Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Not Quite How It Was

     Good Girls Revolt is an Amazon Original fiction series loosely based on a factual book by Lynn Povitch (who was there for it all) about the ground-breaking lawsuit filed by researchers at Newsweek over the magazine's sex-based employment practices* -- and you've frowned. haven't you?  Wait, wait--

     Good Girls Revolt is a lush and generally faithful recreation of a news magazine's office in 1969-70, with a cast better-looking than real people ever are; the women all pretty and the men seem to have been picked for period-actor looks, with a Robert Redford-ish reporter front and center and Martin Landau copy in a supporting role.  Costuming is remarkable, at least to my eye: I was twelve in 1970 and the cast is wearing what I remember as "grownup clothes," note-perfect and often a bit fashion-forward for the time.   They're behaving very much as an office-ful of mostly-young, bright, newsy-type people would have behaved, too.† The office looks about right, too, clunky metal desks, rolodexes, dial telephones and typewriters--

     Then, jarringly, the camera serves a close-up of someone dialing a telephone -- with the writing end of a clicker-type ballpoint.  No, no, you didn't do it that way, because it would scratch the numbers on the dial plate; you used the rounded end where the clicker is and you were more likely to use the eraser end of a pencil or the rounded plastic end of a cap-type ballpoint (boys, you do this to spare your manicure -- still do, in fact).  But there was something else that bugged me about the reporter area and the "pit" where researchers toiled.  Last night the light finally dawned: nearly everyone has their typewriter sitting front and center on their desk, just where you'd put a computer keyboard!

     No, no, a thousand times no.  Those desks have, I'll bet, perfectly good pull-out or swing-out typewriter shelves, set lower than the desktop and with good reason: typewriters are way taller than computer keyboards.  Many of the reporters have IBM Selectrics, the ne plus ultra of its day and still mighty desirable, if your desires turn that way.  But the Selectric's spacebar alone is a good three inches above the surface it sits on, if not more!  Nobody who writes for a living (and most who do so for fun) can comfortably use one on top of a thirty-inch high office desk for long.   And yet every foregrounded character in the series does just that, with Selectrics or full-sized manual typewriters, even researchers who can't be more than five feet tall in high heels.  So here's this wonderful set dressed with new-appearing period pieces and filled with wonderful people in 1969-70 clothing, a past recreated with nearly otaku-level devotion on three levels plus staircases, and on every level, you will need to look carefully to find a typewriter in its proper place. You might not find even one.  

     Story and cast deserve a lot of credit: I didn't consciously notice this until idly watching an episode for the second time as "background noise" while I had supper, when suddenly realization jelled -- and jarred.

     How many things do historical dramas get wrong that we never even notice?
* Men wrote.  Women "researched," which could consist of a full first draft of a story and at a minimum was a file of information they'd hunted up, and then did a full fact-check of the finished story, citing a source for every assertion. This process was routine at news magazines at that time, and yet they could still get things wrong: all reporting is subjective. What wasn't routine was the institutionalized segregation of task by sex; Time did so from the outset and Newsweek followed suit.  By 1969, it was "the tradition."  It was also illegal and had been since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but no one had noticed.  It mostly got ironed after the EEOC complaint and subsequent lawsuit but institutional habits linger and Povitch's book, by no means a screed or polemic, sheds interesting light on just that.

† Well, mostly.  Some of the the people who worked at the real-life Newsweek during that time have suggested the TV series may have downplayed the amount of sleeping around that went on -- which is surprising, considering there's a lot of it at the fictional News Of The Week by modern standards.


Unknown said...

At my one 1 kilowatt transmitter site, well it used to be a 60's-70's-80's and even 90's full fledged radio station with sales offices, studios, bookkeeping offices etc. A sort of classic ranch house style stand alone station. We only use the transmitter room now, but the place looks like one day everyone just walked out leaving files, furniture, cabinets, reels of tape and carts. One office has a gem that I plan on liberating for myself. A genuine IBM selectric typewriter. We recently put a translator 6 bay on the tower and lit up the translator a couple weeks ago....still working out bugs n-nat. gz

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

I still have my aunt's wide-carriage Selectric II. Haven't used it for years, so it's probably gunked up and needs service. Sadly, there's no place for it in my office.

Alien said...

Remember the pens from way back that had ball ends opposite the writing point, designed specifically to be used for dialing a rotary phone? With one you didn't have to set the pen down to dial, just reverse it in your hand.

Douglas2 said...

I got to the line "nearly everyone has their typewriter sitting front and center on their desk" and burst out laughing.

Old NFO said...

I remember typewriter stands that sat at the side of the desk, or a pull out shelf that was 4-5 inches lower than the desktop, that the typewriters sat on. In typing class we had old metal desks that had the typewriter 'hidden' in a side compartment that was spring loaded. You pulled it out and up into place (lower than the desk top).

Tam said...

I had a typing desk at my old place where the typewriter would have gone front and center. Even had the rubber-grommeted hole for the Selectric's cord.

I sometimes miss that desk. :/

Roberta X said...

Did it have a "well" for the typewriter, Tam? None of these desks do. Darned keyboards are nearly at chin level on some of the characters.