Few women of color are allowed to represent themselves on television with much nuance; frequently they are reduced to stock characters like mammies and Jezebels that deny them full, complex humanity. Successful women of color are slammed with stereotypes of the "Angry Black Woman" or are forced to represent all women of their race as impossibly perfect standard-bearers.
Within this all of this, the Real Housewives of Atlanta become caricatured and over-representative of what we think wealthy black women should like like.
So with the start of 2012 ushers in a new lineup on Thursday nights on NBC. With Community and Whitney replaced by 30 Rock and Up All Night, we have a comedy block in which three out of the four series are headlined by women, which is pretty awesome. So how did the brand-new TNL lineup fare? We kick off this week's recap with the return of 30 Rock.
For the Bluths, their wealth is a performance, but their class privilege is real. They live in a former shell of their old life: they share a model home built by the once-lucrative Bluth construction company that stands alone in an unfinished development. Beautiful inside and out, the home deteriorates throughout the series, but the façade remains intact. And to most of the members of this family, that's what's really important.
Trailer trash, white trash—these ways of describing low-income people aren't new. They're meant to make people quite literally disposable, a way of denying their humanity and their potential to offer anything of value. With Jersey Shore, though, we get the "trash" without talking about money at all. What the castmates wear, how they behave, how they style their hair, how they speak, these all communicate to the viewer their lack of cultural capital and, consequently, their social standing.
Yet, what Downton Abbey also offers for the modern viewer is the idea that, today, class differences have been overcome. The stark separation between the lives of the family and the staff illustrate a segregation that is no longer overt in today's society. Few people have lives in literal servitude, and even fewer have actual servants. We like to believe that now, a hundred years later, class is really something entirely different, something more transmutable, blurrier, and more easily overcome.
I have a complicated relationship with Portlandia. To start, I was born in Portland and I still live here, and I want everyone in the world to know that it's a great city with more to offer than coffee and bearded white dudes, so I am psyched that it is getting national, positive attention. However, Portlandia does little to challenge stereotypes about Portland and instead reinforces them by mocking bearded white dudes drinking coffee, causing my Facebook friends from the east coast to message me out of the blue, reminding me to "put a bird on it!" (I hate birds). And like others of you, I wish Portlandia was more critical of Portland and of white hipster culture in general, because a lot of race and class privilege is required before you can sit around all day watching Battlestar Gallactica and have audiences get the joke instead of telling you to get a job.