Why TV Hates Poor People

Because rich people situations are so much easier to look at.

I just finished Master of None, and I liked many things about it. The music was on point, there were very funny jokes, the superb cinematography, finally a show was (mostly) honest about race, women, and stereotypes—at least a valiant effort, and I applaud it. And the Sylvia Path quote in the finale was so beautiful. It’s one of my favorite lines of any book. There are lots to celebrate about Master of None, still, I can’t say I loved the show.

Why was it so hard for Dev to figure out if he loved Rachel?

Because he’s rich.

And what a convenient way for him to have that awesome apartment with those very nice clothes and a perfectly curated furniture collection. The show addresses many important topics, but aside from mentioning Dev’s frivolous and silly accumulation of a seemingly huge wad of cash from a successful Gogurt commercial, there’s no other talk of class anywhere in the series.

Because no one wants to watch that.

Hannah Horvath of Girls is a young person too, with wild ambitions to deal with race, love, and issues about women and people. Yay, I say. But am I supposed to believe that working part time in a coffee shop allows her and her other silly cast of characters to afford the insane New York rent market?

Image via HBO

The shows feel similar because they are full of talky people, hanging out in the hippest shops in Brooklyn. Not real life for most.

I like Girls. It’s entertaining. But I don’t relate to these women. Perhaps because I’m a white woman, and the show is full of white women, maybe I should. But I’ve never had the opportunity to meander with any decisions, because I’ve never had any financial freedom to do so. So sure I’m white, but no, I don’t relate to these women because by acts of magic, they all have way more money than me.

For example, the guy owns a $400 chair. Do you own a $400 chair?

Both shows offer some hint about where the money comes from, and those feel like literary devices to avoid an entire topic.

Of course Master of None and Girls each offer a human insight into love and life. Those insights are entertaining and great reasons to watch.

But it’s inconvenient for television to talk about characters who struggle being lower middle class, and especially those on the brink of poverty. Hey, that is not a light-hearted show you’d want to watch when you get home from your shitty job, while you eat on-sale Lean Cuisines again.

But remember RoseanneMarried With Children? Both shows (and many more about families only) tried to tackle lower-middle class issues with humor, and were quite successful. Still, it seems TV hates poor people. In current shows, it just seems easier to write out financial hardship than it is to deal with it.

Image via ABC’s Roseanne

Al Bundy fucking hated working at the shoe store, and it was something he did every single day. Like me. Like you. We work. We have to pay bills. Most of us don’t have Gogurt money.

We answer the class issue on television with humor. We joke in Broad City or Workaholics that working sucks. You only do it to pay rent (if you can even do that). The punchline is that the daily jobs people have are pointless and silly. To be fair, this is a very relatable topic, and I thoroughly enjoy shows about the American workplace. For example, I’m an insane fan of Michael Scott and have watched The Office in its entirety, in order, again and again.

Still, in Master of None there’s never a mention of financial hardship, because somehow, every single TV character has some magic blanket of hidden financial security.

In the fair amount of times I’ve been dumped, I have considered jetting off to far-off lands.

Recently Aziz Ansari talked about the fact that his character Dev lives in a less-nice part of Brooklyn and buys mock furniture. For example, the guy owns a $400 chair. Do you own a $400 chair?

Why does it matter? Aside from addressing these issues just for the sake of talking about it, the money situation affects the entire outcome of the show.

Perhaps this financial freedom is why Dev has the leeway to be so picky with his romantic choices, and dive so deeply into other issues that plague him.

In the fair amount of times I’ve been dumped, I have considered jetting off to far-off lands to climb a mountain, gorge on good foods, see things I’ve never seen. Yeah, I’ve definitely wanted to escape the sadness and despair by a change of scenery. But I’ve never had the money to do anything of the sort. I’ve had leases, financial obligations, and those frivolous money decisions have never, ever, been an option for me. Instead, I had to read that shitty breakup book Eat, Pray, Love, and hope that one day I could find a bundle of cash buried in my backyard to live out all my dreams of emotional rejuvenation.

Image via Thought Catalog

So while I like Master of None and some current shows that are tackling important serious issues, I wonder when young people will talk about class in a current and realistic way. Maybe then, these characters will be able to make up their goddamned minds.

Crissy Van Meter is the managing editor at Nouvella Books and the founding editor of Five Quarterly. Her writing has appeared in VICE, Catapult, Guernica, Bustle, ESPN, The Hairpin, Golly, VIDA, and more. Her debut novel is forthcoming from Algonquin Books.
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