Is Mad Men The New SATC?


Many fans of the former may hate the latter — particularly some manfolk — but the cultural similarities cannot be ignored.

It had been awhile since we had a television phenomenon like Candace Bushnell’s New York. And indeed, since the series wrapped, there’s not been another show that’s captured the adult cultural imagination to the same degree. Even people who have never seen the show have a vague idea of what the show is, or at least the aesthetics thereof. But this file in the modern pop-cultural canon now has a new entry, and that’s Mad Men, another show that’s gone from a cult cable hit to cultural ubiquity. A few signs:

Whenever we start getting “themed cocktail ideas” from PR flaks for liquor companies, it’s a red flag. Of course, both these shows are natural booze tie-ins: not a single SATC episode passed without the clink of a glass – long after the Girls actually stopped drinking cranberry and cointreau – and in Mad Men, the fake gin might as well get a SAG card. Not a stretch, and a liquor marketer’s dream in both cases. But it speaks to the shows’ entrenchment that these become obvious ploys.

Mad Men‘s mod suiting and wiggle dresses are style icons as surely as were Patricia Field’s whimsical high-low mashups. The name necklace has been replaced by the pen necklace, but the slavish devotion is the same. You don’t need to look to the runways, magazine pages or Halloween parties to see that MM fashion is as strong as was Carrie’s: rather, just look at eBay. I can’t think of another TV show since SATC that’s become its own search-tool shorthand for an entire fashion ethos.

Ignorance doesn’t matter.
Here’s the first thing that got me thinking about the parallels: just as they did with SATC, people talk about Mad Men who don’t watch it. There’s enough cultural saturation that we’ve come to feel a collective sense of ownership, whether someone’s seen the show or not.

Analysis, both fervent and meta.
The other side of the “ignorance” coin is that viewers assume such a level of universal familiarity that they go around making pronouncements about the show’s cultural importance. Just as Sex and the City became a rather reductive barometer for modern women, so too has Mad Men become a jumping-off point for discussions of masculinity, masculinity and recession, “retrosexuality” (yeah, that phrase didn’t really catch on), and alienation.

Creator Familiarity.
Just as Darren Starr, Patricia Field and Candace Bushnell became household names, so too are we starting to know Matt Weiner and Janie Bryant. And when you think about it, that’s weird: it’s only a very few special cases where anyone but insiders and wonks can namecheck a series’ behind-the-scenes talent as easily as they can its stars.

Impressionistic visions of New York City
Young girls who charge Manhattan in wobbly Manolos, with cupcakes and a Sex and the City tour ticket in hand, are by now a cliche. We see signs of this in those who come to New York looking round up a retro cocktail or three — or take a Mad Men walking tour! And if the “Doll, what’s your poison?” line to which I was treated by a dude in a fedora last week is any indication, people are looking to live a new televised fantasy.

The argument is hardly that the shows are the same — they couldn’t be less so. One was lighthearted; the other’s drama. One was often a guilty pleasure, the other’s something of a status-view. But both have permeated the cultural consciousness in a special way that has ceased to be about the shows themselves and is more shorthand for cultural fluency. I’m not just talking about the dolls, the avatars, the Times Square Season 4 premieres, although these things do threaten to bring on backlash. Rather, the show is poised at a dangerous point where cultural fervor is at such a peak that the series might no longer live up to unfairly high expectations — or, like SATC, it may just merrily throw in the creative towel and send a once-significant show to Abu Dhabi. Wherever Mad Men — both the series and its culture — goes next, the world will be watching. In costume, of course.

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