Wednesday, June 21, 2017

On Only Yesterday

In American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson (2016), the filmmakers draw our attention to outmoded technology. The young people who alert the police when they see Simpson on the highway, escaping a warrant for his arrest, use an emergency call box on the side of the road. People don't watch high-definition flatscreen TVs. The show doesn't show it, but I'm sure at least a few people saw the verdict read on the tiny black-and-white televisions you could still see in your friends' basements, barbershops, and the offices of custodians at bus stations in the '90s. In the last episode of the third season of Better Call Saul (2017), which aired on Monday night, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) visits a Blockbuster to grab nine DVDs so she can veg out on the couch. (The scene is set in 2003.) I like it when recently outmoded if not entirely disappeared technology -- there are still Blockbusters in Alaska and you still need call boxes in areas without cell phone service -- are used for dramatic purposes in what are effectively historical dramas.

The shows exist in the recent past and they understand something about how technology is lived, partly because the writers experienced the period. People had cell phones in 1994, but not everyone used them. Netflix was around in 2003, but it was still a few years away from destroying Blockbuster. I got my first cell phone in 1997. It was a pay-as-you-go phone. I had to keep it in my car at all times and could only use it to call my mother in case of emergency. I used it twice in two years. I didn't get a regular cell phone until 2000, which I used with the same regularity I used my landline in my college dorm for the next three years. I last used a Blockbuster in 2009, but I still occassionally use the massive, wonderful Scarecrow Video here in Seattle every now and then.

I'm not sure if movies and shows in the more distant past capture these details so well. John Adams (2008) takes great pains to depict the changing fashions from 1770 to 1826, but weren't there some people in 1820 who still dressed like it was 1795? L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997), on the other hand, takes place in the 1950s, but the movie is smart enough to show plenty of car models from the '30s and '40s which could still be seen in Los Angeles at the time.

The past never stays the same.

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