I analyzed an episode of CBS’s primetime television show Two and a Half Men called “Why We Gave Up Women” in the hopes of finding and breaking down class representations within. Well, I got just what I asked for and found that the show is full representations of the upper class as well as the working class in comparison. Before I share what I found, allow me to give an overview of the show for those that may not be familiar…
The popular prime time television show Two and a Half Men has aired for nine seasons. In the ninth /current season, it features “Walden Schmidt” and “Alan” as the two main characters.
Walden, a young Internet billionaire played by Ashton Kutcher, buys what was formerly Charlie Sheen’s character’s Malibu mansion. He is in the process of divorcing his wife and is portrayed as extremely emotionally immature. Alan, played by Jon Cryer, lived in the house with Charlie Sheen’s character before his death, and after becoming friends with Walden continues to live there in the current season.
One key pattern within the “Why We Gave Up Women” episode is the display of material objects and wealth. Expensive electronics and decorations can be found in nearly every shot within Walden’s living room. Walden’s living room contains an outdoor video security by the door, a large desktop computer and speakers, elaborate stereo system, and what appear to be antiques or other collectables all placed in front of a sizable deck looking out onto the water. Expensive items and direct references to an excess of money are scattered all throughout Two and a Half Men, and these material things help represent and define what it means to be upper class.
The beach house is not only portrayed as upscale and upper class in terms of decoration but also by its location in Malibu.
The focus on material wealth and the relationship it has to happiness or the idea of a “good life” in our society is a problem that is only perpetuated by show like Two and a Half Men. The vast majority of viewers are not upper class and will never be able to live like the characters on the show. So viewers must reconcile the fact that they will always live lesser lives than what they are being shown is ideal, or try to replicate it regardless of whether they have the resources to or not.
Two and Half Men certainly portrays material wealth as an important component of the upper class, and the lack of diversity among the main characters in the show portrays white men as those who have access to that wealth and therefore belong in the upper class income bracket. Through the character of Walden Schmidt, white men are shown as having access and control over their wealth in a very nonchalant way so that although money and wealth is a large focus, it seems natural and obvious that Walden would be living such a excessive lifestyle.
For example, when Alan has a heart attack Walden thinks he’s kidding. Walden waves a $100 bill toward him and asks if it will make him feel better. Walden’s casual attitude about money and how easy it is for him to pull out a $100 bill and offer it to Alan is an example of how the show represents the upper class as having a flippant attitude about money, and how it’s used as a tool for fixing problems.
Walden’s attitude about money and the way the show represents the upper class through him can have real implications within society. Not only could it encourage viewers to spend beyond what they can afford on unnecessary items like electronics, but the way Walden handles more practical expenses also creates problems for the viewers. While the cost of Alan’s time in the hospital is being discussed Walden says, “The money is not important, what’s important is your health”. While this may hold true for a billionaire, the price of healthcare is of great concern for many and Walden’s approach completely ignores and neutralizes this struggle.
Two and a Half Men not only defines who belongs in the upper class, but through their absence it defines who does not. There is an extreme lack of diversity within the “Why We Gave Up Women” episode. The leading characters, both male and female, are all Caucasian and they have very few interactions with non-white people. In fact, the only non-Caucasian people to appear in the episode are working when a black woman checks Alan into a hospital after he has a heart attack, and later when his doctor is Asian. This subtly reinforces that the upper class is reserved for white people, and while those that do not belong to that group can interact with the upper class there is still a line being drawn within the show that does not allow them to be a part of it.
The only times non-white people are featured in the episode is when they are working. For example, an African American woman checks Alan into the hospital after he has his heart attack. This is problematic because it takes the understanding that the show presents about the upper class being reserved for white people a step farther and not only tells ‘others’ that they don’t belong in the upper class, but it also tells them that they do belong in the working class.