Nostalgia drives 'Mad Men' culture beyond small screen





Even if you haven't seen Mad Men, you've witnessed its influence. Since debuting on AMC in 2007, the cult TV hit has been credited with everything from the return of ladylike dressing to the so-called "menaissance" that has guys choosing tailoring over trouser cleavage, Cary Grant over Kid Rock.

The show, which on July 25 enters its fourth season, is set in the golden age of Madison Avenue -- a time when chain-smoking was in, gender equality was out, and the talk was as smooth as the Scotch. Thankfully, though, it's Mad Men's slick 1960s style -- not its louche social mores -- that's left a wingtip-shaped footprint on pop culture.

Taken together, New York University's Jonathan Zimmerman says viewers aren't watching Mad Men because it affirms any secret sexism they might harbour, but rather because the show enables a kind of self-congratulation.

"The well-to-do pride themselves on their notions of gender equality," says Zimmerman, a professor of history and culture. "They look especially at Mad Men's gender roles and say: 'My goodness, wasn't it barbaric back then?'"

The show's heady visceral appeal has also been vital to its pop-phenom status, with the fashions, props and sets having become characters unto themselves.

"Nostalgia is a profound emotion that affects us in a guttural way," says Zimmerman, a fan of the AMC series. "With just a shot of a corridor or a desk or a type of car, baby boomers can quite literally relive their youth."...


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