Now that TV is the new cinema, is Peggy from Mad Men having the same impact on wardrobes that, say, Grace Kelly once did?
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Truly, we live in – what’s the cliche I’m reaching for? Oh yes – a golden age of TV. What blessed times! We were once humble neanderthals, warming our hairy paws over TV shows like (in Britain) Noel’s House Party, a show that made you feel like you were on really bad acid every week, or (in America) Small Wonder, a sitcom in which a child actor had to pretend to be a robot for four years. Now, look at the art at the tips of our perfectly manicured hands! Last week alone saw the start of the last series of Mad Men, that amazing show about men who drink and do stuff, the end of Better Call Saul, a show about a man called Saul whom you’d better call, and the beginning of the new series of Game of Thrones, a very popular TV series featuring lots of hairy wizard sex.
OK – fine! I admit it. I have managed to not watch any of these shows. And not only those: The West Wing, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Lost – missed ’em all. I only watched two series of The Wire, which is pretty much a sackable offence at the Guardian. I’m honestly not proud of any of this and I certainly don’t see my cultural ignorance as a virtue. I just genuinely don’t understand how so many people have hundreds of spare hours to watch these shows that last precisely FOR EVER.
I have a pretty easy life: I work from home, my only dependent is a small dog who doesn’t need that much exercise and I have a close relationship with Ocado. And yet, even I don’t have the time to commit to these shows. Honestly, what were all of you doing with all your spare hours before box sets came along – trying to find the cure for cancer? A friend recently suggested that these shows are watched by new parents in the evening who are simply too tired to talk to one another, which might be true, but I don’t think that captures their entire audience. For the rest of us, we sad, uncultured souls who know it’s now way too late for us to try to catch up, we can only sit at home, alone, ignored, uninvited to crucial dinner parties, and watch whatever else there is on TV. Some channel, somewhere, must be re-running Small Wonder.
Anyway, leaving this appalling gap in my cultural knowledge aside, our questioner has a point: movies, so the consensus seems to go, are fairly dire these days, made by idiots in Hollywood for teenagers in China, while TV is where the true art lies. Michael Bay versus Mad Men – those are your options, folks. Goodness, no wonder movies are in such terrible shape.
And it is certainly true that prestige TV programmes now attract the kind of media coverage that movies would give their CGI specialist for. Even those of us who have somehow avoided these shows are utterly au fait with them, because they are pored over by fans as though they were reading the runes: the meaning of colour in Breaking Bad! The role of music in Mad Men! The meaning of red in Better Call Saul! And this is all sweet and pleasingly geeky to observe from a distance, but it is also an undeniable truth that none of these shows have had the offscreen impact that films in the past did. Movies spanning the quality spectrum from Risky Business to Annie Hall to Roman Holiday all famously affected people’s actual wardrobes (respectively, Ray-Bans, men’s tailoring on women and full skirts and head scarves.) But Breaking Bad? Well, maybe for Halloween costumes, but otherwise, not really.
Not even Mad Men, with its much-vaunted gorgeous wardrobe and much-interviewed costume designer Janie Bryant, has had any effect on how people actually dress. Banana Republic hoped it would, with its briefly lived Mad Men collection from 2013, but no. I suspect there are two reasons for this: first, audiences are perhaps a little more cynical about this kind of direct marketing than they once were. Second, and mainly, these shows – Mad Men, primarily – are so hyper-designed that they’re really costume dramas, and no one wants to look like they’re wearing a costume in their daily life.
This is no slur against these shows – which are all terrific! (So I hear.) But I do find it interesting that they have impacted on people’s wardrobes less than, say, Flashdance did 30 years ago (leg warmers, ripped sweatshirts). Which is of some comfort to those of us who might not have any opinions on the final scene of The Sopranos but can genuinely recite Flashdance from memory. Who’s lacking in culture now?
Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email email@example.com.