Of Mies And Men

In his Bleat yesterday, James Lileks featured canceled checks and other images of several small midwestern banks from the 1960s, and under the illustration of one, wrote:


Every small-town 60s bank, right here. Tidy, modern. The international style boiled down to its smallest possible shape and seeded throughout the tiny towns of America. As the WPA and other Federal programs spread Depression Moderne style, the banks spread Miesian simplicity.

The above image is from the last episode of the first season of Mad Men, set around Thanksgiving in 1960. I don’t know why I was so knocked out by this shot, except that it reminded me of a bank in South Jersey I worked in for a few months straight out of college. That the shot is a special effect completely fooled me the first time I watched that episode on TV. I had assumed the producers had dispatched the second unit to upstate New York and rented a few vintage-era cars to at least shoot the wide shots. Instead, the show’s location scouts tracked down a midcentury modern bank in Pasadena, and then digital effects were used to matte in the background buildings and wintry landscape behind the hedges. (Note the church in the background, not coincidentally placed both in the center of the shot, and right next to the bank.) On the producer’s voice-over commentary on the DVD, Mad Men executive producer Matthew Weiner explains that January Jones, the actress who plays Betty Draper, was wearing ice packs under her character’s heavy woolen coat, as it was about 100 degrees under the southern California sun when they shot this scene, with plenty of styrofoam snow on the ground.

About the only thing that gives the scene away as not being 100 percent in November of 1960 is the Eurostyle font on the bank exterior; while that font family began in the early 1950s, I think it looks too modern for an early-1960s bank. While there were numerous examples of Miesian-influenced banks sprouting up in the suburbs during that period, they tended to be mated with traditional bank logos for continuity sake, I believe. Check out the examples of bank logos in the above link from James Lileks to get a sense of that period’s corporate aesthetics.


And speaking of the era’s personal aesthetics, morals and mores, in another post, Lileks writes:

What I find amusing is how some believe that the death of civility is a new development.  It started with Joe Wilson and was compounded by Serena Williams. Civility has been chained to a rock getting its liver picked out by buzzards since the golden children of the  Greatest Generation were encouraged to let their freak flag fly, to use a horrid phrase. I read a few blogs that pick apart “Mad Men” – now the show for people to sniff they’ve never seen, and therefore must be overrated – and everyone seems to note the same tremulous undertones of this season, the sense that everything is going to fly apart in a way that’s joyous for some, interesting for others, and unnerving for the old guard who manage to keep up appearances long after their world has been superceded.

Victor Davis Hanson chalks it up to “The Wages of the Sixties” — the post-JFK-era sixties that Lileks alludes to above:

The truth is that a new generation of boors has come of age without sober wise people to teach them how to act. A Rep. Stark or Rep. Wilson, whether left or right, were Sixties people, a generation known for its hip crassness and uncouthness. The baby boomers themselves abdicated the role of elder statesmen, and instead need in their dotage to be taught before they can teach anyone. The proper censors are in the graveyards, a better mannered generation used to hardship and war, whose legacy of  standards we have squandered.

Boors Everywhere

The result? Turn to tennis and we see this week a pathetic Serena Williams in a profanity-ridden rant, because she is being beaten badly on the court and apparently cannot handle the self-induced humiliation, and so goes ballistic over an apparently bad call. I am sure she would have preferred, as in the past, the racist- to the profanity-card, had not the targeted umpire herself been a person of color. Of course, John McEnroe, Ilie Natase and Jimmy Connors set the present low standards in tennis. Ms. Williams is only following in their ends-justify-the-means footsteps. In about a week, her father will weigh in with his customary slurs on spec. Who knows, maybe even McEnroe will claim, “Even I would never do that!”

Steal the Show

Then a buffoonish rapper Kanye hijacks a music awards show, to scream out that he prefers the loser to the poor embarrassed winner, standing mute before him with the trophy. But how can the audience that honors the violence and degradation of hip-hop / rap, then be outraged that they get a live version of such crude behavior before them of what they buy on CDs? Had Kanye only put in a plug for green jobs, he might have escaped without the boos. So we need a Juvenal (‘Who will police the police”) to note the irony of a crass music industry being out-crassed on its formal night out.

Not So Long Ago

The Left is now furious that, as the new establishment, the rules of discourse are not more polite. But from 2002-8, they (Who are “they”? Try everyone from Al Gore to John Glen to Robert Byrd to Sen. Durbin), employed every Nazi/brown shirt slur they could conjure up. NPR’s folksy old Garrison Keiler was indistinguishable from mean-spirited Michael Moore in that regard.

The New York Times gave a discount for a disgusting “General Betray Us” ad. The Democratic Party head Howard Dean flatly said he “hated” Republicans. Hilary Clinton all but called Gen. Petraeus a liar in a congressional hearing. The New Republic ran an essay on hating George Bush (not opposing, not disliking, but “hating” the President). Alfred Knopf published a novel about killing Bush. A Guardian op-ed dreamed of Lee Harvey Oswald and John Wilkes Booth coming back to kill Bush. And on and on.

So What?

No one objected. A Dan Rather said nothing—but tried to pass off forged documents to alter the election. A Bill Moyers piled on. There was no voice of “Now, wait a minute, this is going too far.” Did the Left assume that they were going to be perpetually bomb-tossers, forever on the outside of Karl Rove’s ballyhooed three-decades of Republican supremacy to come?

What Comes Around, Goes…

And then something strange and quite unexpected happened. The Democrats nominated a charismatic African-American, won the presidency, after obtaining large majorities in Congress, and suddenly became the Establishment, demanding respect for the Commander in Chief in direct proportion to their efforts to deny respect to his predecessor. Then just as suddenly two tropes appeared after January 20th of this year:

One—cannot we all get along? We deplore this resort to barbarism and crudity.

Two—if you dare sound off like we just did, then you are now a racist.


As VDH adds, not so fast: “The problem is that the public is not really stupid and has a long memory. It hates hypocrisy as much as it does crudity.” Definitely read the whole thing.

Related: In 1994, the now sadly deceased Irving Kristol discussed “Countercultures” in Commentary. And today at the American Thinker, Scott Strzelczyk wants to know, “Who taught you to lie, call people names, and accuse people of racism?”

Related: Finally, just to briefly return to the original topic of this post before it took a sharp detour, speaking of cool ’60s-era banks, these International Style and Googie-inspired designs in Arizona have definitely got it going on — and then some.


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