It’s impossible to mention The Wire to someone who hasn’t seen it without them bristling about how everyone says they have to watch The Wire. There’s a similar defensiveness around Mad Men, as people seem to think that if they disagree about the quality of the show, they are subject to social sanction.
I don’t doubt that such things occur. At the same time, the dynamic reminds me of omnivores who constantly rail against the self-righteousness of vegetarians and vegans, who are constantly trying to shove their ideology down the omnivore’s throat, etc. I will admit that I have indulged in such rhetoric before, and I was stopped short when a vegetarian asked me: “When has that actually happened?” I had to admit that proselytizing meat-shunners are indeed rare, to say the least. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually met one. No vegetarian has even told me, other than in internet arguments, that I should adopt their dietary preferences. I’ve dated and lived with vegetarians and been free to carry on my meat-eating ways without interference in all cases.
So where does the perception come from? My theory is that meat-eaters systematically exaggerate expressions of vegetarianism or veganism into moral accusations against those who follow other dietary regimes. Simply stating that they do not eat a certain thing sounds like a judgment on those who do. Again, such accusations are vanishingly rare in my experience — most non-meat-eaters go out of their way to draw as little attention to that fact during an actual meal as they possibly can, precisely because they are human beings who understand basic courtesy, etc.
I suspect that a related form of defensive anxiety is going on with the perceived oppressiveness of demands that one watch The Wire or effusive praise of Mad Men. In reality, saying “you must watch this” is an expression of enthusiasm rather than a literal demand. I suspect that the defensiveness around The Wire centers specifically around race — people worry that they will be perceived as racist if they don’t want to watch a show with a majority-black cast.
I don’t really have a theory for Mad Men, but I want this to be a safe space. So I’ll say this: I like Mad Men a lot. I think it does interesting things formally and aesthetically, things I’ve never seen in television before and doubt I’ll see again. But I understand that it’s not for everyone. It’s slow, it’s set in an off-putting milieu, and it often seems to withold the typical satisfactions of television on principle. It’s okay not to like it. It also might not be a form of speaking the truth to power to point out that while all those sheep love it, you never got into it.