August 22, 2010 in Features

If ‘Mad Men’ series filmed about today, what would people pick up on?

By The Spokesman-Review
 

One day, people will look back at us and laugh.

Or they’ll shake their heads and mutter, “What were they thinking?”

Of course, it’s our turn to play that game right now. One reason cable TV’s set-in-the-’60s “Mad Men” created a buzz is audiences enjoy clucking at behaviors and attitudes once common but now jaw-dropping.

You can make up your own mind about how far we’ve come in terms of sexism, racism, homophobia or whatever. And you can decide for yourself what you think about nonstop drinking and smoking.

But “Mad Men” has also offered a steady diet of vignettes highlighting some of the more subtle ways the world has changed.

In one, a little girl appears in a living room with a plastic dry-cleaner’s bag pulled tight over her head. Oblivious to the risk of suffocation, the kid’s mother coolly warns that a certain sweater had better not be on the floor.

In another, a family picnic concludes with an unblinking shake of a blanket and a carefree dispersal to the wind of paper plates and napkins. Littering? What’s littering?

So here’s the question. If, 40 or 50 years from now, television and the movies (or whatever they evolve into) accurately depict life way back in 2010, what will audiences of the future find odd about the way we live today?

“I would say the over-the-top proliferation of tattoos,” said Ken Yuhasz, a Spokane artist.

Maybe some of those thusly adorned will still be around in, say, 2055, and they will be able to explain. “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” they might say.

Spokane veterinarian Brian Hunter suspects that the resources devoted to contemporary packaging materials will have viewers of shows set in our era shaking their heads.

And let’s not forget the packaging itself. Can’t you just imagine a “Christmas, 2010” scene in which a family wielding sharp instruments is shown struggling to pry open impenetrable plastic clamshells?

Viewers who probably won’t look like characters from “The Jetsons” will howl.

What about lifestyle choices that seem perfectly reasonable to us?

“Driving to the gym to work out, then driving to work,” said Erin Rudders, a community college instructor.

She also thinks audiences of the future will be amused by the sight of people reading printed newspapers and buying expensive coffee drinks. “I resemble this remark,” she said.

Perhaps our descendants will find the sight of women tottering in high-heel shoes hilarious.

Maybe syntax-challenged characters routinely saying “I could care less” will produce knowing chuckles decades from now.

It could be that various forms of everyday 2010 rudeness will seem stunning to Americans looking back at us.

More than a few common cell-phone behaviors come to mind. Or what about guys who sit on the bus with legs splayed or a backpack beside them, to discourage others from sitting next to them?

And can you guess what audiences of some 2060 equivalent of “Mad Men” will make of the idea that some insane people actually sent and read text messages while behind the wheel of an automobile?

“No way! Grandpa, please tell me that’s made up.”

“Um, no. People did that. They weren’t very smart. But anyone with a pulse and a pair of shoes could get a driver’s license back then.”

Will the gap between what we know about health promotion and how we actually live seem mind-blowing? Will people in the future pity the obese of our day? Will they scorn the set-in-2010 characters portrayed as fit but self-righteous?

Tamie Evers, a North Side retiree who does lots of volunteer work, forecast that the practice of using credit cards will strike people in the future as odd.

Teacher Betsy Lawrence suspects that the furor over gay marriage will seem mystifying.

Banker Dennis LaMarche guessed TV audiences of the future will shake their heads about yard sales, campaign signs in front of houses, and computers that require you to type in passwords because they can’t recognize your voice.

Nurse Caryle Templeton thinks a depiction of fashion-oriented body piercing would raise eyebrows decades from now.

What about people sitting 10 feet apart at the office e-mailing one another instead of speaking face-to-face?

Melanie Jackson, who works at a knitting shop, isn’t sure that will look strange. She fears that the idea humans ever actually spoke directly to one another might be hard for those in the future to comprehend.

Once you start drawing up a speculative list like this, it’s difficult to know where to stop

Michael Williams, a project manager at Avista, could fill a time capsule with his predictions.

He thinks future audiences looking at a warts-and-all presentation of life in 2010 will be flabbergasted by the notion that we used gasoline for recreational purposes, built new houses not equipped to take advantage of solar and wind power, allowed developers to buy farm land, tried to make everyone go to college, allowed election campaigns to last longer than two weeks, wasted all that time learning Spanish and French instead of Chinese, and had to pay privately for health care.

So how about you? What do you think will one day be the equivalent of us seeing a pregnant woman tossing back a cocktail in a show set in 1962?

Oh, here’s one.

Newspaper stories that end with the expression “Only time will tell.”

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