I really shouldn’t allude to Strife and Trouble without giving specifics, should I. Should keep mouth wired shut. Well, it has nothing to do with my job, and nothing to do with family; it’s a matter of a soured business relationship. That’s all I’ll say now. A desire for a swift and successful finale is the only thing keeping me from a nine-hour rant, believe me. I’m still furious. But it fades. I got an apology today – a bit late, to say the least, but at least no one’s contesting the particulars. I have learned from it all, though. Be a mobster. When you’re a mobster it’s all pretty simple. You have an entire peer group supporting you, as far as I can tell. Unless they’re also in on it, which seems common as well. So I guess there isn’t any solution, aside from being a really ethical mobster.

Speaking of which –

Well, no, something else first. This week’s Mpls update is the Gopher theater, gone these 28 years. I posted it Wed. night and gave the url in twitter, as an added bonus for those who follow me on that service. You’re asking: what is twitter, and why should I care, and is it one more thing I have to worry about because I’m not doing it and everyone else is and like all the rest of the endless improvements in modern life, it’s something about which I have to construct a gently scoffing attitude? You probably know what it is, of course – microblogging. Blogging at the subatomic level. Or think of it as closed-circuit Instant Messaging. (In fact it makes Ims look like e-mail, now.) I suggest you get twhirl, which can be found here for free; it’s a tiny window that sits on your screen and alerts you to updates from the people you follow. If you follow me, here, you can get little shots all day long without clicking to a special page or refreshing your browser.

It’s one more damn thing, I know, and it irritates me too; the chance of concentrating everything into one place seems more remote than ever. The bleat is here, the blog is over there, the videos are someplace else, the column's up there, the podcast is over yonder,  the twitter is off in the margins. (To say nothing of two experimental ideas I’ve been playing around with, which involve photos and direct-to-YouTube stuff.) It would be nice to have one mike, one stage.

Anyway: the Mpls site concerns the Gopher theater. Some details of the pictures on the site:

Peer closely, friends, and see if you can discern the name of the movie on that sign outside the theater.

Time was every American knew what the steering wheel of that car felt like on a cold day, and how much work it took to turn it.

Three buildings here. Only one remains. More here.

Re: mobsters.   I wrote last night on twitter (I refuse to say “I tweeted,” because it sounds like toddler-talk for flatulence) that I thought “Mad Men” would end up more highly regarded than “The Sopranos,” and it wasn’t just the late night and the well, wow factor the last episode left me with. It’s the same kind of show – episodic, layered, one big arc sheltering a dozen small plots – and it also deals with a Big Subject, but there are crucial differences. That means a long “Mad Men” essay follows, so if you don’t care, well, farewell! See you at (And Twitter.)

Nearly everyone in “Mad Men” is a likeable character in some ways despite their flaws, and nearly everyone in “Sopranos” was mostly unlikable but redeemed for the moment by plot and dialogue. I suppose that’s why the latter was lauded; there’s something perverse and vicariously appealing about caring for bad guys. Aren’t we naughty.  But even the not-so-bad people in the Sopranos were unappealing, really; the wives were all shrews content to float along on murder money, the kids were empty shells, and the mobsters – while always fun to watch and listen to – were cruel men without qualities, only tics. Did anyone care if Christopher fell off the wagon? Anyone care about anyone, except whether they would be the Whacker or the Whackee this season? When you think about it, the grand tale of modern mobsters yearning after a bygone time when they had the nabe in their hands is a little like post-Communist block captains lamenting the end of the Soviet Union. Cry yourself a river. Put on the Sinatra and deal with it.

The show gets smaller as we get away from it, and in a way you start to feel a bit abashed for having gotten sucked in. “Mad Men” inhabits a far more interesting world, has people making an honest living, dealing with art in a quintessentially American way  - through commerce – and takes place at the same time as the Soprano’s good old Good Old Days – except these guys aren’t stealing or hurting or killing. They don’t have any good old days; these are the good days.

The primary characters are superior. Don Draper is a better main character than Tony Soprano, period. Smarter, deeper, remote except when he’s not, but even then he holds back. Mysterious past, better father than Tony, better taste in paramours. He doesn’t have neuroses; he has problems. Tony would take Valium; Don would come up with a great campaign to make Tony feel good about taking it. Even though Tony would know it was BS, he’d repeat the tagline if someone saw it on his bathroom shelf, if only to laugh it off.

The most important distinction, perhaps: one is a cruel man. The other is a man capable of cruelty.

 His wife is the flip of Carmella – as the years pass, frankly, I’d prefer the rich-girl sulk ‘n’ snit to having Carm spit out venom and toss a plate. Sterling and Cooper are the bosses – you could even say that crazy old Cooper is the Uncle June of the show, but again, he’s the flip side, all strange smiles and Zen-flavored Randian calm. The guys in the office are the crew, but unlike the mobsters slouching around the back of the Bing cursing and eating and preening, they’re clever sorts -  young, anxious, cavalier, full of themselves but aware of their position in the organization, and their interchangibility. Really, if the fact that they don’t dese-dem-dose their dialogue while contemplating the finer points of stealing cigarettes from a truck makes them less interesting, then we’re a bit too steeped in the romance of the gangster.

As far as depicting a culture, well, the world of the Sopranos was narrow and dank; the world of “Mad Men” is far broader, and the lack of a criminal context frees it up to inhabit the world where most people live. There was more in the simple relationship between Peggy and the priest in the last episode than in a dozen episodes’ worth of Carmella’s self-indulgent anguish re: the young priest who came over to watch movies and get loaded on red wine.  The points were made with great economy – a scene, a wordless shot, a symbol.  Which is another feature of the show: it gets a lot done every week. The pace is laconic, but each episode is packed.

In short: it’s better than the Sopranos. As for the Wire, Deadwood, and Rome – those shows exist on another level. To add to the perversity here, I’ll say that Deadwood and Rome will be held in higher regard, too – the Wire was one of those shows where you really had to be there, and outside of its run it’s almost too exhausting to go back to it. Deadwood and Rome ended too soon, but that kept them from being what all shows end up being: captives of their own narrative weight.

He said, ponderously.


New Mpls, as noted. See you at!