Not just the facts—why framing matters

by N. Gabriel Martin

Garbage strewn on a beach
by Antoine Giret

It seems to make sense to start investigating any question by looking at the facts. However, often the question of what the facts are depends on what we decide is worth talking about.

In a second season episode of Mad Men the star of the show, philandering drunkard Don Draper, is enjoying a rare moment of happiness with his family at a picnic. Saying “We should probably go if we don’t want to hit traffic,” he stands up, chucks his beer away, and walks to the car. His wife, Betty, shakes out the picnic blanket, letting their trash loft into the air before settling on the well-kept lawn.

It is one of the most effective demonstrations of the difference between the show’s era and our own (the season is set in 1962). With the taboo against littering firmly instilled in me, as it is in any North American of my generation, I felt a twinge of disapproval at Don’s can toss, followed by horror at the trash strewn around the park by Betty’s careless flick of the picnic blanket. Betty and Don’s efficient and graceful motions came at my generation’s mores like a one-two punch. Don’s toss put me off balance so that Betty’s flick could deliver the knock-out blow.

The Dapers’ utter nonchalance convey that what they’re doing isn’t out of keeping with what is proper. The Drapers are anything but disorderly. In fact, good manners and hygiene have been the sole topic of the dialogue of the scene: Don tells Betty to check their hands before they get in the car; Betty tells her daughter that it is rude to talk about money. These are people who are hyper-aware of what is acceptable and what is not, but evidently there is nothing unacceptable to them about the most flagrant littering. Read more »

Remembering Winter

by Akim Reinhardt

Tapping a Maple TreeIn an early episdoe of Mad Men, a character named Ken Cosgrove publishes a short story in the Atlantic Monthly. It'sentitled:

“Tapping a Maple on a Cold Vermont Morning.”

That's just about pitch perfect for the American literary scene circa 1960. The coating of influential New England literati is so thick on the young author, you can practically see it glisten.

But the reason I recently remembered “Tapping a Maple on a Cold Vermont Morning” had nothing to do with Mad Men or literature. Rather, it's because of late I've been remembering winter.

For much of the United States, including here in Maryland, it has been a particularly fierce winter. Not the snowiest necessarily, though there has certainly been snow. But long and cold.

This is my 13th consecutive winter in Maryland, and it's the first one that harkens back to my experience of onerous winters in harsher climes.

From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, I toughed it out, spending the better part of seven winters in southeastern Michigan and another five in eastern Nebraska. These are serious winter places. They're not Siberia or Winnipeg, but they will punch you in the face, and you need to come to terms with that if you live there.

Southern Michigan winters, first and foremost, are just plain long. Snow usually begins falling in November and never quite goes away. Just when you think it might all melt off, boom! Another half foot covers everything. None of this March goes out like a lamb stuff. Every bit of March is winter. So is a chunk of April.

When will it end? you find yourself pleading aloud to no one in particular. It just goes and goes and goes. It grinds you down and forces you to get back up again. Every year you know what you're in for. Body blow after body blow. And you wonder to yourself how the people from northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, the ones who mock you for your soft, southern winters, how do they do it?

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