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.
I'm looking back to my '90s cartoon education for this edition of Pop Pedestal, where we celebrate pop culture characters we admire. This week is all about Reggie Rocket, the rad-girl sister I wish I had from Nickelodeon's Rocket Power.
Yet, as a proportion of their annual incomes, the Kardashian kouple may actually be more reasonable than many other Americans. In 2007, the average cost of the American wedding was over $28,000; while the recession caused a bit of a dip for a few years, the price is now back up over $24,000. These costs represent about half of the country's median annual household (not individual) income; half of the money a couple makes in an entire year will be spent on their wedding. Kim Kardashian made $18 million on her faux fairytale, so the budget was only slightly over what she made on a single day. If she's being unreasonable (and she is), so is everyone else.
There's something else going on here. There's the construction (no pun intended) of a "deserving" poor person whose needs can be addressed via a for-profit reality show, as opposed to real, systemic change.
On ABC's Revenge, the story is uprooted from the Second Empire in France to the modern-day Hamptons. The heroine is Amanda Clarke turned Emily Thorne, who seeks revenge on her old neighbors after her father was wrongly convicted of a terrorist plot, leading to her placement in foster care and, ultimately, juvenile detention. When she turns 18, Amanda learns her father made a few well-placed investments and inherits unimaginable wealth. And—like Dantes becoming the Count of Monte Cristo—she morphs into Emily Thorne, returns to the Hamptons, and strategically destroys the people who did her wrong.
Understandably, when telling a story in a different historical moment, and changing the genders of the protagonists and villains, and removing any of the original political context, you end up with something quite different. What endures, though, is the connection between wealth and villainy.
I understand that reality television has to have some sort of "hook" to get you, the viewer, interested enough to stick around. For the most part, that's usually drama. Even when shows are about parenting, it's not the day-to-day rhythm that gets airtime, but rather the sensational, unbelievable, and usually questionable parenting decisions that take center stage.
Monday's post on 2 Broke Girls generated a lot of comments—from fans of the show who felt I was being too harsh, and from others who felt I was too forgiving of the show's many flaws. One commenter said, "You can't expect a comedy to be so heavy and grounded in real life struggles."
All-American Muslim is a TLC show that first aired a month ago, that follows the lives of several Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan. I still haven't seen the show, but it sounds perfectly....blah. Sort of like, "Oh, an inter-faith marriage? When is Freaky Eaters on?" As Porochista Khakpour put it in the New York Times, "There is absolutely nothing extraordinary about All-American Muslim and that's the point." But the Florida Family Association ("Family." Right.) clearly sees through the facade of football teams and family dinners. On their website, FFA states:
TLC's "All-American Muslim" is propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.
Sixty-five companies seem to agree that these adorable children are a present danger to American liberties, and have pulled advertising.