Sunday, October 21, 2012

From 2006: Nice, Normal, Poor People What Could Be A More Subversive Concept?

Postcards From Buster, the PBS children’s show, is most famous for the suppressed episode in which he visited a two-mother family in Vermont during maple sugaring time. I saw the episode when it finally aired. After the big buildup Margaret Spellings and other mouth pieces of the radical-Republican right gave it I was expecting something like a daughter in Future Longshoremen of America or a son who aspired to be a Radical Faerie. But no, the most controversial thing about the episode was the promotion of tooth decay and that was due to Buster’s sugar addiction, not anything to do with the non-animated people. Being a kid’s show, the parents were almost invisible.

There is another episode of Postcards which did a lot more to undermine the corporate state than that perfectly nice, though typical, middle-class family in Vermont. The show which presented the unremarkable lives of clearly poor children who live in a trailer park was far more subversive. I loved it. The lives of poor children not as young thugs, not as problems to be jailed in a few years but as entirely likeable, normal children with normal, non-pathological, fantasy lives. That is something that is just not seen much on TV.

Nor were they presented as tragic figures. The children were presented as having normal problems, some due to their financial condition but not as hapless victims of their circumstances or as an implied threat to the slightly more fortunate. Happy, nice, poor kids.

The idea that an oligarchy needs to have poor people and their financial condition as a threat to keep the working class in line is an idea that I’ve never seen much to contradict. That certainly is the most common use the oligarches’ kept media puts them too. As a number of people have pointed out, it’s the major theme of “COPS” and where else do you see poor people on TV these days? Jerry Springer?

If there was no destitution then the demands of the working class for a better deal would be a lot stronger. The threat of poverty drives wages down for the near poor. In order to make maximal use of this resource for social management the poor have to be despised. The never far away condition that they could fall to if they get too aggressive has to be shown to be a living hell with little chance for escape. Working stiff is better than the other roles assigned to the poor, criminals, junkies, prostitutes, violent psychopaths, drunks, etc. And that most despised role of all, victim, don’t forget victim. Some of this hatred of our untouchables even bleeds through to the left, “trailer trash” is a term that is sometimes even used on the most leftist blogs.

All of this hurts poor people, they suffer from the attitude of other people and from the damage it does to their opinion of themselves. It would be useful to know how much of the inertia of ingrained poverty is caused by people being convinced that it is hopeless to try to achieve a better life. It might give insights into other problems poor people sometimes have.

If poor people were depicted on TV as good people the social order could truly be endangered. The class system could really fall. If the United States really acted as if it believed the children of poor parents were the equal of the richest of the rich it would have to feed, take care of and educate them as if they were something other than a threat to distract the middle classes with. The neo-Malthusian view of them as surplus population would become unfashionable again.

What would happen if Postcards and other TV programs presented a lot more positive images of poor people*. Could America handle it? Would it be allowed to handle it? If poverty in itself wasn't seen as a despicable thing a good part of the fear factor in middle class politics would lessen and with it the downward mobility pressures on wages and services. The assumption, built so rigorously by the corporate state and its organs of media, that all of the destitute were lazy, degenerate, “undeserving poor” could give way to the more idealistic American response of the New Deal era. The truly American way as opposed to the class snob way. What would happen to an oligarchy whose children were discouraged from being class snobs? Heavens, the young of the ruling class, itself, might someday fall in love and marry them! How would they feel if their daughter wanted to marry some nice, poor boy? Or girl?

* Running this by my nieces, they tell me that there was an episode showing positive images of families in the barrios of LA. If their account is accurate all I can say is keep those kind of postcards coming, Buster.

Note: digby at Hullabaloo has this link to look at what is respectable among the best people. I'll take the trailer park residents, thank you. They have a lower crime rate.

First posted  at Echidne of the Snakes in September, 2006 under my former pseudonym, olvlzl.