Monday, April 25, 2011

Mad Men Mondays: Keeping Up With the Joneses, Younger and Younger

"Keeping Up With The Joneses," according to Wikipedia,

"The phrase was popularized when a comic strip of the same name was created by cartoonist Arthur R. "Pop" Momand. The strip debuted in 1913…and ran in American newspapers for 26 years, and was eventually adapted into books, films, and musical comedies. The "Joneses" of the title were neighbors of the strip's main characters, and were unseen characters spoken of but never actually seen in person. In the 1936 book, "The Next 100 Years", C.C. Furnas notes: "Keeping with the Joneses" descended from the spreading of the peacock's tail. An alternative explanation is that the Joneses of the saying refer to Edith Wharton's father's wealthy family."

Whatever the origin, even amidst our shaky recovery from the great recession, possessions remain bragging points among Americans. How many social situations do I find everyone whipping out their latest gadgets and talking about which ones they were going to acquire next. I don't think anyone's impressed by my flip phone (which the Verizon guy actually told me I was in the 90s for wanting). Perhaps they would be impressed by how much credit card debt I have: none.

More from Wikipedia.

"Social status once depended on one's family name; however, the rise of consumerism in the United States gave rise to social mobility. With the increasing availability of goods, people became more inclined to define themselves by what they possessed and the subtle quest for higher status accelerated. Conspicuous consumption and materialism have been an insatiable juggernaut ever since."

Beyond the fun romp of the fashion, music, films and food of the 1960s featured in Mad Men, what intrigues me the most about the show is the idea of a marketed lifestyle that you should be coveting (regardless of if you can afford it), imprinting loyalty to brands, and how much our happiness is tied to possession and status (so we are made to believe).

What does Trudy desire? A posh apartment Pete, who is just starting out in his career, cannot afford. Don gets a raise: time to start shopping for a flashy new car. The living room in Betty and Don's house? In need of a modern redo.

What's disturbing is the idea of high-end products as status and even entitlements and that ordinary Americans should be living the life of "celebrities" (no talent required) and that concept is being sold on the extremely impressionable youth of America.

Consider passages from this New York Post article on excessive prom spending:

"This year, kids are spending wedding prices for proms," said Rashi Pinckney, manager of Oz Boutique in Forest Hills, Queens. "Everyone wants to be Kim Kardashian or Lady Gaga. It's increased by $500 since last year."

"These kids have taken it to a new level. Everything is taken into consideration, from dress to tanning to hair to after-prom. They don't skimp on anything," says Jon Liney, founder of

"The traditional white limo is a thing of the past, too. Now, it's a $9,000-a-night double-decker Hummer equipped with stripper poles."

Ever watch MTV's My Sweet Sixteen? Kids cheer at the end of some over-the-top lavish party when the gift arrives: usually a Hummer or sports car.

At a movie night out not long ago in the suburban town of Westwood, New Jersey, practically every teen had UGG boots ($150+ a pair), a designer bag, and an expensive smart phone. Are they paying for this themselves? I can't imagine. Should the parents of America be overindulging their teens because that's what everyone else is doing? A question that comes up frequently: Can people really afford this, or is it living beyond their means? It seems to me we're raising a generation of spoiled, entitled brand-obsessed teenagers. If they don't have to work for anything, how will they appreciate it?

Please feel free to share your thoughts.


  1. I can post a comment! I can post a comment! PRAISE THE LAWD!

    Pardon that outburst.

    Anyhoo, I am deeply worried about what consumerism, and particularly the push of anti-social behavior (face always looking at a glowing rectangle, anyone?), is doing to our kids. I'm just not that old, and my childhood was radically different. The marketing towards kids is simply shameful.

    This is a great article I discovered recently on how parents need to step up to the plate, particularly in how their childred dress:

  2. Glad your comment finally went through - I've really missed your two cents!

    I could write a whole other blog post on that CNN link. Push-up bras for 7-year-olds!

    Check out this article on Kotex starting a web site for young girls.

    "A study published in Pediatrics last year found that in the United States, 15 percent of American girls begin puberty by age 7."

    Little girls are acting more like 25 year olds, and so many adults are embarrassingly acting like teenagers - in speech, dress, interests (mindless reality tv) and those gadgets. I see many adults with the just as bad anti-social behavior as children, unable to focus through a meal without pulling out their Blackberry.

    Where are the strong role models for these kids? Who is protecting them?

  3. Oh gosh, don't get me started on the prom spending! I went to a totally ordinary Kentucky high school, and the spending was out of control. One of my close friends spent over $750 on her PROM DRESS, in addition to probably $1,000 worth of jewelry, accessories, hairstyling, makeup, a manicure & pedicure, and of course her share of the limo. (Why we actually got a limo is beyond me). I spent $60 on an off-the-rack dress from Dillard's and looked awesome---and wore it again elsewhere because it didn't scream "prom." I was totally baffled by the prom overconsumption.

    I stumbled upon this older article about Vincent Kartheiser's minimalist lifestyle this morning and thought you would find it interesting:

  4. I wish I had been as savvy as you. I wasted a ridiculous sum on my own, and like much of my spending in earlier years, wish I had the money back. All those hard hours I waitressed – money down the drain for some "experience" that I was sold on. I know a lot of people feel that way about their wedding spending in retrospect.

    Thanks for that article! I love that he's so vocal about his environmental beliefs and about all the consumerism. He's also a vegetarian like me!