Raising Hope, lowering the bar.
Class representation in contemporary primetime TV; a call to arms for class warfare.
In studying recent prime time programming of broadcast network FOX, I noticed some surprising representations of class that I will share with you. I observe classism and class warfare from framing and portrayal of culture in my research.
Specifically, I observed the most current episode of Raising Hope (as of this posting, this is episode #21), which features a view of the lower-middle class, extended family household. Generally, television shows featuring a particular class or social structure expect their viewers to be comfortable and identify with the lives of the characters in a real way. If not parallel, then comedic. Nevertheless, there is an association with what is portrayed and what are the underlying cultural norms. [Society begets society].
This is the “Discourse” of the show, referring to Foucault’s definition as “the production of knowledge through language” (Hall, 1997); I interpret this also as the culture one is primarily exposed to and influenced by. This differs somewhat from “discourse”, which is known as the linguistic communication and communication of knowledge. In short, society begets society.
Raising Hope’s message to viewers is one of identification – viewers will recognize cultural cues and norms in their own lives and families, if not the communities that they live in. This is the dangerous part of representation; what is shown as a reflection is also a model for behavior – American see, American do.
I will look at why and how representations of the characters as they reflect particular stereotypical American demographics. These representations provide a context for viewers to gauge their own behavior, families and cultures, but this modeling may not be in the viewer’s best interest, or in the better interests of America as a whole.
To make provide a worthwhile review, it makes sense to know what a piece of media going for before it is judged on its merits. Wanting to know what the intentions of how class is to be represented in the show, I look to the description from its own website, courtesy of FOX:
“RAISING HOPE is the critically acclaimed single-camera comedy from Emmy Award winner Greg Garcia that follows the Chance family as they find themselves raising the newest addition to the household: a baby named HOPE (guest stars Baylie and Rylie Cregut).
Hope is the product of JIMMY’s (Lucas Neff) one-night stand with a wanted felon, whom his mother, VIRGINIA (Martha Plimpton), helped capture and send to prison. Virginia and her husband, BURT (Garret Dillahunt), who had Jimmy at the tender age of 15, find themselves back in the baby game – but now with their granddaughter, they have a chance to get it right. The Chances live with Jimmy’s great-grandmother, MAW MAW (Cloris Leachman). Once the rock of the family, she now forces everyone to stay on their toes. In her mind, the house is infested with mongooses, she’s cheating on her dead husband and it just might be World War II.
When Jimmy isn’t working for Burt’s lawn-care service, he moonlights at Howdy’s Supermarket for the health insurance benefits and a chance to be close to SABRINA (Shannon Woodward), a sardonic checkout clerk with an annoying boyfriend – all under the watchful eye of his doll-collecting, fight-clubbing boss BARNEY (Gregg Binkley).”
Retrieved from: http://www.fox.com/raisinghope/about/
My analysis and review-
Obviously, the social class represented in Raising Hope is low income; the primary incomes in the household are from an independent lawn care business and retail moonlighting, with only 2/5ths of the household working at all. Working primarily for medical benefits is espoused as a normal, and I observed no talk of or reference to long term financial planning, mentioned in any reasonable sense. It appears that this family lives paycheck to paycheck, a common characteristic of low class households in America.
The themes of the shows phrasing are comical, but the context is short-sighted, derogatory, discouraging of critical thought, defiant against inconvenience, and taking a lassiez-faire attitude toward the temporary, (perhaps constant?) derision of moral focus and action on the way to any particular character’s goal.
The main character had sex with a hitchhiker in distress whom he had picked up, and who turned out to be a wanted murderer – which was the inciting incident for the show.
Drawing from the following actions of the family in Raising Hope help to provide some scenarios, which are portrayed as common and typical representations of class (and portrayal of class strata). I following scenarios and quotes are from the most recent episode in Season 2: Episode 21 of Raising Hope. I imagine that the producers intend for viewers to resonate with the following items or phrasings as components of their household, or, that they know someone who fits these examples.
It is relieving to think that as bad as ‘our family might seem’ (from the point of view of the viewer audience) – at least we don’t do THAT, setting ourselves above the characters, positioned to look down upon them for their behavior.
The following references as a group, though not necessarily individually, place the viewer at a perspective to both look down upon, and alternately, identify with the characters. The following clips are examples of the standard behavior and actions for the characters, whose actions are framed as stupid, functionally inept or at failing to masquerade as normal, or of the normal status-quo capacity.
Normal situations observed:
*Neighbor’s dog barking obnoxiously.
*Hating the Neighbors
*Stealing cable (from the neighbors)
*Watching TV as a part of daily activity as a family
*Yelling across the house as a mode of communication
*One household with an extended family (of 3 generations)
*VHS tapes and unkempt knick-knacks as collections, tendency towards over-decorating.
Character affirmations / character editorials / self aware reflections of the characters’ mental capacity:
“I’m not moving half-way across the country, to Tibet, to live with a serial killer.”
“I didn’t have friends, or money”
“This is blowing my simple, human mind.”
“She got to meet Ed Begley Jr.?! I hate her – I hate her so much.”
“Have you seen my sunglasses? I want to take the lenses out so I look smart in my interview.”
(TV Announcer) “They gave her a beating that no decent human being would feel is justified.” (As the family crowds around the TV and cheers on the security camera footage of the penitentiary guards who are severely beating the mother of Hope, the show’s namesake; Jimmy’s daughter.)
(TV Announcer) “A simple place – where people work all day, come home for dinner, then enjoy eating snacks on the sofa watching shows like this.”
(TV Announcer) “One out of every two customers shops for groceries riding around on Rascals” (motorized scooter for the mobility impaired, at the local grocery store).
“Average people, or in Jimmy’s case – below average.”
“You people are such trash.”
The above examples model behavior, and in some cases, reflect the sentiments of a lower-class stereotypical agenda; to get by, look out for your own, and repudiate intellectual capacity and pursuit. These phrasings are framed as “Us” vs. ‘Them” with the other being those whose lives are easier, richer, more educated and intellectual – this is class warfare.
By identifying with the characters implicitly (the show’s status quo), a position is taken against other classes not displayed by the main characters. Through dissonance and aversion to the behavior of the characters, the class structures represented are seen framed as base, puerile and unintelligent – which are unlikely qualities to be revered. The show frames the issue of class, and guides its viewers to a particular side of the fight.
Hall, Stewart. “Representation, cultural representations and practices” 1997.
Raising Hope excerpts, Video. “Clips depicting class and family culture in Raising Hope” 2012.
Raising Hope, text description. “About Raising Hope” 2010. http://www.fox.com/raisinghope/about/
Alper, Loretta. “Class dismissed: How TV frames the working class.” 2005. https://media.lib.washington.edu/html/uwonly/mediactr/mef/classdismissed.html