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Going Native: Writing Place in Los Angeles

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I’ve been feeling isolated lately.  In the mornings (if I’m being good), I work on my new book, and, once I’ve been sufficiently humbled by the limits of my own skill and talent, I take my dog for a walk.   On these jaunts, I wave hello to the neighbors and the gardeners, the local barbers and the auto mechanics.  Maybe I’ll stop by the nearby coffee shop, and get something to go.  On every walk, I’m likely to see a raised sprinkler–that little metal head–protruding from the edge of a lawn.  When I see one of these heads, I do like I’ve always done: I tap it down with my foot and I make a wish.

It feels pathetic to admit this, but, lately, most of my wishes are about my writing, and my career.  Lately, to make sure the Gods are listening, I’m as specific as possible with my wishes; I don’t want a higher power ignoring me because of an ambiguity issue.  The other day, I caught myself wishing on a sprinkler head with a renewed fervency, my whispered prayer very long, and very specific.  I thought: Edan Lepucki, you need to get a grip.

And then I thought:  Does anyone outside of Los Angeles wish on sprinkler heads?

It’s like this:  My sister Lauren and I grew up thinking that a snowflake was the size of an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper.   I mean–that’s how you make a snowflake in school, right?

It’s also like this: After 3 pm on a weekday, I don’t expect to hear from anyone in New York.   It’s dinner time there.

When I go to my aforementioned local coffee shop, I often see other writers working diligently.  But then I see that they’re writing screenplays, not prose.  Most of these writers are men, most of them beleaguered (unless they look like Grade-A assholes), and I often feel sorry for them.  Why?  Because Hollywood is such a difficult industry to break into, where talent rarely has any bearing on success (or so it seems to me).  I actually find myself feeling superior for writing fiction, which is probably a Grade-A asshole thing to feel.

But also: I feel lonely.  It’s true, I do.

In January I went to New York, where I ventured into a few different coffee shops.  In these fine establishments, I saw people writing not screenplays, but prose. Maybe some of them were working on philosophical dissertations or letters to their senators–but, in my mind, I imagined they were all writing novel manuscripts.  It was exciting to witness this kind of widespread devotion to prose!  It was also a little scary.  In L.A., I feel a little lonely, but kind of special.  In New York, I’d probably never write in public, for fear of turning into a cliche.   It’s a trade-off, I guess:  you get a robust community in exchange for being a dime-a-dozen.

It’s like this: In graduate school, I loved being around writers–it was one of the most valuable aspects of my time there. I also found it exhausting, and I’m sure my peers did too.  At a Workshop party, if a non-writer showed up–oh man.  A geologist could  get laid every night of the week by a different poet.

It’s also like this: When I was a teenager, whenever my dad and I saw a group of people my age, he’d point to them and say, “Your people.”  It was an observation, a joke, an insult.

Not that Los Angeles doesn’t have a lovely community of writers.  It does, it’s just smaller and more spread-out.  We meet a few times a year at a random bar to trade war stories and talk about books.  Maybe we make fun of the east coast, or trade impressions of Michael Silverblatt.  Sometimes Janet Fitch stops by.  Last time, Meghan Daum was there, and I had to pretend not to be starstruck.  We’ve got the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which basically kicks ass, as do our local independent bookstores.  The ALOUD series at the downtown public library showcases Steve Martin, Rebecca Skloot, and Colson Whitehead, among other luminaries.   And this week, The Los Angeles Review of Books launches with an impressive array of essays and reviews.  Its mission statement alone has me all hot and bothered:
Since the 19th century writers have bridled at New York’s seeming monopoly over publication.  Bret Harte in The Overland Monthly, Hamlin Garland in Crumbing Idols, John Crowe Ransom and Robert Penn Warren in I’ll Take My Stand, and writers and readers in a thousand other places—including even New York—have called for a more representative literary world.  The internet has started to bring this to fruition, and Los Angeles, the largest book market in the country, is taking its rightful place as the new center.
Hurray, I say!  But is this claim really true?   I’m not sure I want Los Angeles to be the new center of literary activity.  Do writers in Omaha want that moniker?  How about in Amherst?  I doubt it.  After all, the distance any of us non-New York writers have from New York is frustrating, but also valuable.  There’s an option to retreat from the noise–or, okay, the music–that I don’t think a writer in, say, Brooklyn has.  This distance has benefited me for the last four years, as I write and write, without looking up, or around, me.

But it’s also this distance, this sense of being an outsider, an underdog, that makes me territorial about where I live and write.  I am barely tolerant of non-L.A. writers poaching Los Angeles for fictional fodder.  For instance, Charles Baxter’s unoriginal take on L.A.’s billboard-celebrity Angelyne in his novel The Soul Thief had me rolling my eyes.  And don’t get me started on Jonathan Lethem’s novel You Don’t Love Me Yet!  I refuse to read the damn thing, which supposedly depicts the lives of hipsters in Silver Lake.  A friend on Goodreads said the book gave her an “overall feeling that the author had spent a grand total of a weekend in Los Angeles before writing this book, and threw in random details from looking at a GoogleMap.”  For me, it’s not so much the name-dropping of locations that would bother me, but that they’d come from the same writer who penned The Fortress of Solitude, a novel that’s so sensitive to the issues and complications of gentrification.   Maybe now that Lethem’s moved to the Southland, he will render my homeland with more depth.

Why limit my rage to books?  In recent years, Noah Baumbach’s film Greenberg ruffled my feathers, too.  Anyone who knows Los Angeles geography was up in arms about how place worked–or didn’t work–in the film.  Take one example: Ben Stiller’s character is staying in an Orthodox Jewish community, but then walks to the nearby hills to hike?   Uh, no.  Go back to tennis playing in Brooklyn, Baumbach!

My other problem with his film Greenberg, and with Baxter’s Soul Thief, is the sense that these artists are coming to my city to wrest profundity from it.  There’s an implicit suggestion that we need an outsider to find the profound for us, to make order out of chaos.  It makes me feel like I’m part of a rain forest tribe, being observed by pasty white men in wool suits.   The problem is, these artists’ observations feel like 4AM stoner revelations.  At the end of Greenberg, for instance, the camera pauses on one of those wind sock men often seen at auto body shops.  It’s supposed to feel meaningful, but it just made me laugh.  Pass the doobie, bro.

I don’t want to suggest that an artist should never venture into the unknown.  My motto isn’t “Write what you know,” but, rather, “Write what you want to know.”  I fear my territorial attitude has not only made me a harsh reader, but that it’s also placed a too-tight harness around me as writer.  My imagination should feel free to venture to foreign lands, shouldn’t it?

I asked my friend Emma Straub, a native New Yorker who lives in Brooklyn, about this very issue, since she has written a novel called Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, forthcoming from Riverhead Books.  Her book is a historical novel about an actress in Los Angeles.  I’m so excited to read it, and also a bit nervous.  What if the geography’s wrong?  Will it feel like Los Angeles?  But Emma’s response put me right back into giddy-mode:
As a native New Yorker, I find it hard to write about my own city. The streets are crowded with novelists, and it seems nearly impossible to stake out a piece of sidewalk for myself. The novel I’m writing takes place in Los Angeles, and whenever anyone mentions “Hollywood,” the main character can’t figure out whether they’re talking about the neighborhood or the place as an idea, like heaven. That’s how I think of Los Angeles: as existing on two planes at all times, the real and the fantastic. Would I feel differently if I lived there? I don’t know. I’m sure some people write about New York as a way to sort it out in their heads. I suppose that’s what I’m doing, too.
This is wise.  We write to sort things out in our heads, and to escape from the world right in front of us.  We write because we want to discover.  That’s why we read, too, isn’t it?   If an artist can help me discover something new about my hometown, that’s wonderful.  I’d welcome it.  Emma, I cannot wait to read your novel.

There’s also this:  Before I began writing this essay, I asked poet and prose writer Sarah Manguso, a recent New York transplant, how it feels to be a writer in L.A., far from the center of the publishing world.  She wrote back to say, “In New York, writers don’t use the phrase ‘the center of the publishing world’ and they don’t visit the Statue of Liberty.”

Got it.

She also said, “In Los Angeles a writer is expected to learn to drive. Believe me, that’s a big difference.”

Now that is profound.

Image: Pexels/Viviana Rishe.

2010 in Film: Girls With Grit

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“You may say what you want to, but in my opinion she had more sand in her than any girl I ever see; in my opinion she was just full of sand.  It sounds like flattery, but it ain’t no flattery.”

Appraising this cinematic year, it’s these words, Huckleberry Finn’s description of the resourceful and feisty Mary Jane Watson, that offer the best summing up.  It was, to be sure, a year of great film roles for women—Natalie Portman and Barbara Hershey in Black Swan; Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, and Mia Wasikowska in Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are Alright; Greta Gerwig in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, the eternally mesmerizing Tilda Swinton in the operatic I Am Love, an all too brief glimpse of the effortless Sissy Spacek in Get Low. If there was a reigning ethos in the films (and cinematic novels: think The Hunger Games) of 2010, it was girls on fire, girls doing men’s work. A.O. Scott contends that this movie year was all about class, and it certainly was, but it was also about gritty girls. 2010 gave us the first best director Oscar for a female director, Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (a film about the very masculine world of war), Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt (a role originally written for a male lead, Tom Cruise), and Helen Mirren resplendent as Prospera, a transgendered version of Shakespeare’s Prospero, in Julie Taymor’s exuberant and impressive (if, as usual, somewhat chaotic) adaption of The Tempest.

But perhaps more noteworthy than these great performances, blockbusterings, and transgenderings was this year’s critical mass of girls on fire: self-possessed, irrepressible young female characters played by self-possessed, irrepressible young female actors—girls, as Huck Finn would say, “just full of sand”:

Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone.  Set and filmed in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, Winter’s Bone offers a vision of another America, somewhat evocative of that depicted in James Agee and Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. It is a world of stoic, rural poverty, crank cooking, and intense, absolute clannishness.  “Bred and buttered” in this world, 17-year-old Ree Dolly, played by the quietly luminous and quietly assertive Jennifer Lawrence, finds herself suddenly the head of her household, caretaker to a virtually catatonic mother and two much younger siblings, and in desperate need of answers that violate her community’s strict code of silence and hierarchy.  “Ain’t you got no men to do this?” a hard-bitten, suspicious meth matriarch asks Ree when she comes seeking answers about her father’s whereabouts. Ree doesn’t. In the absence of parents and guardians, she must make her own way among the brutal, hostile adults who hold the means to her family’s salvation.  Lawrence hits just the right balance playing Ree: as capable of a square-chinned, fend-for-myself, (even) fuck-you attitude—while splitting logs, shooting and skinning squirrels, standing her ground with belligerent police, drug kingpins, and bail-bondsmen—and of the vulnerable, frightened fragility of a child out of her depth.  It is this balance that makes Ree’s courage (and Lawrence’s performance) more impressive—because we know her ability to challenge the rules of her world isn’t reflexive: it’s an act she wills herself to out of love for her family and her certainty that justice is on her side.

Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire.  Feel as you will about sexual politics, prose, or plotting of Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, I dare you not to be impressed by Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish film versions of Larsson’s novels. Among recent filmic evocations of androgyny, Rapace’s Salander stands on par—perhaps above?—Lina Leandersson’s Eli (Let The Right One In), Jonathan Rhys-Meyers’ Brian Slade in Velvet Goldmine, Ally Sheedy in High Art, even Tilda Swinton’s masculine/feminine gold standard (Orlando, Constantine). Rapace embodies Salander, Larsson’s dark recasting of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking (she who outwits and overpowers men many times her size and age).  The most obvious vehicle of Rapace’s masculine femininity is her body, which she trained meticulously before filming began: the squarely set, muscled shoulders, the corded sinews and veins in her arms, neck, and hands; her somehow simultaneously masculine and feminine breast/pectorals. More impressive still is Rapace’s total and absolutely convincing masculine affect: how she sets her mouth, how she takes off her jacket, smokes, eats, drinks, stands, walks. (Nota Bene: You can’t fully appreciate the quality and extent of Rapace’s morph without seeing her out of character, say being interviewed on Charlie Rose). In one of the movie’s best scenes, Lisbeth, in half-fastened combat boots, smokes outside the cabin she’s sharing with the middle-aged journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist). It’s a morning after: the night before, Salander has rather unceremoniously had her way with Blomkvist.  She walks in brusquely and sits down; Blomkvist looks solicitously at her as she, avoiding his eyes, squirts ketchup on the plate of eggs he’s cooked for her.  While Lisbeth shovels down her food with the gusto and unselfconsciousness of a teenage boy, licking her strong, nail-bitten fingers, gulping her coffee, Blomkvist eats small bites delicately, watching her intently, curiously. Nyqvist’s evocations of Leopold Bloom’s “new womanly man” are good, but Rapace’s indomitable, inscrutable Salander is breathtaking.

Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross, in True Grit.  Strange to say that among the gritty cast of the Coen brothers’ latest, the straight-backed, apple-cheeked Hailee Steinfeld is grittiest of them all. Steinfeld plays Mattie Ross, a hard-bargain-driving, Bible-quoting, law-minded 14-year-old determined to bring her father’s killer to justice with her own hands—and a little help from crusty US Marshall Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) and the be-fringed Texas Ranger LeBeef (Matt Damon).  The crux of Mattie’s character is her unwavering faith in the righteousness of her cause and her absolute determination to “see the thing done” herself. Mattie is also preternaturally articulate and unnervingly, delightfully at home in the world of men, a sort of puritan Calamity Jane. She attempts to engage Cogburn in business negotiations through the door of a barroom jakes and when this doesn’t work invites herself into his bedroom, unfazed by his filth and undress; when LeBeef shows up in her boardinghouse bedroom with his rifle, Mattie’s verbal sparring and continued poise leave LeBeef visibly disconcerted. But, as in Winter’s Bone, the beauty is in the balance: For all her crackshot repartee, Latin, and Scripture, Mattie’s still very much a tenderfoot (flinching reflexively at gunshots and severed fingers, weeping at the death of her pony).  The clear-eyed Steinfeld delivers Mattie’s steel and fragility with a light touch—a perfectly natural, steady frankness that is as charming as it is convincing.

Kristen Stewart as young Joan Jett in The Runaways. Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning starring together in a movie that doesn’t, in a word, suck. Fanning is as good as Stewart in this biopic about the original all-girl rock band, The Runaways (often better known as Joan Jett’s launching pad), but her character, the Runaways’ lead singer, Cherie Curry, is that all too common creature: a thin-skinned, compulsively seductive young woman and she doesn’t, in the end, have the hunger or stamina for fame or rock and roll. Sultry and lipstick-feisty but ultimately tediously fragile and difficult, Fanning’s Curry just isn’t as interesting a specimen as Stewart’s Jett—a little feral, sure and not sure of herself at the same time, aggressive and shy by turns. Gruff, hunched, and twitchy—almost stuttering at times, almost pre-verbal—Stewart’s Jett is portrait of the artist as a young woman on the verge of finding her voice.

And, perhaps a rogue choice: Hayley Atwell as Lady Aliena of Shiring in The Pillars of The Earth (an adaption of Ken Follet’s historical novel of the same name).  Yes, gothic ridiculousness abounds in this tale of  the building of a medieval cathedral and its attendant machinations: poisoned cups, self-flagellating monks with unholy ambitions, bloody dreams and rhyming prophecies, the Michael Bay/Ridley Scott-style galloping-high-drama-at-every-turn theme music.  But if you can stomach the melodrama, this production also has a ripping rise-and-fall plot and about as fine a cast as you’re likely to see anywhere, including Donald Sutherland, Matthew McFaddyen, Rufus Sewell, Eddie Redmayne, Allison Pill, and Ian McShane (as the unholy priest, Bishop Waleran—seeing the man who played Deadwood‘s Al Swerengin tonsured and in episcopal robes is a meta-delight of its own).  Foremost among the female cast is the young, English actress Hayley Atwell. Atwell’s still waiting for a great role (she was Julia Flyte in the recent, ill-concieved Brideshead Revisited and Bess Foster in the equally ill-conceived The Duchess) but even in flawed productions Atwell distinguishes herself.  In Pillars, she plays the spirited Lady Aliena, whose family loses their land and title in the political upheavals of the 12th-century English succession crisis known as “The Anarchy.”  Determined to regain her family’s name and prominence, Aliena turns wool merchant and builds the family’s prospects again, one fleece at a time.  Atwell plays the fall from the charmed life and the determined climb out of poverty with a passion, almost a rage, that’s sometimes electrifying—made the more striking by her diction and delivery (classical training highly apparent).

And finally, in brief: Chloe Moretz who played the c-bomb dropping, infant assassin Hit Girl in Kick-Ass and Abby the infant vampire in Let Me In (the unsubtle American remake of the Swedish Let The Right One In).  While some (me among them) found Kick-Ass disturbing and not as clever as it thought it was, Moretz did manage to project an actorly verve superior to her surroundings, as she did in the redundant Let Me In. And perhaps meatier roles lie ahead: Moretz has her eye on the role of Katniss Everdeen in the inevitable film versions of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy.  And really finally, last but not least: Elle Fanning in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere.  Coppola’s film is quieter than the others here: Fanning II’s character, Cleo, isn’t toting guns (she packs an iPhone and the most expressive pair of eyes since Pruitt Taylor Vince) or going toe-to-toe with outlaws (just a jaded moviestar dad in crisis) but she radiates the poise, the same woman-girlishness, the same knowingness beyond her years (as well as a child’s fears, loves, needs), that animates so many of these fine roles.

This is Huck Finn, signing off: “She was the best girl I ever see, and had the most sand.” And may girls, on screen and off, grow ever sandier in 2011.

The Millions Interview: Natasha Vargas-Cooper


I’ve never been a great fortune teller.  For instance, I had the Dodgers and the Tigers in the World Series this year, and I was sure — sure! — that Avatar would win Best Picture at last year’s Oscars.  But when it comes to spotting great book ideas, I’m Nostradamus.  Or, at least I was when it came to Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp Through 1960s America.  Just a day or two into the life of her now-hugely popular Footnotes of Mad Men blog — a blog that unpacks the historical and cultural trappings of the popular AMC show Mad Men —  I predicted it would “have a book deal by the end of Season 3.” And it did.

To be fair, it wasn’t hard to call.  Vargas-Cooper was already a rising star in the online world.  Her smart and moving series on the Jesse James Hollywood murder trial was one of the highlights of the early days of The Awl, the kind of smart reportage/memoir hybrid that demanded attention and rightly got it.  Her signature prose style — exuberant, tough, and daring — started popping up all over the place, from Gawker to The Daily Beast.  By the time the news broke that she had a book deal, the only surprise I felt was that it hadn’t happened sooner.  The book that came from Footnotes of Mad Men — Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp Through 1960s America —  a gorgeous paperback full of slick, glossy reproductions of photos and advertisements from the era, is out now.   It is, as its blog predecessor was, a worthy companion to what many would call the best show currently airing on television.

The Millions: Take me back to the beginning.  You’re watching the show, you’re already blogging and writing about all sorts of things for The Awl, for your own site.  What made you say “I have to write about this show.  This needs to be a blog.”?

Natasha Vargas-Cooper: I think, too often I have the thought, “this needs to be a blog.”  I was at a very bleak phase of my mid-twenties. During the summer of last year, I had a number of losses dealt to me in rapid succession, and in order to stave off constant wallowing, I started to rewatch the show.  Its mood and details had me enveloped; I wanted them all in one place and I wanted to walk around in them, so naturally comes the thought: “this needs to be a blog.”

TM: And what made you realize it could be a book?

NVC: Mainly the call from HarperCollins that asked if I’d like to make this into a book. Originally, I thought I would just continue writing the blog as is and the book would be a collection of the writing but that notion got junked pretty quickly. The blog has a purposefully ephemeral quality to it. The book is all original writing conceived with the idea that these arguments need to be lasting (but not boring).

TM: The book is broken into sections by theme – the ad business, style, sex – and it strikes me as a particularly genius way of organizing it, since it allows you to address each issue within its context both on the show and in the time period.  But it’s not how the blog is structured.  How did you come upon that?  Was there ever another structure in mind?

NVC: My first structure laid out the book geographically.

Manhattan (Sterling Cooper, advertising, professional life, men);
Brooklyn (the life of working girls, Peggy’s problems, scenes from the steno pool);
Ossining (Betty’s world, the domestic sphere, anything having to do with the kids, the lives of suburbanites);
Out There (the world at large, Kennedy, Los Angeles, Hilton).

That’s actually how I wrote the book, by trying to culturally map these places. I turned in that version and we decided it was a little too esoteric and indirect.

TM: That’s kind of brilliant, though, as the locations are so much a part of the fabric not just of the show, but of the time, as well.  The opening section of the finished book gives an impressively broad overview of the advertising industry, circa 1960.  In other interviews, you’ve mentioned research at CalArts, but it’s clear you also did a lot of reading.  Who wrote the best of the ad memoirs?  Where should people go next if they want to know more about that business at that time?

NVC: George Lois, the art director of Doyle Dane Bernach who worked on the Volkswagen campaign and went on to create most of the modern logos that are burned into our brains, as well as Esquire’s most iconic covers, has the best autobiographies because he’s really dishy while never giving up his tough guy style. You get all the swagger and war stories, but also a sense of how exciting it was to be a part of the creative revolution in advertising. David Ogilvy’s books [Ogilvy on Advertising, Confessions of an Advertising Man] are also my favorites because he’s so austere and witty. Ruthless even.

TM: Another section of the book that I connected with is the chapter on Don Draper and his trip to California.  A special circle of hell is reserved for East Coast film/TV people who move to LA to work in the industry and then make movies/TV that show LA completely inaccurately (Paging Greenberg).  I thought Mad Men showed a pretty nuanced version of California — the hedonism of the wealthy in Palm Springs, the working class enclaves like Long Beach and San Pedro.  Do you see California returning to the show in future seasons?

NVC: I hope so! Every time Don heads to the bungalow in Long Beach I go over the moon. Southern California should play a role in future episodes because more than any other city/region in the country, Southern California embodied all of the ideals that came to define the late 1960’s and beyond: youthful, informal, image-driven, ahistorical; a golden land of consumers.

TM: Let’s talk about Don Draper.  I think he’s an interesting character, but he’s also impenetrable, and the show sometimes seems to want to do nothing but revel in his darkness.  I get that he’s a sexy man (I understand the Jon Hamm fascination more than the Draper one), but what is it about him that makes him so compelling to so many people?  Myself, I’m a Pete Campbell man.  (You can imagine Pete Campbell saying that, if it helps.)

NVC: Yeah, well, Pete Campbell is a pretty extraordinarily conceived character; I like him when he’s at his most wolfish. Don Draper is appealing because he’s an existential hero, an alpha male, and sophisticated without being snotty. Don is faced with all the dilemmas of modern life, and all the achingly human ones. I think the tension between conforming to what your family wants from you and participating in some kind of social harmony with those close to you versus hoisting the black flag, going into full tilt nihilism, denying yourself nothing, pouring all your energies into trying to create something with vitality while the void looms is a conflict that exists in many of us. I think the way we see Don deal with those dueling impulses is enthralling. Pure drama, in the Greek sense.

TM: What do you make of the critiques leveled against the show, specifically those that Mark Greif presents in his piece in the London Review of Books – that the show doesn’t actually present any moments of advertising genius (Don’s “It’s Toasted” slogan had been in use since 1917, for instance), that the characters mostly lack dimension, and that the writers luxuriate in all the things we can’t do anymore (snap the secretaries’ bras and pound bourbon in the boardroom)?  Any truth to that?

NVC: Ugh, gross! First of all I’m suspicious, actually, downright hostile to any critique that starts from the premise of a swindle; that the popularity of certain cultural objects coming from some kind of bamboozlement of its fans and that we need members of The Academy, like Greif, to parse the lie, is a bore. Also, while it might be a kicky-thrill for wall-eyed Brooklynites to revel in the un-PC nature of Sterling Cooper, I think it’s much less about back patting and thinking “Look how far we’ve come!” and more about wish fulfillment. That’s where the real kick comes from, a desire to fuck, drink, smoke, and behave badly with impunity. To the point about uninspired advertising: wrong!  You are dealing with inherently banal products, nylons, cigarettes, cameras, hairspray; what’s incredible about the show is the allure Draper and Co inject into them, even tag lines that we’ve heard before are refreshed by the narrative Don develops behind them and all the psychological reasoning that goes into that narrative. Also, Don coming up with a brilliant pitch for every product for every episode would turn the show into some NBC primetime gimmick. I point to Don’s Kodak pitch as evidence of high art and Greif’s wrongness.

TM: Give me three predictions for the show (not counting your call that baby Gene is done for, as I suspect you might be right about that).

NVC: Don and Betty will hatefuck at some point this season.  Sally Draper is going to mirror the social upheaval by being totally out of control. I see arson, adolescent lesbian — general terror.  I think one of the partners of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is going to bail because those boutique, scrappy shops had a very short lifespan. I see a Campbell vs. Sterling showdown.  One of those guys will walk and be a rival. Maybe even Don?

TM: Will the blog continue for as long as the show does?

NVC: I think so. It still remains an impulse, to watch the show and catalogue.

TM: What do you think of the blog-to-book phenomenon?  While I don’t think it’s right for every blog (My personal blog never, ever needs to be printed and bound), I think this project was a perfect fit for it, and I think it makes sense as a business move.  There’s a built-in audience there (and doubly so in this case, because of the people who love the show who might not know about your book).

NVC: What I find puzzling about the blog to book phenomenon is that the focus has been on user generated sites when there are thousands of blogs that feature original content and commentary from a single author or a group of them.  The appeal of user-generated content is that it’s constant, instant, and evolving. These are elements that are the opposite of what books offer.  I think there’s plenty of room for all sorts of books; the way they are conceived is beside the point.  Nevertheless, I would like to see a book from Ivy Style or This Recording or David Bry’s Public Apology column from The Awl those are endlessly more fascinating than a collection of aloof hipster pictures with sarcastic captions.

Surprise Me!