comment on a blog I read often:
Having thrown out my TV long ago because the bill of fare it offered was so brain-deadening, I read with interest the *Village Voice piece* about why its the writer can’t watch TV any more.
While I largely agree with his sentiments, there is the paradox that the likes of HBO have recently produced TV dramas that are thought by those who think, to be about the best TV dramas ever.

I never watched “The Sopranos” (too violent for me), but I did watch all of “Six Feet Under” (on DVD), that I thought superb.

Having worked in corporate environments beginning in the mid 1960′s, I’m curious about “Mad Men”. From what I’ve heard of it, I think I’d find it authentic were I to watch it.

So I noted the following in the Village Voice piece: “……..Mad Men’s droll censure of that era’s sexism somehow led network execs to think it was time to bring the sexism back……”

Well, I’ll have the writer know that corporate life in the 1960′s was nothing but sexism as we define it today. Men did all the jobs that were considered to matter. Women were confined to the typing pool, and were flirted with outrageously by the men, who routinely said things to them that today would cause them (the men) to be the subjects of harassment complaints, or simply be fired.

I also remember the ubiquitous ashtrays on desks, and the pleasant reek of cigarette smoke as it curled through offices and down hallways.

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit Revisited

I'm calling today's entry "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit Revisited" rather than "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit", since I *wrote briefly* about this film six years ago and had titled the entry "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit".

I could have titled today's entry "The Man in The Gray Flannel Suit" too. Who's to stop me? It might have been cool to title it the same, but I'm just not cool. I'm a meat-and-potatoes kind of fellow, and so the opposite of cool. As a meat-and-potatoes kind of fellow, what else could I have called today's entry, but "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit Revisited".

Anyway, I watched "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit" again, last night on YouTube, and enjoyed it as I had those six years ago. I'm drawn to it because I still clearly remember the times when the film was made, and which it reflects. Those times are seeming to me more and more quaint as the years pass, for I feel more and more lost amid today's kaleidoscopic technological and cultural changes. I'm an old man who more and more finds comfort in *living in the past*.

In the times of "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit" anyone, for all intents and purposes, could get a full-time job. An average man like Tom Rath (Gregory Peck) could just be a nine-to-five man and still earn enough to own a nice house in the suburbs and support a wife and three children, who he had lots of time to dote on because, well, he only worked nine-to-five. Of course if he wanted to make it into the Big Time and become a millionaire, he would have to eat and sleep his job twenty-four hours a day, like his Big Boss, Ralph Hopkins (Frederic March).

Ralph Hopkins was a millionaire because he had chosen not to be a nine-to-five man, but a twenty-four-hour a day man. This, however, had come at a cost of the loss of love from his wife and daughter, both of whom couldn't stand him and moved out, leaving Ralph to enjoy his millions in splendid loneliness.

Being just a nine-to-five man with a safe but unexciting job, had its cost for Tom Rath too, for his wife, Betsy (Jennifer Jones) was finding him boring. What, she whined, had happened to the Tom she had first met, who had been exciting and a risk-taker, and not the cautious nine-to-five man he had since become?

It had to do with the War. Tom had been a Captain, and had killed seventeen of the Enemy bare-handed. The brutality of his experiences had done something to his risk-taking spirit after he came home. He turned into a cautious and safe and uxorious, but no longer exciting, nine-to-five-man.

A thing about the times of "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit", is that all the men of Tom's generation had fought in the War - an experience that bound them together. It was, for instance, what bound together the former officer, Tom, and his former sergeant, Caesar Gardella (Keenan Wynn), who was a humble elevator operator in the skyscraper where Tom worked at his well-paid nine-to-five white-collar job.

***

For what it's worth, my own father and uncles were of Tom Rath's generation. They, too, had been in the War - in their case in North Africa where, in the 8th Army under Monty, and enveloped in howling opaque sandstorms, driven mad by phalanxes of buzzing flies, and fried by the laser-like desert sun, they helped "....hit Rommel for six out of Africa....", then were shipped to Italy.

Hearing them talk of all this is part of my childhood memories. Even as very old men they would still talk of their experiences in the War as young men as if it were yesterday. I watched their old eyes light up as they talked.

***

In the 1950's - the time of "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit" - a man could be just a nine-to-five man and live a materially comfortable life with secure life-long employment. Today, however, you have to be an eight-to-six man, or a seven-to-six man, or perhaps a twenty-four-hour a day man, to be materially comfortable. But, you are more likely to have no job at all, or have only a ten-to-two part-time job, for there is no longer full employment.

After inflation, the per-capita wealth of the society of Tom Rath's time, was less than half what it is today. The gap between rich and poor then, wasn't nearly what it is today, so that the average man then, lived materially relatively better than today, despite that the total wealth today is more than twice what it was then.

You might do worse than think of all this of as you vicariously enter the 1950's while watching "The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit" - a film I highly recommend.

To watch it, *click here.*