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Class on TV: Plasma TVs vs. Gov't Cheese


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#1

JerseyExport

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Posted Apr 20, 2005 @ 11:00 AM

I looked and couldn't find a topic that dealt with this exclusively, and I've brought The Race Card: Ethnicity on TV close to being off-topic, so I thought I'd start a thread about class.

What do you think about the cast of Friends living in enormous apartments, their minds unsullied by poor people existing? Does it bother you that on Degrassi, the Sesame Street Posse, as well as their counterparts elsewhere, seems to always be made up from kids who aren't well off? Do you think it's weird that the snotty popular girl's big secret on practically every show ever is that her parents work in the service industry? What shows handled class issues realistically?

I know that in the US, we all think we're average, whether we are living on the cusp of poverty or in a $750,000 McMansion. But TV shows us other things, so I'd like to know what you think.
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#2

Twistie

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Posted Apr 20, 2005 @ 12:00 PM

Great topic!

I know I'm always amazed at the amount of disposable income the 'poor' kids on TV have.

On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xander's father was supposed to be constantly unemployed, but Xander always had money to buy snacks and never seemed to wear the same outfit twice. He went on to spend most of S4 getting fired from one lousy minimum wage job after another, and yet mere weeks after getting into a construction job on the bottom rung in S5, he can afford a giant apartment that's bigger than some houses I've seen.

Veronica Mars is always lamenting her poverty, and yet she can afford to send her mother into rehab, and always seems to have seed money to offer rewards, buy untraceable cell phones, get plane ticket, pay for hotel rooms...I swear the girl must be either catching bail jumpers or dealing heavy duty drugs on the side <JK>.

At least sometimes you see her wear a piece of clothing a second time.

(edited because I really, honestly can spell)

Edited by Twistie, Apr 20, 2005 @ 12:00 PM.

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#3

kostgard

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Posted Apr 20, 2005 @ 12:11 PM

This is something that has always bothered me. I always hated how the "poor kids" on tv shows had better and more expansive wardrobes than the "rich kids" at my high school. Even the kid who got a helicopter for his birthday (yes, really) wore his clothes more than once. I don't think I ever saw "poor" Joey Potter in the same thing twice. She seemed to have piles of little tank tops and jeans that constantly threatened to show her butt crack.

One show that seems to handle this relatively well is Joan of Arcadia. None of the kids got a car for their 16th birthday because their parents can't afford it (with the possible exception of Grace's parents, but she's gone on record stating she doesn't want a car) and you constantly see the kids (and the parents) in the same clothes. And not everyone got a brand new wardrobe with the new season like they do on so many shows - you still see them wearing stuff from last season.

Veronica Mars does a fairly decent job, but it does seem like Veronica has a lot of seed money to fund her investigations, but I always figured she dipped into the Mars Investigations spending accounts and replaced it once she got paid. I mean, she is her dad's secretary/assistant afterall, so I figured she might have access to the accounts or did the books for him. Of course, Keith probably knows all about it but hasn't said anything.

Edited by kostgard, Apr 20, 2005 @ 12:14 PM.

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#4

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Posted Apr 20, 2005 @ 12:25 PM

The financial inconsistencies on BtVS boggle the mind, which is why it was so silly for them to introduce the whole "Buffy has money troubles" late in the series, after we'd already accepted the oxymoronic nature of all the characters' wealth. The cost of repairing all the damage done at the Summers home and Giles' apartment every week would've been huge. And, was Buffy'd dad paying child support all along, or wasn't he? If he wasn't, how could Joyce afford to keep the house, with her gallery job? Anya had a nice apartment full of expensive-looking antiques. Presumably she had acquired valuables over her years as a demon, but how did she manage when she became human? Did she have to get a Social Security card in order to get a bank account? Where did Willow get money to live off of after high school? She never had to get a real job, so she must've gotten from her family -- were both her parents doctors? Why wasn't she paying rent to Buffy? And on and on and on.
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#5

FfrauleinN

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Posted Apr 20, 2005 @ 12:43 PM

I only remember one episode of Friends that dealt realistically with class. They were all at dinner, and a dispute arose over the cost of the menu items and (I think) splitting the check. IIRC, Rachel, Phoebe, and Joey were a little miffed that they were expected to dine at this rather pricey restaurant and then split the check evenly with the Friends who were making more money. Other than that, they were all constantly living beyond their theoretical means. The only thing that was ever explained was Monica affording that apartment because she'd subleased it from her grandmother.
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#6

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Posted Apr 20, 2005 @ 1:09 PM

I actually didn't mind the apartment thing, because that was at least plausible. There was no explanation for how they could afford all the clothes and accessories. Especially Phoebe she was a massage therapist, for chrissakes. And she would be wearing a new coat every damn episode. A coat isn't an impulse purchase for someone on a budget. Most people have to make 1 or 2 coats last a few years.
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#7

nicepebbles

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Posted Apr 20, 2005 @ 1:49 PM

Veronica Mars is always lamenting her poverty, and yet she can afford to send her mother into rehab, and always seems to have seed money to offer rewards, buy untraceable cell phones, get plane ticket, pay for hotel rooms...I swear the girl must be either catching bail jumpers or dealing heavy duty drugs on the side <JK>.


IIRC VM had money for rehab because she had saved up her money from her investigations for the kids at school. That still doesn't explain the fact that her apartment has stainless steel appliances. If your apartment has that, then it costing a pretty penny so they can't be poor. Maybe poor in Neptune is making only $65K/year.

I think Girlfriends handles wealth pretty well. I think all the characters represent the economic status they are supposed to have. I don't pay much attention to whether or not they have worn an outfit only once.

Smallville kills me when it comes to wealth. The Kents own a farm that always seems on the verge of going under and yet, their lifestyle doesn't change. Clark even has a cell phone now. Lana (ick) doesn't work anymore yet she still lives above the Talon. She had money to decorate the place as if she was making that much at the Talon in the first place.

Isn't funny how anyone who owns a house on TV is it because a relative died and left it to them or subleased it to them? When was the last time somebody died and left you $20 bucks?
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#8

FfrauleinN

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Posted Apr 20, 2005 @ 2:25 PM

Especially Phoebe she was a massage therapist, for chrissakes. And she would be wearing a new coat every damn episode.

Hee, that's so true. Phoebe had some truly droolworthy coats, but I know I'd never be able to afford any of them.
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#9

chipper

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Posted Apr 20, 2005 @ 3:25 PM

Great topic JerseyExport!

As I read this thread my mind immediately flashed to Arrested Development which is very careful to keep the image of a rich family sliding into poverty (or at least middle class) from fraying. From Buster wearing his clothes numerous times (oh how I love his velour track suit) to Michael's suits being recognizable repeats to Lindsay's schemings to keep that red dress the audience can believe that they are a 'normal' family (of course I use normal in the sense of clothing/money not any other sense). Even Oscar the pot smoking brother only has two pairs of pants as you would expect of a poor fellow living in a trailer on his worthless lemon groved land. Lucille at the beginning, when she had money, had an endless wardrobe but now there are suits that are reappearing. Also her maid Lupe wears obvious castoffs/clearance items, i.e. the Boo! sweatshirt at Christmas.
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#10

Eegah

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Posted Apr 20, 2005 @ 4:29 PM

IIRC there was also a Friends episode in which Joey, Phoebe, and Rachel were shocked that the better off three expected them to pony up the same amount as them for a birthday present. The EW episode guide said it "exploded the myth" of the show or something, but seeing as things went back to normal the next episode, not so much.

JOA had an episode where a snotty girl is ditched by her friends after they discover her mother's a waitress. Then it turns out she's really not that bad, but is just a more benign version of the chick from Single White Female, not confident enough in her own personality that she has to take on the lives of whoever she's hanging with. Apparently only rich girls can be outright jerks.
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#11

swingkitten

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Posted Apr 20, 2005 @ 4:46 PM

What do you think about the cast of Friends living in enormous apartments, their minds unsullied by poor people existing? Does it bother you that on Degrassi, the Sesame Street Posse, as well as their counterparts elsewhere, seems to always be made up from kids who aren't well off? Do you think it's weird that the snotty popular girl's big secret on practically every show ever is that her parents work in the service industry? What shows handled class issues realistically?



Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi was rich. The kids on that show are supposed to be from pretty average incomes.
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#12

Kev

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Posted Apr 20, 2005 @ 5:42 PM

One exception to the Friends rule was Joey always being broke and Chandler always having to loan him money.

Wasn't it explained in one of the first season eps that Monica's apartment was rent controlled?
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#13

Cress

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Posted Apr 20, 2005 @ 7:33 PM

It was explained in a season 3 episode (which flashbacked to a year before the pilot), where Monica explains to Joey that the place is her grandmother's rent-controlled apartment. A season 4 episode addressed this again, when Mr. Treeger threatened to evict Monica and Rachel, until Joey agreed to practice dancing with him.

A few times they would address the fact that Phoebe grew up in an extremely poor family (she never had a bike as a kid, and her father sold his blood to buy birthday presents), and then lived homeless for many years. They would mention that Rachel's family was extremely wealthy, buying her boats and ponies and such.

ETA: With Joey and Chandler, the DVD commentary on the "bracelet buddies" episode says that the writers were highlighting their different classes; Joey came from a background that thought flashy gold bracelets are great, while Chandler comes from a class that feels such things are tacky and embarrassing.

Edited by Cress, Apr 20, 2005 @ 7:39 PM.

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#14

JerseyExport

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Posted Apr 21, 2005 @ 9:25 AM

Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi was rich. The kids on that show are supposed to be from pretty average incomes.


Yeah, Jimmy is rich, but I'm talking about Sean, Jay, and the rest of the "bad" kids. Even Spinner's initial incarnation was as a bully, and he is also from a working class family, so far as I could tell. Degrassi did do a good job with showing his jealousy of Jimmy and the bad results fairly decently, now that I think about it.
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#15

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Posted Apr 21, 2005 @ 12:05 PM

Hmm, I always thought that Roseanne was the kinda show that showed the lower-middle class as close to reality as possible. The Connors went through plenty of financial hardship, and making ends meet was a persistent theme throughout the series (of course, until the end when they won it big in the lottery). Roseanne always wore that damn chicken t-shirt to death- in fact, I think it was some sort of a running joke, b/c even Jackie started wearing it!
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#16

jackiecarr

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Posted Apr 21, 2005 @ 12:11 PM

Soaps are notoriously screwy about class issues. Of course they have poor and/or unemployed women with endless wardobes.
But they also tend to take place in small cities/ towns, so that the child of a Donald Trump-type and a child of the blue-collar worker making $40k a year always go to the same public schools and college. I went to a suburban public school where you had kids from the projects to kids from upper-middle class homes (doctor/lawyer parents) but no one was taking the private jet to Europe or anything.
They also assume that rich people always look "rich". People hang around the house in designer dresses or suits, high heels, fancy diamond jewelry, and perfect hair and make-up.

Also they act like teens are eager to attend adult black-tie events (Yes, I'm looking at you The O.C. season 1) that have little to do with them.

Edited by jackiecarr, Apr 21, 2005 @ 12:12 PM.

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#17

fictionista

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Posted Apr 21, 2005 @ 12:14 PM

They also assume that rich people always look "rich". People hang around the house in designer dresses or suits, high heels, fancy diamond jewelry, and perfect hair and make-up.


Word! That is so annoying. In fact, that is one of my biggest pet peeves on any show. I like to be confortable around my house. I think that translates to any class. Who walks around their house dressed to the nines?
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#18

tonkacat

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Posted Apr 21, 2005 @ 4:14 PM

Who walks around their house dressed to the nines?


June Cleaver?
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#19

jackiecarr

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Posted Apr 21, 2005 @ 4:47 PM

To continue with soaps:
The working class tend to be noble, unless it's a slutty golddigger girl trying to snag a rich guy.
When a rich guy and poor guy vie for the affections of a woman, the poor guy will always win a rich girl in the long run.
He will win a poor girl 95% of the time. The other 5% of the time he has a hidden abusive side, so she will have to be rescued by her rich prince- whose family never really accepts her.

Poor girls tend to win both rich and poor guys from rich girls.
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#20

LeilaBloom82

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Posted Apr 21, 2005 @ 10:18 PM

Another Friends episode where they talked about money: one of the first ones, where Rachel first moves in with Monica. She has to cut up her credit cards because technically her dad pays for them and she told him she can take care of herself.

Of course, she spends the rest of the next few seasons having wonderful clothes/shoes/hair in spite of the fact that she is a waitress in a coffee shop.

Edited by LeilaBloom82, Apr 21, 2005 @ 10:18 PM.

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#21

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Posted Apr 22, 2005 @ 11:02 AM

On The Nanny (I know. I only watch when nothing else is on.) it always amazed me how everything in the Sheffield house took place in the living room even a wedding. Maybe I'm stereotyping here but don't most rich people have weddings at the country club, a hotel, the enormous backyard, or something? It seems to me that on sitcoms you would never really know the family was rich because everything takes place in like one room and the room is not that grand.
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#22

jackiecarr

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Posted Apr 22, 2005 @ 1:25 PM

It seems to me that on sitcoms you would never really know the family was rich because everything takes place in like one room and the room is not that grand.


IIRC, The Sheffields, and a lot of rich NYC sitcom families live in an upper east side townhouse. It wouldn't necessarily be huge by hi-rise apt. or suburban house standards, but are in an excellent area.
Realistically the wedding would most likely have been at a hotel.

You reminded me of the other rich family accessory- the English butler. (Fresh Prince, The Nanny, Mr. Belvedere (though they seemed more middle class)).
Now I'm a little confused, I figured Max earned his money from being an Andrew Lloyd Webber- style playwright, but I guess like most Amercians I've been programmed to think that British= aristocratic old money.
You'll rarely see a working/middle-class European on American TV, it's always Sir Snottybrooke or Princess Katerina of Fictionovia
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#23

Cress

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Posted Apr 22, 2005 @ 1:32 PM

When Ross was dating Emily on Friends, we also met Emily's male friends who played rugby in the park. They seemed to be middle-class, non-snooty kind of guys. One guy on the rugby team was even missing some teeth.

Part of the premise of Frasier was the contrast between Niles and Frasier and their cop father, and the physical therapist (even though she was treated like a maid/housekeeper) Daphne, who was from Manchester I believe. Snobby values and humor often clashed with working-class values and humor.
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#24

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Posted Apr 22, 2005 @ 2:45 PM

Besides Rosanne, the only other sitcom I can think of about specifically working class people was The Honeymooners, in which money was constantly an issue. As funny as the show is, I find I can't watch too much of it at once because it's just so depressing how their lives never get any better. Although, it is pretty amusing in retrospect how much complaining Alice did over having to clean that tiny apartment. I imagine if they ever got an actual house her head would explode.

Edited by Eegah, Apr 22, 2005 @ 2:46 PM.

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#25

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Posted Apr 22, 2005 @ 2:47 PM

I know I'm always amazed at the amount of disposable income the 'poor' kids on TV have.

On Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xander's father was supposed to be constantly unemployed, but Xander always had money to buy snacks and never seemed to wear the same outfit twice.

But I would say this is art imitating life. Most people I know who are always complaining about being broke and living paycheck to paycheck, or even living in the projects or a bad area...are the same ones carrying Gucci bags, driving new cars with shiny rims that they are leasing, going out to eat on a regular basis and to the club, and wearing new gear.

People live above their means, and are in extreme credit debt to do so. It's the American way. It's only right that the t.v. shows would show this as well.

What's more annoying to me is the fact that there is not really anymore representation of the regular "working class" family, like "All in the Family" or "Roseanne." We have a bunch of middle class or full-on rich folks on our sets, be it "King of Queens," "The O.C." or "The Fabulous Life Of..." showing us real celebrity wealth.
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#26

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Posted Apr 22, 2005 @ 2:51 PM

I was also going to chime in that Roseanne dealt with working class issues perfectly. I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that the rooster shirt did kind of become an inside joke and that everyone on the show wound up wearing it at some point.

Comedian, Louis C.K. just shot a pilot for a sitcom for HBO wherein he is a mechanic and his wife is a nurse and they live regualr working class lives with kids, bills, et al. If it gets picked up, it'll be HBO's first sit-com (complete with live studio audience). I have high hopes for it - Louis C.K. is ridiculously funny and it's HBO so there will be cursing!!
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#27

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Posted Apr 22, 2005 @ 3:05 PM

I thought thirtysomething was the best televised representation of the middle class. They had the look of being well-off, but they also experienced constant pressures and anxiety to pay for everything they had. thirtysomething and Roseanne were not too far apart in how the families would always fear that they were just 1 or 2 paycheques from losing everything.
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#28

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Posted Apr 22, 2005 @ 7:14 PM

I figured Max earned his money from being an Andrew Lloyd Webber- style playwright, but I guess like most Amercians I've been programmed to think that British= aristocratic old money.



Mr. Sheffield was a Broadway producer, but he did come from old money. I think his parents show up and they are the wealthy, aristocratic sort.
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#29

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Posted Apr 22, 2005 @ 10:12 PM

A British butler on The Nanny makes sense, but it was completely inappropriate on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Supposedly, Mr. & Mrs. Banks overcame their improverished backgrounds and worked their way to the top. They wouldn't want someone waiting on them hand and foot, because anyone from that kind of background wouldn't be comfortable being so dependent on someone else. It might be because they became deluded with new money, but Mr. Banks often called back to working his way to the top and Mrs. Banks' sister (Will's mom) was still living in the ghettos of West Philly, so they couldn't be that out of touch with their backgrounds. It just seemed like a really inappropriate choice for this family especially to have a British butler.

It also really bothered me that many of their neighbors also had their own British butlers. I highly doubt anyone in LA would hire old-world staff like this, because it's practically all new money out there. Not to get into race relations or anything, but for SoCal, a Hispanic housekeeper would be a much more realistic household staff member than a highbrow import from England.
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#30

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Posted Apr 23, 2005 @ 12:23 PM

but for SoCal, a Hispanic housekeeper would be a much more realistic household staff member than a highbrow import from England.


ITA, skittl3862. I grew up in SoCal, and the higher income families that I knew all had housekeepers who were from Guatemala or El Salvador. And they weren't live-in housekeepers, either. They came for the day. It sounds strange, but the (now non-existent) Rosa on the O.C. is much more believable than some English butler type.

What do y'all make of Alice on The Brady Bunch? She was obviously of a lower class than the Brady's; her ideal man was Sam the Butcher, not Mike the Architect. As I remember, she had a bedroom just off the kitchen, maybe with her own bathroom? The implication was that she was the chief cook and bottle washer for the Brady's, and that she'd sort of become the surrogate mom for the boys after their mom died, but really, given their family's decidely middle-class milieu was it really feasible that they'd have a live-in, 24-7 caretaker? I mean, the Bradys were comfortable, but they weren't all that, if you know what I mean. Just a regular suburban family...with a live-in housekeeper?
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