Hollywood's idea of being poor

What is your favorite strange depiction of being economically disadvantaged?

Mine is probably the Tyler Perry movie Mr. Deeds, the single mom doesn’t know what a computer or software is or how corporations work, yet they then reveal she almost completed nursing school. She works full time, lives in a homeless shelter(how?) and has a nice car YET has no money for her daughter to eat. The daughter goes to school hungry. Its like the creators had no clue how being poor works, but wanted it to seem really bad so lets make it so she is working herself ragged but is also starving yeah! The only explanation that makes sense is that the character is secretly a hard core drug addict and all the money is going in her veins.:dubious:

Al Bundy supposedly made next to nothing, yet he lived in a suburban Chicago neighborhood in a decently sized home, next door to bankers(!). The utilities always got paid and somehow, Peg, the kids, and Buck didn’t look like they were starving.

What I never understood about MwT as a kid is why everyone complained about living in a dump. To me it always looked like a perfectly cromulent suburban home with a garage and back yard and everything. And my parents were much better off than Al Bundy, but I sure wouldn’t mind living there. Because they have Christina Applegate.

I never really watched it, but the early seasons of Rosanne seemed to have a reasonable idea about being poor (though of course virtually no Americans think of themselves as “poor” - everyone, no matter how bad or well off thinks of themselves as “middle class”).

Everytime I see a poor twentysomething living in a sweet New York City apartment I want to scream.

Carrie from SATC (okay, 30-something ‘journalist’)
*How I Met Your Mother *(almost plausible, except that Marshall didn’t have a job for awhile)
*Friends *

Here’s a nice article that talks about real estate in TV shows.

You mean Good Deeds.

Mr. Deeds is an entirely different shade of awful.

She wasn’t supposed to be poor, and in one episode she does have to struggle to keep her apartment when it goes from rent to coop.

There are a few explanations, none of which completely satisfy:

Al made enough money to get by, but Peg spent every extra cent so he never had any money for himself.

Steve & Marcy were on a starter home (they mentioned this in the first episode), and were saving cash to buy a better place. After the 555-SHOE incident when Steve lost his job, they were down to a single income.

The Bundy house was located on an ancient Indian shoe-burial ground, and was probably pretty cheap.

Al hadn’t had a new car since high school, so he saved money on that.

She’s an advice columnist for a Post or Daily News type paper, not a beat reporter. That’s going to be a well-paying job by journalist standards even though whenever I see an episode I can’t believe anyone is supposed to be publishing the stuff she is typing. :wink: Still, from the couple of episodes I’ve seen it’s hard to believe she could afford to live in brownstone like that even if you overlook the fact that she’s blowing a ton of money on clothes and shoes and drinks.

Yep, and when that struggle was going on and she was complaining about what she was being shown for new apartments she said the apartment she was vacating was rent controlled and only $750, IIRC. When she told people that,they gasped.

How I Met Your Mother is a horrible example. There’s no point in the story when any of the characters are approaching poverty. As the series begins Ted has a good architecture job, and even while he’s briefly jobless (after getting fired from the firm but before becoming a professor) he is explicitly never in financial difficulty. Barney clearly makes an obscene amount of money, though admittedly with the drawback that being fired will clearly be followed without intermission by being murdered. Marshall & Lily sometimes are in financial difficulty, but only from a middle-class POV; they have trouble sometimes keeping up with the Joneses, but it’s never as if they’re short on food. And Robin of course will never have difficulty finding a meal, as she can probably walk into a bar, say, “I’m hungry, can someone buy me dinner?” and be able to choose from the 12 people fighting for the privilege.

TV hasn’t really tried to do “poor” since shows like The Honeymooners. Even shows like Good Times and the early Roseanne were more like lower middle-class.

Take someone like Marc Cherry, who was flat broke and sleeping on his mother’s couch in Oklahoma when he took one last shot at writing a script. What did he come up with? Desperate Housewives.

Their version of being financially strapped is still a joke. Lily is a kindergarden teacher and some how has limitless credit, they are constantly buying beers at $7.50 a pop downstairs, Marshall was unemployed a couple of times (not to mention he didn’t have income during law school) and don’t forget the strip clubs, trips, clothes, eating out constantly and etc.

Again, Hollywood doesn’t do “poor” very well. Actually, Hollywood doesn’t do “middle class” very well, since apparently people living in NYC on TV can spend well outside their means and still live comfortably.

My point is that they were never supposed to be financially strapped except from a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses perspective. Moreover, I’m morally certain that any strip club visits are paid for by Barney. And Lily’s bad credit has been addressed at least once.

And of course it’s a joke. It’s a sitcom with a deliberately and explicitly unreliable narrator. Future-Ted is glossing over a lot of elements of his past, and his memory is often wrong anyway. He forgets names, he starts a sub-story and then realizes that he’s out of sequence with the main narrative, he uses the words sandwich, stuff, and bagpipe as substitutes for pot, shit, and fuck; it’s reasonable to think that he’s skipping over the part of the story where, for instance, Marshall nearly has to create bankruptcy, or that stripper-Lily was, in fact, the actual Lily during one particularly bad month.

None of the above should be read as implying that Ted Mosby does not deserve to be eaten by ferrets.

I think Raising Hope does a pretty good job of showing the Chance’s poverty, although in a broadly comic vein. They live in a crappy three-bedroom house owned by Virginia’s grandmother, have two old junker vehicles, use the pawn shop for extra money when needed, and have to save up to buy a new toilet. Virginia deliberately damages produce to get it on sale at Howdy’s. They often wear the same clothes - I know a lot of Jimmy’s T-shirts.


The protagonists of the terrific, short-lived detective series *Terriers *were pretty poor.

This may or may not be obvious, but I think the problem with Hollywood ‘poor’ is that even if you showed a realistic depiction of poverty, I don’t think most middle or upper class audiences would believe it. That, or they would turn on the protagonist and blame them for their poverty.

Most people are so disconnected to it (or simply choose not to look), I don’t think the audience could really connect to a realistic depiction of poverty.

Its the same with how Hollywood treats minorities and fat people.

I don’t think TV would be well advised to do a good job of showing middle class or poor. Too many of us are living it. We’re looking for escapism from TV, not more of the shit we are trying to escape from. It’s the same reason the bad guys generally lose in the end in fiction generally … in real life, they generally win.

Norman Lear’s shows did some of the best jobs of believable blue collar: All in the Family, One Day at a Time, Sanford and Son- even to a lesser degree Good Times (which, being a sitcom set in the projects and ultimately single parent household, would have been way too damned depressing if they’d tried for more realism).

What’s irksome to me is the- to borrow a term coined by Douglas Coupland (though he used a different definition)- “the poverty jet set”. It’s amazing how much travel and how many vacations so many middle class and blue collar households take; even the Connors from Roseanne, as mentioned above one of the more believable crews, went to Disneyworld and Vegas.


My grandparents had a custom built house very similar to The Golden Girls place on the other side of Florida [Casey Key, a manmade island near Sarasota.] But then again, my grandfather had also just sold off one of the family businesses to another manufacturer and gone into retirement. [Well, and he was also maintaining a house in Canada, one in Western NY and a 12 meter [strikethru] hole in the water [/strikethru] sailboat ]