1968: august 28, part two
wake up america

mad canon

My training leads me to associate the term "canon" with the literary canon, a construct with which I have often argued (back in grad school, when it seemed that one was required to adopt a stance, I was Mr. Anti-Canon ... not content to expand the canon, I wanted to destroy it). But there is another use for "canon" that is more useful in the areas where I do most of my work these days. To quote Wikipedia, this type of canon, "in terms of a fictional universe, is any material that is considered to be 'genuine', or can be directly referenced as material produced by the original author or creator of a series." The canon I'm most familiar with in this regard is probably the Buffyverse canon, although I'm dreadfully behind the times since the TV series left the airwaves. Probably the most important additions to the Buffyverse canon since the end of the show are the comic books, many written by series creator Joss Whedon ... Joss himself has said the comics are canon.

Mad Men hasn't been around long enough to warrant its own canon, I suppose, but an interesting phenomenon has arisen which makes me think about this topic. Recently, many of the characters on Mad Men started showing up on Twitter, a "micro-blogging" community. Obviously these weren't "real" people ... the question remained, who were they? My first assumption, shared by many, I'd guess, was that this was a case of viral marketing created by AMC to spread the word about their critically-acclaimed but ratings-deprived series. If that was the case, a follow-up question might be, who was pretending to be these fictional characters? Were the actors doing it? Did AMC hire a bunch of interns to do it? Did they hire just one person and have them pretend to be all the characters? You'd think the actors had better things to do, but there have been stories in the past about how when The Office is being filmed, all the computers you see are live and hooked up to the Internet, so, say, Jenna Fischer can post to Pam Beesley's blog (as Pam).

Well, AMC's involvement soon became known, or rather, their non-involvement became known. Turns out these Twitterers were not approved by AMC, who shut them down. At least until they realized the resulting publicity 1) made them look bad, and 2) had people talking about their show. So AMC gave their permission to Twitter, and once again, one can read updates about the lives of Joan Holloway ("Jane finally caught up on typing Mr. Draper's dictation today. She needs to do more to impress him than bat those college girl eyelashes"), Peggy Olson ("Just when think I know how this place works, I'm surprised by the smallest things. I hear there's an office memo that may surprise us all") and Betty Draper ("In other news, Don's arm is almost healed; just swell. I'll be terribly glad when he drives again, though the train is safer, if you ask me").

I guess these aren't canonical ... more like fan fiction. It's kinda fun hearing from Joan, even if it isn't really Christina Hendricks doing the writing.

Addendum from the past ... here is a brief excerpt from the introduction to my dissertation, which was about American hard-boiled detective novels:

For many years, I have fought against the idea that any critic could ascertain some inherent qualities in particular texts that would clearly mark those texts as “good,” “bad,” or “indifferent.” Such qualities always seemed to match the preferences of the reigning kings (and more rarely, queens) of literary criticism, resulting in an institutionally supported canon which changed over time to reflect different preferences amongst the various kings in their eras, but which also paradoxically insisted on the timelessness of their chosen canon. Combining a realization of the changing nature of the canon over time with a desire to promote the needs of the “literary powerless” (i.e., anyone who was not a reigning king of literary criticism), I rejected value hierarchies in favor of personal canons, favorite books which could lay no greater claim than that one or another person found them appealing. You chose Shakespeare, I chose Hammett, but neither of us had the inside track on “timeless quality.”

And then I started reading Mickey Spillane.


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