Several decades ago, capitalism and the function of the world were obviously quite different. Yet the way a majority of people lived their lives wasn’t that different. People worked for a living, more often than not in difficult and soul-draining jobs, and similar circumstances in their personal lives. The same goes for today.
Yet in the entertainment industry, television shows touched on those not in this working class, but as a type of middle class; as economically stable, and confining to particular societal norms and being better off as a result. These social norms included a lifestyle of consumerism, and happiness over acquiring a bundle of “things”. This created an idea of the American Dream to go off of, and marginalized people had to play by a set of rules to have them go by these ideals.
In reality, numerous families cannot manage, even with more than one job. The 70’s show, What’s Happening, depicted life for African Americans as poor but happy, whereas at the time, unemployment and police misconduct aimed at people of colour was spiking.
I believe television frames the working class in more honest and relatable terms now. The example I use to back up my claim is Mom, a critically acclaimed sitcom now on its seventh season. It’s also, in my opinion, a superb show on many levels.
“Mom” is about a woman named Christy Plunkett (Anna Faris) and her mother Bonnie (Allison Janney), both of which once were strippers, heavy drinkers and constant arrestees, and are now trying to function in society properly. They’ve purged all alcohol from their lives. They attend numerous Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and are close friends with a handful of other recovering women.
Christy works part-time as a waitress, and also juggles her dream to one day become a lawyer. Throughout the seasons, she goes through college, sends out applications, gets into law school, and now works part-time as a secretary at a law firm, while still waitressing. The process she goes through is tough and gradual, and no matter how hard she works, she rarely has money. Some old shows, like The Bill Cosby Show, depict families showing working hard enough means life can be swell. In Mom, it’s not as easy.
It also challenges the idea of the American Dream through Jill Kendall, (Jaime Pressly) one of the protagonists. She inherited millions of dollars and has enough wealth to never worry about getting a job or having complications. Yet she does have complications. She goes through a divorce, has a heartbreaking miscarriage, and realizes because she doesn’t have experience working, despite all her nice clothes, her life is “worthless”.
In Season 3, Christy and Bonnie rescue a young woman and alcoholic named Jodi off the streets. Jodi earns a job as a barista, earns a place to stay, and tells her friends they saved her life. Yet Jodi’s life is cut tragically short when she unexpectedly dies from an overdose. Show creator Chuck Lorre said he wanted viewers to not “lose sight of the fact [alcoholism and drug addiction] is a life and death issue.”
Mom is a terrific and relatable example of the life and hardships of regular working people, showing there are ways other than capitalism to feel worthy.