I’ll keep this brief.
Awhile back I wrote a post about the controversial show Girls and the way we talk about it, and particularly Todd van der Werff and Alyssa Rosenberg’s considerations of sexist criticism of the show. Van der Werff has written a long extension of that conversation, adding and developing many of the issues at hand. Yet I think I said everything necessary in my first post: the consideration of sexism is necessary and righteous, but van der Werff’s relative silence on poverty and class reflects both the problems with this kind of pop culture commentary and with Girls. Why is van der Werff capable of writing so passionately and so long about sexism, but mentions class issues in a single, dismissive paragraph? Because he knows women who are the victims of sexism (that would be all the women he knows, incidentally) and so he can generate sympathy and outrage. I would suggest that the refusal to react accordingly to the total marginalization and invisibility of of the poor stems from the fact that the poor are marginal and invisible to him.
And that’s the condition of our pop culture today: it is produced by, and professionally analyzed by, people for whom the poor essentially don’t exist. Their political anger is bounded by their personal empathy, and no poor people exist within that sphere. There are a few of them that can transcend those limits, and Rosenberg is one of them, so I hope she will look a little closer at Girls and its classism soon. I want art and criticism that speak to the entirety of the human condition, and until we get depictions of poor people in our popular media, I can’t have them.
There is a certain irony that for years the Right and LEFT often criticized Chomsky’s theories of media corporatist bias, the underlying critical tenents of marxist and post-modern criticism, critical race/gender scholarship, yet those methodologies, if not many of the particular conclusions have become ideas of accepted weight in generalized discourse. This is not a criticism, but merely a commentary. The fact that so many people can now tune into the notion of systemic and often unconscious class and race biases is a testament to the intellectual courage of the purveyors of that thought in the 20th century. (That is not to say that there is not a ton of hack scholarship in those areas.)
I have never seen “Girls”, but I have been poor. After a middle class upbringing and good education, I went through a period of real poverty. (My family had disowned me because they didn’t approve of my non-white boyfriend.) I didn’t know how to get a job, and my boyfriend’s work was spotty at times, so we had some serious issues with money, or rather, lack there of. Do you know how hard it is to find a job when you don’t have a dime to buy a paper? When you don’t have the right clothes and you don’t have any money to buy them? Sure, there was help available, if we had known how to get it. When I finally did get a job, I had to hitchhike across town to get to it because I didn’t have bus fare.
Of course, I had two things going for me that lots of poor people don’t. I had an education, and I knew there was another kind of life because I had lived it.
Being that poor was hard, but it was very educational. I’d like to condemn everyone who wants to go into politics or punditry to a month of living like that, and let’s see what that does to their mindset. (Oh, and make sure their electricity gets turned off, too.)
The absence of poor, or even true working class people in today’s popular culture is just another sign that we have become an extremely unequal, harshly stratified society with very little in the way of real class mobility. If you study the art and literature of other such unequal societies you will the same lack of positive depictions of working people.
Take the etymology of the word villein, for example. The word originally referred to villagers (not in our Village media context), rustics, and simple working people. Because most medieval literature treated simple working people with, at best, contempt, the negative connotations of the word villein took over until we are left with the meaning we have today. Simple working person=Bad Guy.
Try out Shameless, or the Wire. Both great shows, both expose some of the shittyness of being poor and not being a part of mainstream society.
You’re right that most shows don’t actually have anything resembling a good representation by class, but some of them are out there. And Girls was never going to be about that anyway, so why should I ask it to be something it’s not?
I’m not defending Girls, though I’ve watched most episodes, I just don’t think it represents anything more than the ridiculousness of “white people problems”. Even having lived in Williamsburg I can’t relate to the decisions being made by the girls in the show. If you’re just springboarding from Girls to a critique of TV in general, then I’m with you and I’ll get off your case!
I wish people would stop referring to the vintage-coifed shiterati of North Brooklyn et cetera as “the cool kids” and just refer to them as what they essentially are: the rich kids. Young people who need to work are legion but increasingly invisible.
“that’s the condition of our pop culture today: it is produced by, and professionally analyzed by, people for whom the poor essentially don’t exist”
You believe this is worse than it was in the past, I take it. Do you think it’s a product of our increasingly stratified society, as beltane says?
@beltane: I had to look it up to believe you, but that is some really interesting etymology. Also, I agreed with your post.
Criticizing television for not depicting poor people is perfectly fine. But it is also not the case that every show must depict the lives of poor people. I don’t understand why Girls has been singled out here. It’s not the world’s greatest show, but it’s not the worst either. It seems that the only reason this debate about depictions of the poor is happening with respect to Girls is because Girls was so overhyped as a show to begin with. When you realize that there is no more reason to care about Girls than there is to care about, say, Cougar Town, then the debate becomes kind of silly.
@superking: Precisely. I mean, what exactly is an example of the “classism” in Girls? As far as I can tell, it’s simply the fact that it exists and other, perhaps more honest, depictions of Americans, do not. But what does that have to do with Girls or the culture of sexism that surrounds its discussion on the internet (which has also been blown out of proportion due to the enormous amount of attention this show gets relative to its audience size)? There are a million shows about privileged white people on TV. Why does a discussion about Girls have to be a jumping off point to talking about this phenomenon? What the fuck, to put it simply, did Girls do to you?
@superking: But that’s my point: it’s not that Girls deserves this criticism where no other shows do. It’s that in defending Girls, people are uniquely dismissive of class issues.
@superking: Yeah, I’m not sure why this particular show is being singled out from among all the other non-representative crap on TV. Maybe if they had just called it Rich Girls there wouldn’t be so much of this angst.
This and shows like it just remind me too much of what this was making fun of.
@Craig: Girls didn’t do anything to me, and I never bothered to talk about it until it became the vehicle for people to rail against sexism in a way that totally dismisses the possibility of classism.
I have no more beef with the show than I do with many others. I watched three more episodes since I saw the first three, and I had about the same reaction to it: it’s not for me. I admire Lena Dunham for getting it made and for putting her vision out there.
The problem is that by talking about any negative reaction to the show as an act of sexism, people like van der Werff insist on a kind of universal appeal for the show, which itself is predicated on the fact that van der Werff is an educated, upwardly-mobile white person who thinks that shows for and about educated, upwardly-mobile white people are going to be appealing to everyone. He has a hard time imagining criticism of the show that isn’t at least partially based on sexism. I’m saying that this is dismissive of a very basic rejection of the show: that it presents a very narrow viewpoint of the world. That viewpoint just happens to be the one that is shared by the people who write our pop culture criticism.
You know what? I don’t want to see poor people on tv. I can just have a look in the mirror. Being poor is boring. It doesn’t have much of a plot line for a show.
I would suggest that the refusal to react accordingly to the total marginalization and invisibility of of the poor stems from the fact that the poor are marginal and invisible to him.
I would suggest that someone who works for the AV Club, even as an editor, is not only not rich, but not even making a comfortable middle-class income.
I understand your criticism in a broad sense, but not how it applies to Girls specifically.
They live in New York. Practically by definition these girls are not poor. The show doesn’t have anything to do with poor people and bears no conceivable responsibility for the dearth of depictions of working class life on television.
You are pretty much shamelessly piggybacking your own personal hobbyhorse onto a popular and controversial show in a completely nonsensical fashion just to get page views.
Culture of Truth
I don’t buy it. Compared to.. 30 Rock, Mad Men, True Blood, The Office, Fringe, that Swedish cop show everyone raves about…? Of all those shows, Girls shows people struggling for lack of money.
I think this criticism of “Girls” is sexism on a meta-level. Most shows are about guys. Most movies are about guys. For the most part those escape the expectation that they be somehow more representative and fair.
I don’t think either van der Werff or Rosenberg ignores that there are other avenues through which people have criticized Girls (aside from those who just don’t like it, which is sort of beside the point).
But since there is a group of people who are vehemently objecting to Girls utilizing a variety of approaches, including the show’s perceived classism, without apparently getting worked up about basically every other prestige television program of the past fifteen years except The Wire* for similar faults, it makes sense to presume that there’s something else going on.
* Some of these shows do acknowledge the existence of class issues, but not head on and not as part of the main point of the thing: Breaking Bad (my favorite show of the moment) began by grounding itself in the difficulties of a middle class family struggling to cope with the catastrophic financial implications of a cancer diagnosis, but while the idea that universal health care could’ve helped the White family is in the background somewhere, the show has gone on to make clear that Walter White is making meth, at this point, for reasons that have nothing to do with wanting to keep his family secure once he dies, and probably never did; that’s just the lie he told himself. Game of Thrones engages with class politics to the extent that it is aware that wars are shitty for the people whose land the war is happening on, and that being disempowered in a pseudo-medieval setting (by class or gender) is an invitation to abuse and lots and lots of rape. Justified (my 2nd favorite of the moment) has something to say about class insofar as it deals withthe consequences of living in an insular and marginalized culture. Many other shows have glancingly dealt with the idea that some characters have ill-defined “money problems,” but so does Girls. Lots of shows to some extent feature the struggle for money and power, but almost entirely inside a privileged context. So, arguably the most lauded dramatic show of the moment, Mad Men, has had in my opinion absolutely nothing to say about class issues, and in fact poor people might as well not exist on the show since Carla’s dismissal in Season 3 (right?). But while I’ve seen people criticize the show for not engaging with racial issues, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it impugned for not dealing with class. Doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, of course, but since it’s not hard to find people going after Girls for pretty much any reason, it’s perfectly understandable to be skeptical.
@Freddie deBoer: This reminds me of an argument I has with Matt Stoller on Dkos back in 2008 where he attacked my support for Obama over Hillary in the primaries, saying that I could not relate to the struggles of upper-middle-class Baby Boomer women like his mother. I had to concede the point, because as the daughter of a single-mother growing up in what used to be politely termed “genteel poverty”, I can honestly say that the struggles of rich people are something I cannot easily empathize with.
The utter blindness regarding class conflict is, sadly, pervasive among many otherwise well-meaning liberals, and this blindness has inadvertently aided the right-wing’s attacks on women’s most basic rights.
Do you honestly believe that this is what van der Werff is saying? That if you asked him the question, “do you believe that all criticism of Girls has some degree of sexism in it?” that he would answer in the affirmative? You are taking the most uncharitable reading of his post and projecting it onto your own discomfort about Girls (a discomfort which I share, inasmuch as I believe that Girls is a boring show about privileged people that I do not care to watch).
Anyone who has spent any time looking at the backlash to Girls can’t help but talk about the sexism that runs rampant through it. That obviously not not mean that all criticisms of the show are sexist, or that those who talk about that sexism are dismissing those criticism, simply that there is a volume and a tenor to the sexism that absolutely can’t be ignored. If you want to criticize Girls then you should criticize it on its own terms, instead of engaging in this silly meta discussion about what the critics of the critics are saying. The discussion of the show by critics has already gone pretty far up its own ass; why blaze new trails into the deeper recesses of its colon? Just ignore it, like most of America is doing.
Let me lay this out.
1. Girls has been the subject of a lot of discussion, a lot of it sexist attacks on the show.
2. Some pop culture writers have defended the show against sexism, which is admirable, but have done so in a way that reveals deeper problems with our pop culture and its analysis.
3. Those problems stem from a basic, unhealthy dynamic: both the people who make art and media professionally and the people who analyze art and media professionally come, in overwhelming majorities, from a very thin demographic slice: educated, financially secure, upwardly-mobile, and concerned with a certain kind of contemporary class and culture signalling.
4. Girls isn’t my cup of tea, but that’s not saying much in and of itself. I admire Lena Dunham for making the show, especially considering that she is a woman in a very sexist business. There are plenty of shows I like less, and some I like more. Taste is subjective. I feel like it’s totally possible to do both: to not be a big fan of the show and simultaneously find it admirable that a show about women, by women, is getting a prominent spot on a prominent network.
5. My own lack of interest in the show– which, again, is a very small and inconsequential thing– is connected to my political problems with how we talk about the show. It’s a show about a particular point of view, and that’s a point of view that is dramatically over-represented in our media, and because of that over-representation, I’ve had my fill. But because that point of view is the same point of view that is shared by people who criticize our media, there’s this false notion that the point of view is somehow universal.
6. When van der Werff dismisses most criticism of the show as basically sexist, he ignores the fact that a very understandable reason to not care for the show is that it comes from a perspective that might not speak to everyone (as any show does). When he then references those class issues in a single paragraph and waves them away, it frustrates me, and I believe is indicative of why we can’t have a larger set of perspectives in our media.
7. Nobody is obligated to want media that includes poverty; nobody is obligated to consume that media; nobody is obligated to enjoy it; nobody is obligated to take it more seriously than any other. For me, I think that movies and TV would be far more enjoyable and more artistically pleasing if there was a broader set of perspectives being shown.
His other hobby horse is, all majors are created equal, for example there is no difference in majoring in physics or philosophy. Just as in the case above, he does make some good points but then goes on and on about it, till we all drop dead of
I guess he is just living up to his name, Freddie de Bore.
As for calling Conor wordy, pot meet kettle.
I don’t have HBO and will likely never see an episode of Girls.
I applaud it for being such an unwitting example of white privilege though.
Based on our entertainment offerings, you’d think New York must be about the whitest place on earth.
@schrodinger’s cat: Oops sorry FDB did not call Conor wordy, that was mistermix. My apologies.
I mean, I’m willing to take lots of criticism, including the notion that my anxiety about the show is at least partially a result of sexism. That’s probably swirling around in there somewhere. But to say that I’m only doing a class analysis in this particular case because it’s a show about women doesn’t really fit with what I’ve written about before. I always talk about class. In regards to everything.
The show is bad because it’s not particularly well-acted or written. That the lead does nudity and sex scenes may be daring, but it doesn’t necessarily make the show good. At its core, it has to be interesting (and hopefully unique), but it is neither.
I’ve never seen Girls so I can’t comment 1st hand on the actual show.
What galls me though is how some folks think every entertainment device must fall withing their political views.
That isn’t just shallow and a tad self centered but stupid as well. Entertainment doesn’t always have to parallel to what is optimal, and if it always did, it would be dull. Sometimes we enjoy things we would never do or consider doing when watching it play out in a fictional sense. Why is this a wrong thing? It isn’t. Get over yourselves.
Culture of Truth
So this is basically all about what someone named van der Werff may or may not have said about “Girls”
@Craig: Listening to a Bill Simmons podcast yesterday and Dunham was on. She is completely clueless as to how her lineage and parentage have helped her. “No one know who my parents are without Wikipedia” was one of her awesome quotes. While that may be true I bet the people who help her sure know who her parents are. I don’t know if she did not have connections this and her maternally financed movie would not have been as easy to accomplish, no? This is also the show that is being hailed as the voice of a generation. I know “Girls” around this age, and they sure the fuck don’t have the time or the money to approximate what this show seems to portray. I also know none of them are going to be rubbing shoulders with Judd Apatow, Brian Williams, Bad Company’s drummer, or David Mamet at some event any time soon. Three of those people just so happen to have daughters starring on the show and the other is producer. What a coincidence. I am sure some aspiring filmmaker in Omaha will have the exact same opportunities and chances. I think this show just really rubs these facts in people’s faces, which is kinda shitty. Is it all just sexism and jealousy? I don’t know, but no one was all defensive when people said the same shit about Sex in the City. I know, someone is next going to counter this comment with, “What about Entourage, huh!?!!” Let me save you the time, Entourage is fucking awful. Always was and always will be.
I’m with you, Freddie, on much of this. (But I’m also sexist, so.) I find Girls unwatchably privileged. Now, I don’t find, say, Seinfeld, unwatchably privileged–though of course it was, more than Girls.
I think the differences is that Girls is being widely read as socially meaningful, maybe as socially responsible. That’s the difference. That’s why criticizing Girls along class lines makes more sense in this discussion than criticizing Sherlock does.
But on the other hand, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a show by a woman about women is saddled with the responsibility to be responsible. Reminds me of the complaints about Spike Lee always writing about black people.
@Culture of Truth: Is that Art Vandelay’s cousin?
Culture of Truth
@schrodinger’s cat: Yes but he makes lycra and lycra-related products
So, you’re complaint is that your criticism of the show as being classist is being dismissed as being sexist when you’re not being sexist? Ok, that’s fine.
My problem, per my earlier comment, is that I don’t feel a need to criticize shows for not representing class. It takes a special show, for the most part, to actually represent class effectively, but shows that try to do it do exist. Off the top of my head, there was The Wire, My Name is Earl, in the past few years. Fox had Malcolm in the Middle, and now has Raising Hope. King of the Hill was essentially about a family in the lower-middle class. CBS is running a show called Two Broke Girls.
The problem is that some of these shows are good and some of them are bad. I’ve never seen an episode of Two Broke Girls, because I hear it’s a shit show for a bunch of reasons that don’t have anything to do with class.
I haven’t read all the criticism of Girls, but I’ll click through and read the posts here in a minute. At the end of the day, Girls is going to be subject to the same criticism that every other show is. Personally, I think there are some moments that are comic genius. Those moments come up when the show stops worrying about all it’s characters feelings and treats them like the absurdly selfish people that they are. For example, the scene where Hannah’s crazy boyfriend pees on her in the shower. I was rolling on the floor.
You might have heard of another little show that did exactly this sort of humor. It was called Seinfeld. A hard truth, though, is that Girls just isn’t as good as Seinfeld. It has its moments, but the writing and stories just aren’t as well tied together. Seinfeld often gave you episodes that put out three or four threads, and then wove them together like a Turkish carpet. Girls doesn’t do that very well, but the characters and their problems are fairly similar. Does Seinfeld deserve the same class-based criticism as Girls?
i don’t know that it’s sexist to say that a vapid, shitty show is a vapid, shitty show.
So when is the last time someone pointed out that Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the daughter of a billionaire as a means of criticism (instead of just saying “holy shit, did you know Julia Louis-Dreyfus was the daughter of a billionaire?”).
The point of “nobody knows who Lena Dunham’s parents are” isn’t to say “I have never benefited from the circumstances of my birth,” it’s to respond to the notion that was and apparently still is floating around that Girls is somehow uniquely compromised because most of its cast was born to successful people with careers in the media or arts – another critique that I really don’t see people making about other folks in Hollywood who are the kids of successful people. (And even aside from people whose parents were also in the arts or media fields, a disproportionate number of people who wind up in Hollywood seem to come from homes with above average income. Is this a thing worth discussing? SURE. Why is Girls the only context in which people discuss it?)
Freddie, what are you looking for? A laugh track as two people who used to be in love fight over bills? Or another tv show about a white girl teaching in the tough school and bringing out their inner beauty? I know you’re nOt being that crass, but it doesn’t exist or it’s not entertaining. It’s depressing and it sucks and people don’t want to watch it. Shit, poor people don’t want to watch it.
Culture of Truth
But do you talk about everything in regards to class? If I had to guess, I would say people are hobbyhorsing onto “Girls” because people are talking about “Girls.”
@Cacti: “I applaud it for being such an unwitting example of white privilege though.”
This is all wrong. The show is perfectly aware of “privilege” issues. That’s what it’s about. The people are meant to be unlikeable, shallow, sheltered and lost. Why can’t people see this? Why do people think the main characters in a story are necessarily supposed to be heroes? Did no one take English in high school? Are there really people out there saying, “I just can’t empathize with this Patrick Batemean character”?
All in the Family, Good Times, The Waltons, and Roseanne didn’t really have problems with plot lines.
I think Preston Sturges won this argument in “Sullivan’s Travels.”
I’m personally a lot less worried about the lack of shows on TV about poor people than I am about the fact that middle-class people I’ve known my entire life don’t even know anyone who’s ever been on food stamps. Lots of ink got spilled over white flight and segregated housing/neighborhoods; here in the past few years there has been some spilled about gated communities. But I’m not even talking about people who are well-off enough to live in gated communities – I’m talking about folks who are so insulated in their circumstances and circles that they don’t even know anyone worse off than they are. Grow up middle class, go to college, remain middle class, go to work for a non-profit that is trying to address the needs of poor people…see the problem here? I’ve had some pretty serious arguments with my best friend of 45 years over this topic. It’s one thing to believe that you are capable of empathizing with the poor, but when you’ve never once faced the prospect of not being able to make the house payment, much less afford food for your kids, you can’t know how desperate that feeling is. And that’s the way at least 25% of the working people in this country feel every day; if you don’t even know any of them, you can’t begin to understand the level of stress they carry with them every day of their lives.
Culture of Truth
@Pete: I used to hang out in a chat room about “Lost,” and I swear about half the regulars would say “I hate Jack because he’s a bad leader” or “I can’t the show because Jack is a jerk now.” I would wonder, is that your criteria, – only tv shows with ‘good leaders’? Weird.
@Medrawt: “Girls” backlash, and then the backlash to the backlash, and then the backlash to the backlash to the backlash, has become something of a self-sustaining entity. Loads of people who never engage in meaningful TV criticism otherwise have decided to take a stand on “Girls” and what it means about our broader society. Critics like van der Werff, who are actively engaged in the process of TV criticism, have noticed this trend and asked, very simply, why is this? Why is “Girls” something that so many people have latched on to to deliver broadsides against, people who are generally more than happy to simply ignore TV that they don’t like? Well, it’s certainly a show about privileged people. So, as superking mentioned, is Cougartown (to use just one of many, many examples). It’s a show about white people in the city with a distinct lack of diversity. So is Gossip Girl (a show which gets similar numbers to Girls, but which no one gives a flying fuck about). And it’s a show about women, made by women. And that’s the thing about it that’s unique; even Two Broke Girls, a show about women created by a woman, is overseen by a man. So when TV critics see so many people using Girls as a jumping-off point to make criticisms about those other (non gender-related) problems that the show has, problems that aren’t by any means unique to it, when they are usually happy to ignore TV, then it makes them wonder just what, exactly, is going on here.
@Rafer Janders: You raise a good point, though.
Back in the 50s, the most popular show was about a regular working stiff – Ralph Kramden, bus driver. These days the most popular shows are about vapid rich people (“real” housewives) or poor people who win singing competitions so they can become rich people.
There does seem to be an abundance of shows featuring characters who don’t seem to ever have to worry about money and other such issues unless it’s a temporary plot device, but I believe we went through a similar cycle of “rich people” shows in the 80’s as well, which eventually led to shows like Roseanne and Married with Children being created as counter-programming. Then those shows spawned their imitators, some good and some bad, which wore out their welcome and led to the uprise of Friends and ITS imitations. So the cycle goes. Hopefully, we will see more Raising Hopes or a new genre of shows that tackles the issues Freddie is writing about in a way that is both entertaining and thoughtful.
I’m wondering where all of the class-based criticism of “Modern Family” is. Hasn’t anyone ever noticed that all three of the families portrayed on the show are able to live on a single income and have a stay-at-home spouse?
Another show with race issues, but in this case, using the non-white supporting cast as walking props. Two-dimensional stereotypes that are there as a punchline.
“You can’t tell an Asian he made a mistake – He’ll go in the back and throw himself on a sword”
cue laugh track
Culture of Truth
Dunham’s charcter does worry about money a little bit. She got cut off from her parents and so took a job where she was groped by lecherous laywer. She quit and was supported by her roommate, but the topic came up, which is never did when George Costanza was unemployed.
slim's tuna provider
@Pete: lots of people make this point, but to me the show’s criticism of its dumb rich people is not at all obvious. compare, for example, PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories — there, all the rich idiots were proper rich idiots, and there was no confusion about whether they were rich idiots. it’s not clear “girls” is like that — we ARE supposed to emphasize with shoshana.
@Cassidy: I don’t know about you or the general viewing public, but the reason I never personally watched shows that had the white teacher ministering to the inner city school was because it was a bunch of pandering bullshit with unrealistiof portrayals of the teaching profession.
Off-topic, but that reminds me of how I read that the teacher the movie Dangerous Minds was based on was pissed off that they sanitized her experience for the film, especially the part where the movie teacher uses Bob Dillon to teach the kids about poetry when the real-life teacher used the rap or hip hop music the kids were actually listening to.
@Culture of Truth:
And at the tender age of 26.
@Culture of Truth:
Did I dream the episode about George dealing with the unemployment office? Or the season that he moved back in with his parents?
Feel free to make some pop culture about poor people.
@slim’s tuna provider: *And* we’re supposed to see her as hopelessly naive. Certainly she’s not meant to be bad, but she is clearly written to be ridiculous. As are all the characters. I’m not sympathetic with your argument that the show isn’t obvious enough. Black and white shows are ham-handed and boring.
You mean a bunch of Gen-X urban kids weren’t enthralled with Bob Dylan?
Surely you jest.
Judas Escargot, Your Postmodern Neighbor
Hey, have a heart. Some of these women are really struggling out there. The BMW or the Lexus? Latte or Macchiato? Coach or Dooney & Bourke? Should we hire the Latino nanny, or the Asian one?
Imagine the sheer existential horror of them being forever burdened by the knowledge that they will never be rich enough to have the dressage horse, the boat, AND the private school for their kids all at the same time.
So many decisions to make, so little time.
It must truly be a horrible struggle to live in such hopeless squalor. Maybe BJ should start up a charity for them.
Culture of Truth
@Dan: Good point, well-take, although he never seemed to struggle very much. Anyway I love Seinfeld (I even made a lycra joke above!) so I don’t mind, obviously.
Re “Girls” I think it also gets more criticism since it seems to strive to a kind of realism about how people live now, which 30 Rock and Seinfeld did not do. What their ambition was, they were successful at. For all I know Girls is realistic, for its narrow cohort, but that only some people, I’m sure to say, “ok, but who cares”?
@Mnemosyne: Yeah, and that’s a show that gets big numbers and is part of the mainstream conversation of American culture. A show that people are actually watching, that makes poverty and race and all of those other things that Girls gets dinged for completely invisible. But no one says fuck-all about it. (Just to be clear, I don’t really care; MF is a show that I stopped watching because I stopped finding it funny, and my life hasn’t been impoverished for it.) There are a million concern troll-y articles about the deficiencies of Girls and Dunham’s unwillingness to unpack (class, race, poverty, whatever); good luck finding a single article about Levitan and Lloyd’s unwillingness to do the same.
@Cacti: So what? She’s either broke or she isn’t. Mommy and daddy paid her bills and then they stopped. You don’t have to approve of her choices or empathize with her plight, but it makes no sense to pretend that this situation is especially uncommon. Does being cut off from your sole means of support only matter up to a certain age, after which you’re fine? I don’t get it. So she’s a self-deluded mess. I’m pretty sure *that’s the point* of the show.
Thank you for giving me your permission.
Ummm, yes. That’s why there are statutes against neglect and abandonment of minor children, as opposed to say 26-year old adult offspring.
@Cacti: Don’t be so prickly, Cacti.
It’s in my nature.
@Cacti: Ha! I suppose it is.
My point was not to say it makes no difference how old your kid is when you cut them off, just that if it happens at 26 and you’re a hopeless dilletante like Dunham’s character, that doesn’t somehow make you less poor. Less sympathetic? Certainly. But, I submit, that’s the point of the show. She’s not supposed to be sympathetic (or, at least, parts of her are and parts of her are not……like with real people).
I’ve never seen “Girls.” I never intend to see it unless I’m strapped to a chair before a screen. I’m aware there’s been a great deal of chin-stroking by the literati (and I’ve read some of it) towards its explication-why even the NYRB felt so compelled. In such a blissful state of ignorance, I have little interest in this particular manifestation of pop culture.
But this sentence from your post does prompt a question:
It’s television. You expect any of this stuff to be good?
@superking: Agreed. I mean, I can – and have – criticized TV for not having Asian characters and bi characters, but it’s ridiculous to focus on one show and say, “Hey, this show should have what I want it to have”, especially if there is a meaningful discussion revolving around the show for other reasons.
@schrodinger’s cat: Yeah, pretty much this, too. It’s also a sign of privilege to demand that your pet issue be discussed all the time. “Fine, sexism, but what about the pooooor people?!?”
I would disagree in the case of Roseanne. While a comedy show, it actually treated the modern blue collar family respectfully and didn’t candy coat their struggles.
@handsmile: And, this. It’s not as if there ever was a plethora of shows about working-class people.
Plus, I don’t expect TV to mirror reality at all. Probably why I don’t watch much of it.
ETA: This is not to say that there shouldn’t be TV shows that deal with class issues – I’m just not holding my breath for one, any more than I am for a show that depicts Asian Americans in all our varied, diverse ways.
I don’t think privileged urban educated white people run our culture. That’s something FOX would like you to believe. Of course, young photogenic white people are very well represented. But to me it seems the classist basis of massculture is not so much young white people as 1% lifestyles. The million dollar rooms. The mcmansion housewives. The dream vacations. The rose ceremony in the conservatory.
@Cacti: Until they won the lottery……
@Pete: That season never happened. Let us never speak of it again.
@beltane: Your comment made me think back to the tv shows of my youth: The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy,I Remember Mama, The Real McCoys. All those characters were shown as living in very modest surroundings. Now the “average” character lives in modest splendor certainly not familiar to even the working class.
@gelfling545: Yeah, since when did everyone in this country get a gorgeous kitchen? I’m all for escapism, but this is not escapism; it’s a false reality. I rarely watch TV anymore, but when I do I am struck by how mean it all is, and how it all seems designed to achieve maximum degradation of the non-rich.
Weirdly, it seems to me sometimes that some of the criticism of “Girls” is that it’s a little too realistic about the kinds of apartments even these scions of rich families end up living in. Like people are getting upset about them being shown “slumming” when, no, that’s actually what apartments in Brooklyn look like, even for people whose rich parents are paying the rent. In NYC, even rich girls will have roommates to help with the rent.
IMO, “Girls” would be criticized less if the world it showed was more of a fantasy life like “Seinfeld” or “Friends” or “Sex in the City.”
Modest surroundings where they had a house and consistently working stoves, heaters, and refrigerators. “Working Class” is often used as a synonym for “poor” but the urban poor frequently don’t have any of those things. (Nor do the rural poor necessarily, but this discussion seems to be centered on NYC, which has scads of people living in crap conditions.)
Mr. Orwell’s essay on Charles Dickens exams this idea that honest portrayals of urban poverty just aren’t going to be depicted in literature and why.
Girls, like most other tv, is crap when it comes to both race and class. Why is class the larger issue for you?
And it is still noteworthy that this show has to carry the burden of inadequate representation. I don’t see much written about social class and “Two and a Half Men.”
Poor people don’t much exist on blogs either, except as objects or examples in cautionary tales, not as subjects or agents.
Appreciate your citation of that brilliant work by Orwell (an adjective frequently employed in describing his essays).
My only caveat is that it addresses literary works, an art form fundamentally different from popular film and television in its methods and manner of production, consumption and reception.
For a medium-specific and generally insightful analysis of depictions of class in American mass culture, let me recommend Framing Class: Media Representations of Wealth and Poverty in America by sociologist Diana Kendall:
But any day in which someone reminds me to pull Orwell off my bookshelves is a good one (celebrating his bicentennial, I’m already reading a lot of Dickens). Thanks!
I am a total fan-girl for Orwell, especially his essays.
Yes, that’s a good point and I do think that if Orwell had seen some of the shows discussed here, he would have had the same criticism.
Thanks for the book rec. It’s not yet available through my library system but I’ll put it on my official list.
It’s really not surprising that Girls doesn’t dwell much on class issues since, as Gawker has so carefully documented, just about every person with a speaking role is the daughter of some rich or connected parent.
Make sure you don’t go see The Avengers this summer if you get upset at the prospect of rich or connected people working in entertainment — writer/director Joss Whedon is a third-generation TV writer and Robert Downey Jr. is the son of a successful movie director.
But somehow people never seem to get so upset when it’s men like Whedon or Downey who use their family connections to get jobs. Funny, that.
ETA: Also in The Avengers, Gwyneth Paltrow, daughter of actress Blythe Danner and director/TV producer Bruce Paltrow. That’s three strikes.
Thanks for the link on this. Orwell is very fair in noting that a novelist is not necessarily a social documentarian.
I do, however, think that Dickens is better at depicting an urban underclass than Orwell gives him credit for.
This is an excellent point. I think there’s a kind of double-edged sword here.
Two and a Half Men gets dismissed pretty quickly, I think, because it’s relatively lowbrow. It’s not trying to make any statement of art, just grab viewers and ratings. It’s good at that, certainly, but no one would confuse it with, say, The Wire.
Girls, on the other hand, is expected to be this powerful “voice of a generation” – for no reason other than people denominate it so. I think there is a kind of unspoken expectation that Lena Dunham, as a woman (and particularly as a woman) growing up in this day and age, should provide a show that speaks to all these different truths. If so, and I’m prepared to be told I’m wrong, that expectation is of course sexist.
On the other hand, I don’t think that’s what Freddie has a problem with. Way I read it, he has an issue with the idea that if you discuss other aspects in which the show may not be up to your taste, you’re asked why you haven’t subjected other works to this same test – essentially, a sexism litmus test.
You can say (as upthread) that Girls doesn’t have to deal with class issues and that the criticism of it for not doing so is illegitimate for that reason, and that’s a worthy viewpoint. You can think it’s okay to examine the work for that, and that’s worthy as well. Long as you don’t say that either one exists to the exclusion of the other.
I don’t know that people much know about Whedon or Downey’s backgrounds, and this is especially true of comic book and action movie geeks.
Then again, I don’t know many people who held it against Penny Marshall for using family connections to get ahead as an actor or a director. And one of the strangest/funniest things I ever saw was Arsenio Hall’s interview of Drew Barrymore. He was oblivious to her family background.
That said, as much as I dislike the tv show Girls, there seems to be a lot of sexist carping and piling on. This show is hardly the worst offender when it comes to anything. Note that I am not suggesting this of Freddie here.
I bet you can identify with Dunham.
Do you think she is the voice of your generation?
@Brachiator: Drew Barrymore is the perfect example of someone who benefitted from being a part of an acting/entertainment dynasty spanning three different centuries. Amazing.
And I think it’s interesting how many of us, myself included, hold Roseanne up as the perfect example of an entertaining and class conscious show. Whedon was one of the original writers in the early days when the family was truly blue collar, but his connections have never been mentioned as a detriment to the voice of the show and its ability to portray the family realistically.
@Freddie deBoer: You’re missing a very important context: the AVClub comments sections–probably the best pop culture comment sections on the internet–were overrun with specifically sexist comments regarding this show. Todd’s articles have been specifically addressing sexism because that strongly underlies most of the negative (and frequently offensive) commentary in these sections. Class comes up, but it’s not the issue driving the offensive comments. Frankly, it’s unfair of you to expect Todd to address class in the same way. Gawker’s commentary harps on the class (and nepotism) issues more, perhaps that’s more up your alley.
I’m turning 43 tomorrow so, no, she’s not the voice of my generation. She does seem pretty similar to a lot of the women in their early 20s that I see here in Los Angeles or women that I knew when I was in my early 20s. There are very few people who were not fucking idiots in their 20s.
I’m also getting that you don’t understand that the whole, “I think I’m the voice of my generation. Well, I’m a voice of a generation,” is what most people refer to as “humor” or “a joke,” as in we’re supposed to find it funny that this clueless idiot is the voice of anyone’s generation. You did realize that the “voice of a generation” thing is a line said by Dunham’s character within the show and not a claim that she’s actually making about her work, right?
” You did realize that the “voice of a generation” thing is a line said by Dunham’s character within the show and not a claim that she’s actually making about her work, right?”
And you do realize that I never said that she said that, right? I know this is, like, really hard for you. But you should put down the cheetos and try to focus on the words I actually wrote. Not what the little angry voices in your head are saying.
Please try harder.
“Sure, the World Trade Center Memorial is a great water feature …. but what about the poor?”
Yes. Yes. What about the poor?
40% of recent college graduates have not found a job within a year, if I remember correctly; and student loan debt is astronomical.
As the generations turn over in the media, it shouldn’t take too long before the people writing for the media all know someone (probably a college graduate) who’s poor.
Not destitute perhaps… but poor.
@Jennifer:””I’m personally a lot less worried about the lack of shows on TV about poor people than I am about the fact that middle-class people I’ve known my entire life don’t even know anyone who’s ever been on food stamps.”
Well, you’re old enough to have had friends for 45 years.
Trust me, this is not going to happen to the population age 35 and under. The reason it’s not going to happen is absolutely appalling: the reason it’s not going to happen is that college-educated kids are no longer finding jobs, and are walking out with debt they can’t afford to pay. This means that they’re going on food stamps.
When the middle class is shoved down into the working class and the working class is shoved down into poverty, it stops being possible for anyone except the gated-community set with private planes — the 0.1% living in Richistan and sending their kids to private school — to not know people who’ve been on food stamps.
And that’s what’s happening to the younger generations. The older generations are still insulated from it.
@beltane: “The absence of poor, or even true working class people in today’s popular culture is just another sign that we have become an extremely unequal, harshly stratified society with very little in the way of real class mobility.”
Oh no. We still have downward mobility. There’s just no upward mobility.
It was largely so during the Victorian period in England, too, interestingly. However, during that period it played out differently, because upper-class families had huge numbers of children; the splitting of wealth meant automatically that most of the children ended up dropping down one class level from their parents.
Now that people have fewer children, the 0.1% has had to actively shove people out of the middle class through hostile policy in order to create downward mobility. So it’s a bit different.