Monday, February 6, 2017

Why doesn't American TV interact with issues of class?

In a class I attended this week, the issue of class as reflected in television programs was raised. In modern TV, shows usually are presenting people with comfy, highly paid professions living in huge houses which are, interestingly, usually not realistically affordable for the characters (ex: Modern Family).

Modern Family (2009-present)
How can Gloria and Jay live in this house, in Los Angeles of all places, and afford to do practically anything they want, yet he just sells closets (and Gloria does not work)?

In 2017, the only show I can think of that really discusses, or at least subtly emphasizes, issues of class within a family dynamic is ABC's The Middle. This series takes place in Indiana, highlighting the lives of Americans that reside in normal, "middle" America. This also relates to the argument that Hollywood doesn't pay attention to the average American, focusing solely on people inhabiting the coasts (New York City and Los Angeles) and lives of the rich. Yet, this is a show on primetime ABC that obviously is not about people similar to Modern Family's extended group of characters. Interestingly, The Middle came out the same year as Modern Family, making them competitors for the "must see" family comedy on ABC primetime.

ABC's The Middle (2009-present)

Overall, I find it interesting that American television does not want to really discuss or emphasize class politics and issues that so, in fact, effect many American lives. We love Downtown Abbey (2010-2015), but we seem somewhat ambivalent about discussing anything similar in our television programs.

I'd love to hear if anyone else can think of modern (i.e., twenty-first century) television that discusses class.


  1. Hey Brooke, I think it depends on how you define the discussion of class issues, but I can think of a few tv shows where the characters openly struggle with money:

    Hands down, Bob's Burgers deals with money all the time, and the family discusses real life finances. It's a running joke that the Belchers never pay their wealthy landlord on time; in one Christmas episode, their eldest daughter, Tina, asked for a white board for for Christmas in which the family wasn't sure if they could afford that as a gift; in an earlier episode, in order to pay for their daughter's 13th birthday party (not even an elaborate birthday party- it was at their family restaurant, which the family lives above), Bob, the dad, takes up a side job driving a taxi cab. It's a great example of showing people who actually struggle with money and barely scrapping by.

    Another show that openly deals with class issues is The Oblongs, which discusses class in a more social view. In this show, the poor people literally live in a swamp full of toxic waste that was dumped by the ubber-rich neighborhood, the Hills. While the Hills are a reminiscent of rich-like Jones (all the daughters, for example, are literally named Debbie and look exactly the same), the people at the bottom of the swamp are display physical "deformities" (a VERY ableist term, I know). I don't recall this show discussing money issues like the above show I mentioned, but it starkly showed class privileges and disadvantages almost on daily basis. The show's tagline is "Wake up screaming from the American Dream".

  2. Response: I will say Gilmore Girls attempted to base their story off of a disparity of wealth and class, specifically between Emily Gilmore and Lorelai Gilmore, her daughter. If you don't know the story, basically Lorelai, forever feeling antagonized by the high class rituals of her parent's Old Money ™ gets pregnant at 16 and runs away to a small town. She grows up and raises her child, at first in a shed beside the Inn she works at (this is still all back story), but when we come into the story, she has a whole house to herself and her 16 year old child. While at first the conflict of the story is that Lorelai doesn't have enough money to get Rori (her daughter) into a private school she gets accepted into, she easily receives a "loan" from her parents (Emily and Richard) as long as she and Rori come to dinner every Friday night.

    What then occurs from there is a clash of class, but without the real clash of wealth disparity. What is actually juxtaposed in the story is lifestyle, not wealth. Things like meetings of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Debutant Balls and country clubs force Lorelai to confront a high-society lifestyle which she never wanted to be a part of but which she is forced to allow her daughter to be a part of because of the loan she was given.

    However, Lorelai stills acts in her day to day life as if she has a good amount of money, going out to eat constantly, spending money on wacky, stupid things, going on road trips spur of the moment. And the townies in her community seem to have an endless surplus of money as well. She once easily gets a $30,000 "loan" from a friend who's income is from a diner. 

    Everyone in this world (except Marty, season 5) seems to not actually have real problems with money, but just has the problem of class disparity based on rituals of class. There are moments where money becomes real again, but only in small plots or throw away lines, like in season 4 when Dean has to work three jobs to pay for a car and future condo. Or in season 5 when Marty can't hang with Rori and Logan because he can't pay for sushi. 

    I only know all of this because I religiously listen to a podcast called "The Gilmore Guys"  where they break down each episode, which, yes, is a waste of time but also a great way to "wait" in a "non space" while driving in 30 minutes of traffic every day.