Can TV See Class? Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Believe in the American Dream

Curator's Note

It's been three years since The Wire left television and academia still can't shut up about it.  In full disclosure, I side on the one-of-the-greatest-shows-ever camp.  But the interesting thing about the show is that it can be translated to mean so much, depending on your perspective.  One area where the show prevailed, like few others before it, was on the issue of class.  It is this writer’s belief that America has dealt with issues of race and gender.  This unpopular viewpoint is supported by the success of both blacks and females alike.  According to Forbes, the most successful male entertainer last year was black (Tyler Perry).  The most successful overall was a black woman (Oprah Winfrey).  Need I state the obvious argument that the U.S. has elected a black president?

However, U.S. citizens, for the most part, are not ready to admit that we’re done with racism.  That is where shows like The Wire step inIn almost every episode, at least one scene reminded viewers that, despite what the American dream implies, those born into lower class are determined to stay there, despite skin color.  There is no upward class movement (see embedded video), and that's what's keeping people down, not racism. What we have, to borrow a term from Dr. Robert Vianello, is "American Dreamism."

But, The Wire was back in 2002.  A lot has changed since then.  Class has become more discussed than ever before in American history, especially on television.  Perhaps the economic downfall over the past few years will provide a silver lining for America: it seems that more television shows have focused on class issues because of the economic crash.  It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has dealt directly with class in multiple episodes, as have shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men.  Moreover, the new fall lineup of shows seems to be taking note of the class issue.  It seems likely that 2 Broke Girls will deal directly with issues of class.  

My fear for 2 Broke Girls is that at some point in season 3, they will shed their lower-class background by magically finding the money for their cupcake shop, much like the Conners from Roseanne were thrusted out of the lower class with their lottery win.  When that happens, I vote that we all write in to CBS asking them to rename the show: American Dreamism


I'm not sure that separating issues of class from race, which is what I think you're suggesting here, is a very useful approach. These are deeply entwined categories in American history. I think that you're right that Simon's work is very interested in class identity, but the forces that lock characters into their class location cannot be abstracted from white supremacy.

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