Privileged Representation of ‘Poor’ White Women

Nona Willis Aronowitz analyses the portrayal of “poor” young white women in the American version of Shameless and in the U.S. show Girls. Writing for The Nation, Aronowitz makes a distinction between being “privileged poor” and being born into an underclass. “Privileged poor” are (usually) white middle class people who have experienced downward mobility due to the financial crisis. Aronowitz argues that these young people seek to unionise and they feel entitled to a better life. Aronowitz argues that life-long working-class people who have been disadvantaged all their lives have a precarious sense about their working conditions and their futures. TV shows portray poverty in a more rigid sense, without exploring how working class relations are changing. Aronowitz writes:

For the most part, both shows are stuck in the old model of strict class segregation. In Shameless’s universe, you’re either rich and smug or poor and righteous. Hannah mostly interacts with her own kind, and when her free-spirited friend Jessa suggests to her fellow nannies that they all join a union, it’s played for laughs rather than inspiration. But in the real world, the labor movement may indeed benefit from the class mixing that’s already going on. Last year, when I reported on a group of young, mostly educated, mostly white kids trying to organize the sandwich chain Jimmy John’s in the Twin Cities, I spoke with Macalester College professor Peter Rachleff. He compared the organizers to certain Occupy kids who are “entitled,” “aware of their rights,” and have a safety net in case they get fired. I met a young woman who was galvanized by the realization that her middle-class aspirations may end up being pipe dreams. “What are the real dreams that we can actually accomplish? Fucking building a union,” she told me.

Compare this mentality to that of the working class employees I spoke with at Walmart last month, when reporting for The Nation on the workers who did not join the strikes, many of whom were terrified about retaliation or just happy to be making money at all. These workers are also hanging back from organizing at places like Burger King, Domino’s and Target.

Via The Nation.