Some Mad Men News

The season premiere of Mad Men is almost upon us, and I wanted to link to a couple of cool online things I’ve found recently.

The first is this interview with Matthew Weiner, in which he discusses how season 5 (and beyond) almost didn’t happen.

The second thing is this neat article from The Atlantic which discusses the language used in the show. If you’re a fan of the series, you probably know the amazing lengths the show goes to to ensure authenticity. The costumers require actresses to wear reproductions of period (no pun intended) underwear. The Foley artists track down actual newscasts from the day in question to play on radios in the background, and sounds of period office equipment as background noise. The prop designers painstakingly recreate concert tickets, newspapers, matchbooks, restaurant menus and other ephemera of the era. But when it comes to language, the show falls a bit short.

Benjamin Schmidt, author of the Atlantic piece and a “visiting graduate fellow at the Cultural Observatory at Harvard and a graduate student in history at Princeton University”, wrote a computer program that analyzes online Mad Men scripts and subtitle files ripped from DVDs, and then uses Google’s Ngram Viewer to compare the scripts to written works of the period. And while it’s true that there aren’t that many obvious mistakes (at no point does Peggy say “OhMyGod! Gag me with a spoon!”), there are a million subtle ones.

Much of the language in the show did exist as a concept at the time of the series, but wouldn’t enter popular usage for some time later. For example, in season 1, Salvatore talks about “espresso beans”; while the concept existed (and might have been common in Manhattan’s Italian community in the 60s), the specific phrase didn’t enter mainstream use until the 1980s. And speaking of the 80s, in season 4, Pete Campbell said that Philip Morris used SCDP as “leverage” to get a better deal with a competing agency. “Leverage” (in that sense) didn’t appear in “American Business English” until the 1980s. Sure, it existed as a banking term, but was almost unknown outside that. All in all, it’s a fascinating read, and worth checking out.

Mad Men season 5 promo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.