Robert Downes 9/14/09
The Death of ‘Hip‘ (Again)
Whats the hippest show on TV these days?
If you believe the critics, along with millions of viewers, four Golden Globe awards and six Emmys, its Mad Men, a drama about the stressed-out, hard-drinkin, skirt-chasin, underpaid and overworked ad executives of Madison Avenue.
Cue up the Perry Como records.
Mad Men takes place back in the early 60s and reinvents the men in the gray flannel suits as brimming with snappy patter, Old Fashioneds, and a devil-may-care attitude about sleeping with their secretaries. You know, like really hip.
The funny thing here is that the Mad Men are just the sort of worker drones the beatniks and bohemians rebelled against when they came up with the alternative hipster lifestyle in the 1950s.
As every English Lit major knows, to be hip was to live outside of the mainstream, with Beat writers such as Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsburg making it up as they went along; hitchhiking down the highways of America in the late-40s and 1950s, and pushing on to Mexico, Morocco and India. The Beats borrowed ideas from other, more exotic cultures, not to mention the liberal use of marijuana and hallucinogens such as peyote and ayahuasca.
The late author Norman Mailer wrote a famous essay in 1957 called The White Negro on what it meant to be hip: basically, you had to slip into the loose loafers of a black jazz musician, fire up a dooby and swing, man, swing...
So the cynics who invented hip would surely scoff at Mad Men as being the epitome of hip today. But then, those long-gone beatniks never would have dreamed that the zenith of hipsters these days -- Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake -- would have been the manufactured products of the Mickey Mouse Club (!).