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YouTuber and film critic Lindsay Ellis takes over the TFD YouTube channel to dissect how television portrays the working class, from the accuracy of Roseanne to the unaddressed privilege in Gilmore Girls.

The Financial Diet site:


Lindsay Ellis' YouTube:

Written by Princess Weekes:

Edited by Angelina Meehan & Lindsay Ellis:

Norman Lear interview:

2010 census:

Poverty rates in the US:

Money in Gilmore Girls:
[MUSIC PLAYING] This is Lindsey Ellis.

I am a YouTuber, film critic, and author. And for the month of January, I am taking over Chelsea's Tuesday show.

And each week, we are discussing a different topic of money and pop culture. Today's category is poor people. Malcolm is going to be fine no matter what happens.

Maybe he'll have to go to junior college or start off blue collar, but he'll work his way up to management eventually. So in discussions about media, we often hear this idea that representation matters. And yet, when it comes to stories about the working class and poor, which, in America, comprises about 40 million people, there's not as much of that as there is the demographic it represents.

So why do we have more period dramas about royals than we do about the working class? This is not a new issue, either. It was something that legendary television producer Norman Lear was aware of when looking at the television landscape of the late '60s and early '70s. "The biggest subjects in television comedy were 'The roast is ruined and the boss is coming to dinner,' or 'Mom dented the car and how do the kids and mom keep dad from finding out...'" says Lear.

There were no political problems. There was no poverty. That was the total message-- wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling.

When we look at successful shows about poor and working class people-- Shameless, Roseanne, The Middle, All In the family, et cetera, we are talking about shows that lean into the more comedic elements of what it means to be poor. I'm just wondering if I can maybe you sleep in your car or something. I don't got nowhere to go.

Thanks, Julian. By contrast, dramas usually deal with gangs, like The Wire, Sons of anarchy, Mayans, or some sort of violent, urban aspect to poverty. Comedy, at least, makes the truth go down a little bit easier.

But what are these portrayals trying to say or, more accurately, sell about working class America? One of the most successful and arguably honest portrayals of working class America is the series Roseanne. And we're going to ignore the issues of late with its creator and star.

Roseanne delivers a lot of truths about how pulling yourself up by your bootstraps doesn't always cut it. I busted my butt so I could get into a good school. How come you never told me there was no way?

Oh, we purposefully went broke so that you couldn't go to the college of your choice. Take Becky, the eldest daughter in the Conner family. She's smart, hardworking, and extremely driven to go to college.

However, in season 4, Becky gets accepted to a school. But because of her parents' bad finances. she can't go. So even if I get into these schools, I can't afford to go?

Becky, it has been a really bad year. And by season 5, when Dan, the family patriarch, has to close his motorcycle shop, it leads to even more struggle because of the family losing their income entirely. I don't have Mark.

I don't have college. I don't have anything. You blew it, Dad.

You blew it for everyone in this family. Becky, you shut up. Come on, Mother.

You know it. This is part of a series of events that leads to Becky eloping, marrying young, getting pregnant before she has the means to be able to afford it. And in the spin-off series, she ends right back up at home.

Compare this to the hit WBCW show Gilmore Girls, which centered a lot around class conflict between the wealthy Gilmore family and the titular middle class Gilmore Girls, i.e. Lorelai and her daughter, Rory. How's the insurance biz?

Oh, people die, we pay. People crash cars, we pay. People lose a foot, we pay.

Well, at least you have your new slogan. In season 3 of Gilmore Girls, Rory gets accepted to Yale. She does not get financial aid and would not qualify for it anyway, as her grandparents own, like, a building.

I'll take a student loan out from the bank. That's what banks are for. I don't want you to be buried by loans the day you graduate from college.

And her mother can't pay out-of-pocket. However, they do have an out-- those rich grandparents. Not so fast.

Richard. Oh, I'm happy to pay for Yale, but I don't want it to be alone. Generational wealth secures Rory's spot at Yale.

She goes to a four-year Ivy League school with her tuition, books, living situation all paid for by rich grandparents. And she gets to go on to be a subpar journalist. Becky, by comparison, never had a chance.

What was I working for? What was the point of getting As? The other "problem" with telling stories about poor people, especially poor women, is that their lives tend to follow a similar pattern because the thing about poverty is the tendency to repeat not only the issues that have kept you down but previous generations, as well.

According to the 2010 census, over 40 million Americans live below the poverty line, a rate of about 13.5%. Additionally, 43% of children below the age of 18 live in low-income families-- that is, families with income from poverty line to 200% above the poverty line. And more than one in five live in families below the poverty line, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty.

So class mobility is relevant here because moving from the lower class even to the middle class is a lot rarer than you might think. There's also the issue of how race and class intersect. Take, for instance the dichotomy between Good Times and The Cosby Show.

It'll all work out. Where there is a will, there is a way. Yeah, well Will ain't been around here lately, and I don't see no way.

Good Times follows the lives of the Evans, a poor black family living in the high-rise projects of Chicago. The show dealt not just with poverty but also with the physical and mental health within the black community, in particular through the main characters of Florida and James Evans. While it was praised for its realistic depiction of working class black people, it was also heavily criticized by some who said it leaned too much into stereotypes.

That idiotic painting-- I commissioned your son to paint the happy side of ghetto life. Well, what can't be happier than shooting a little 8 Ball? The Cosby Show took a different route, deciding that the Huxtable family would be an upper class black family with a doctor father, a lawyer mother, and two beautiful children raised by moneyed parents and how that shaped their lives, for better or worse.

That's three kids out of the house and two more to go. A combination of these two narratives is often to have a family with origins in poverty but who ascend to new middle class life because of good old capitalism a la The Jeffersons, Black-ish, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I don't have a big bag of fancy courtroom tricks.

But what I do have is the truth. Oh, shut up, Will. So all of these depictions are valid.

But you see less and less of just stories about the poor and working class that aren't hard-hitting dramas about the ravages of poverty. Shows like Vida and One Day at a Time exist, which not only tell stories about working class families but provide nuanced portrayals of Latinx families. Don't you like being in this country?

Of course. I like to be in America. And these stories need to be told.

As David Simon, creator of The Wire and Treme put it, "We were about the America that got left behind... We were saying something legitimate about that portion of the country that doesn't have a lot of television shows made about it." Sadly, a lot of times when we do see depictions of the poor and working class, it's through shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Cops or Jerry Springer. The framing is more to other the poor as a strange, almost subhuman, commodity.

Everybody wants to be the exception to the rules of class-based economy. So it feels good to watch shows about people who went from nothing to something. This is why a show like Gilmore Girls can provide such great escapism.

It has the background of a young woman escaping her wealthy blue-blood family with her daughter and working her way up from maid to inn owner who also lives in a huge house and has no credit card debt to pay off. As writer Lily Loofbourow said in The Cut, "Money is rarely about money in Gilmore Girls; it's about coercion, it's about power, but it's also about creating financial channels for love where other methods failed." And that is how money is more often framed-- as a hollow avatar for happiness rather than a real thing that people really need for social mobility. And you rarely see mention of welfare or EBT or any of the assistance a single parent would likely need to survive.

The American dream is built around the idea that the USA is a meritocracy and that class is based on achievement. If you do well in school and you work really hard, you will be successful. God, I've had to work hard every day of my life.

What do I have to show for it-- this brief case and this haircut. And prosperity gospel says that if you're poor, it's your own fault because you're bad at thing, except that doesn't account for generational poverty, like in Shameless, financial instability like Roseanne, or the realities of addiction, as in This Is Us. There are countless people who could have been somebody but never got a chance because they simply could not escape poverty.

People don't want to be reminded that the system is not built to help working class and poor people survive. I've been suffering all my life. I'm sorry.

It's not enough. You know what it's like to be poor, and you know what it's like to work hard. Now you're going to learn what it's like to sweep floors and bust your ass and accomplish twice as much as all the kids around you.

And it won't mean anything because they will still look down on you. It's not fun to watch people scrape by, especially if you yourself are already in that position. It hits too close to home.

But we can watch the ongoing conflicts on Downton Abbey, Big Little Lies, Dynasty, Succession, The Crown, or Mrs. Maisel. And that is a little more content.

Plus, it's fun to watch the rich be sad.