Monday, November 8, 2010

Downsized . . . a bit

So, did anyone else watched "Downsized"? It seemed to me to be a show about a plucky family who rode the wave of financial wealth and then abruptly lost it. How unfortunate! The Hubby--mine, not the one on the show--nearly ruined any interest or enjoyment I thought I might draw from the show. After every segment he said, "I don't like this" or "What is this?" And he was really annoyed every time there was shot of the house; there's nothing poverty-level about that house, he repeated over and over. I wanted him to hush so I could zone out and watch TV. But eventually I had my own questions.
  • Is anyone wondering why these people have so many children? I understand the blended family dynamics, but weathering this financial storm would be less of a catastrophe with fewer children. Isn't this the question asked of many other families living at poverty level?
  • Why do they look so good? (Okay, this was another of The Hubby's questions) The haircuts looked fresh and fly. The clothes were not tattered. One of the children was gifted a new (to her) car; how would she pay for gas and other car expenses? Isn't this a question asked of other families living at poverty level?
  • After a frustrating trip to the grocery store wherein one of the daughters had to put back almost all of the food because there wasn't enough money on the food stamps card, the mother reminds her that their state of being was temporary. It was a moment, I think, meant to elicit compassion from the audience. And it did. The girl was embarrassed that people she knew saw her using welfare. But aren't there many people for whom this will be a constant state of being? Do we feel more sorry for this family? Shouldn't they just be grateful to have anything to eat at all? Shouldn't the daughter just suck it up and get over herself? Isn't this a question asked of other families living at poverty level?
  • The father states more than once that they got themselves into this and they'll get themselves out. That seems to sit nicely into the American ideology of work ethic and merit. But should the state (i.e. "us") be helping "them" dig their way out of a mess of their own making? Isn't this a question asked of other families living at poverty level?

My point is not to bash this family. I can understand how life can turn you upside down and shake the stuffing right out of you. I bet everyone can understand that these days. Do we understand it, though, when most of the country is living high on the hog, as this family was one short year ago? Do we understand how one (or two or three) miscalculation or poor decision can totally derail a family? Especially when that misstep is paired with some other glitches that are not of one's own doing? Do we understand how people make decisions about the sacrifices they need to make based on their own definitions of quality of life? that those decisions may or may not reflect what other people think are appropriate? that they may or may not be directly related to morality or character?

I'm just wondering about the narrative that frames this show. I think, to take a note from Christine O'Donnell, that this family is supposed to be "us." That we should ask how we see ourselves in them. But is this the question we ask about other families living at poverty level? Just wondering.

No comments: