Sunday, October 21, 2012

Where did the Working Class Go?

Another fall, another TV lineup, with oh so many of those staples of American culture; the sitcom.  But while watching the previews I was struck by something, where did the working class people ever go?  It was quite something for someone who saw all those reruns of sitcoms growing up that are filled with the working class and even downtrodden.  The simple men and women or “Cheers”; the family that lives in public housing in “Good Times”; and who can forget “Punky Brewster” who most certainly didn’t get a luxury car for her 16th birthday.  It reminded me of a great essay I read from the critic William Deresiewicz who had a similar epiphany on his own a while ago:
I was listening to an interview with the choreographer Bill T. Jones, who had just published his memoirs. Jones is gay and black, and when the interviewer asked him what his father had thought about his becoming a dancer, Jones, somewhat testily, said something like this: "You don't understand. This wasn't a middle-class family. The goal wasn't to become a professional: the goal was to better yourself." The first thing that hit me about this was that it had nothing to do with race or sexuality. The second thing that hit me was that it had everything to do with class, specifically the working class—which, I suddenly realized, I never heard anyone talk about.
Exactly. To watch even good television today is to miss any reference to the non-rich.  “Modern Family”, probably one of the funnier shows on TV these days, is a great example. It deals with issues like same sex couples raising children and interracial marriages, and for that it should be commended. But while embracing diversity in some ways, it ignores them in others. Everyone is rich on “Modern Family”, everyone is devoid of any of the material pressures that “Modern” families presumably have dealt with during the great recession.  Totaling (one of several of the) family cars becomes a hilarious inconvenience, not the terrible blow to the family finances it would be to the majority of “Modern” families. Indeed the fact that one of the main characters is a real estate agent during the biggest drop in property values in decades but never is even worried about this says enough.

When the non-rich, non-middle class people do have a sitcom focused about them this uniqueness (dare I say this example of diversity) is ignored.   The comedy “Two Broke Girls” is instructive in this regard.  It’s a show about two young women with no money who have to become waitresses in New York and is typical low brow sitcom affair (although it does have theme music by Peter, Bjorn and John which is awesome.)  But when people wrote about it, especially urban well to do liberals, they focused more on perceived racial slights than on the fact that this was the first TV show in a while to focus on the other eight million people in New York who aren’t rich and don’t take car services to drive to the grocery store.  As Deresiewicz put it, “What we talk about is race and sexuality. (Or in the academy, race, gender, and sexuality, the great triumvirate. The humanities, despite their claim to transformative significance, have all but forgotten about class.)”   “Two Broke Girls” is thus unfair , unlike much praised “Gossip Girl” or the greatest work of drama since Aeschylus, “Sex and the City.”  Even if making a show set in New York with no working class and poor people is as unrealistic as one with characters who only confirm to certain stereotypes.

Other genres of TV only exacerbate this trend.  Just look at the rise of so-called “AspirationalTV” over the past two decades.  Once confined to late night pot boilers like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” “Aspirational TV” is now a prime time staple and has all but taken over MTV.  Once upon a time, you know during the Reagan Administration, shows about rich people behaving badly were the exception, think “Dallas” or “Dynasty.”  Now it seems there are desperate housewives (who are rich) and real housewives (who are ungodly rich), with no other housewives, or say wives with jobs anywhere to be seen.

It’s remarkable that perhaps 80% of the American public’s current material conditions are ignored in that most populists of all medias, television.  But it does make some things understandable, like how a man could say he thinks 47% of all Americans are parasites who are “dependent on government,” and still be in the running to become the next President of the United States.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Don't Pay to much Attention to "Professionals"

There was a good Twitter fight this morning between Washington Post bloggers Greg Sargent (the liberal one) and Jennifer Rubin (the conservative one). 

Greg initially tweeted:  YouGov/Economist poll: O 49, R 46. Key is it doesn't include Thurs and Fri after debate. 
Rubin replied: @ThePlumLineGS that would mean it's meaningless
To which Greg replied: @JRubinBlogger uh, no, it would mean that it doesn't include the days Romney had inflated numbers.

Rubin then goes on to yell about Libya, largely because Sargent made her look like an idiot.  Largely because Greg did in fact make her look like an idiot.

Anyway it's a good example of how partisans think about polling numbers.  Rubin is treating the post debate polls like a football game and seems to think that leaving out Thursday and Friday is akin to leaving out a quarter of a football game where team Romney scored a bunch of touchdowns.  But the reality is that if the debate result was only a temporary "bounce" for Romney, and I think that the evidence of this is mounting, what the polls "showed" on October 4-6 is fairly irrelevant to who wins the election.  Essentially Romney's "surge" won't help him out on Election Day, it will disappear, just like the VP bounces McCain and Romney both got when they announced their picks.  In short, all these types of bounces do is add drama about the campaign narrative and make tracking lines or graphs move around a lot.  This is a great example of how uninformed people who make their living writing about politics can be, I mean she doesn't even realize that polls telling us where we are tell us more about who will win than polls telling us where we might have been in the past.  Indeed, it is quite possible that this Romney "bounce" will go away just like Obama's leader after the 47% video came out did.  And don't forget, she gets paid a lot of money to write about this election.  So if you want to know whats going on, go read The Monkey Cage, the links over there on the right.    

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Debate Prediction

So let me just get this in here before the big Presidential Debate tomorrow, and feel free to make fun of me if I am wrong.  I predict that Mitt won't do very well and the debate will be in no way a game changer.  Since the Mittster is on trajectory to lose, this outcome would be a strategic defeat for him.

First of all it's important to remember that Political Science has shown that for a variety of reasons debates don't have that big of a impact in a Presidential race.  At this point in a campaign most voters have made up their minds already and will interpret what happens in a debate as simply reinforcing what they already thought.  In fact, most people who watch these things are more like football fans turning in to root their team on, not try and make a decision on who to vote for.  John Kerry probably came as close as you can come to "winning" a debate (all three I'd say), he of course did not win.  Finally I'd add that campaigns spend a lot of time preparing for these things and so like convention speeches they are always "good enough." 

Even with those codifiers, it looks like Mitt is embracing a pretty bad strategy to boot, which certainly won't help him.  As the Pravda of the conservative movement (National Review) put it, team Romney has five big objectives:  "(1) explaining the “choice” between the two candidates’ agendas; (2) modulating his natural “aggressiveness” (which actually sounds like “defensiveness when challenged”); (3) exhibiting “discipline” (i.e., not committing gaffes); (4) using fiscal and economic data effectively; and (5) deploying personal anecdotes to “introduce himself” to people just now tuning in to the election."  Let's go through these priorities one by one.

1.  Mitt has been running for president for six years now.  He's been the GOP front runner since last fall and recently had a speech on national television during his convention to explain this.  He hasn't exactly been doing a good job of it.  If he can't explain why his policies would be better than Obama's during his acceptance speech or during the summer, how' he going to do it in a 90 minute debate?

2.  This is not a bad idea in and of itself, but its more of a method of style than an actual goal to meet during the debate.  Reagan was very good at expressing contempt warmly, Romney just seems to get mad.

3.  Again this isn't much of a goal.  A bad gaffe might make Mitt look bad, and more importantly dominate the post debate media spin wars.  But it won't change the dynamics of the race.  In addition, the fact that Mitt has to pursue five different, possibly conflicting, objectives has got to be a bit confusing, thus raising the risk of the dreaded gaffes.

4.  This has to be a bad idea.  A large section of dwindling supply of genuine undecided voters are low-information voters, the types of people who probably won't respond well to a bunch of statistics about GDP growth targets.  Mitt is running for President not making a pitch to a group of junk bond inventors, he needs a Clintonesque "I feel your pain" moment, not a Ross Perot pie chart moment.

5.  This goes back to point number one.  How is Mitt going to "introduce" himself if he couldn't during his own convention, a multi-day media bonanza he had complete control over?  Obama is not going to sit there the whole time and keep quite, he's got some anecdotes he can pull out to introduce another Romney to the nation too.

In short, a terrible plan.