Nostalgia and film

As a brief follow up to my post on upper-middle-class families in modern television and film, I’d like to respond to this comment by Sam MacDonald:

Yes. If we could only go back to my childhood, when there were accurate, realistic portrayals of the American middle class, such as the Jeffersons, Silver Spoons, Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Diff’Rent Strokes, Soap, Knot’s Landing, etc. Even better were the really accurate shows from the 50s. Remember that episode of Leave it to Beaver when Ward and Wally went to the ballpark to toss battteries at the Jewish guy?

But seriously… I suppose you could point out a few shows from that era that did offer something more realistic (All in the Family, I suppose) but I think I could find current examples as well. Isn’t there that show with the fat people? Mike and Molly? I think the main dude is a cop. There was King of Queens. Lots of stuff on CMT, I think, like reruns of that Reba show. Maybe the problem isn’t television, but the choices you make when you hit the remote? I presume you COULD watch Reba reruns if a more “real America” portrayal is what you were after.

What I am getting at is… what makes you think that things are worse? Just a hunch?

Well, I don’t think things are “worse” first of all. As far as I’ve concerned we’re in a golden age of television. Between some of the really excellent comedies, most of Lost, and the HBO pantheon, we have some of the best TV ever made. The point I was making is simply that overall the portrayal of ‘normal’ families seems to be of pretty rich families. Maybe it’s always been this way, and I just never noticed. Certainly there have been awfully slanted portrayals of normal people throughout the history of television and film. It just seems as though things have been…sterilized in a way in recent years.

But that doesn’t really bother me that much. Shows like Modern Family are still some of the funniest most entertaining shows I’ve ever watched. I’m not nostalgic for some other golden age of television and film. I think we’re in one.

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24 thoughts on “Nostalgia and film

  1. Part of the problem is that most problems that most people have aren’t *THAT* entertaining. Well, after they hit 27 or 28, anyway.

    Okay, the problems that I had between the ages of 20 and 25? Those were some entertaining problems. Seriously, you could have put a show on based on them and, depending on the music/laugh track options, it could have been a sitcom, black comedy, or after-school special devoted to cautionary example.

    Now that I’m a grownup, my problems are more of the form of “paying bills” and “trying to get these install instructions readable by someone who doesn’t know their butt from their bicep” and “the cat peed on the couch (again)”.

    I don’t *WANT* to watch a show based on lives like mine. I’ve got one. I’m thrilled with it, of course, but watching a show about it would be a waste of time. Now a show dedicated to people who have enough money to entertain themselves with the problems I had between 20-25? Yeah, I’d probably watch that.

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    • > I don’t *WANT* to watch a show based on lives
      > like mine. I’ve got one. I’m thrilled with it, of
      > course, but watching a show about it would be
      > a waste of time.

      Yeah, this.

      Although Red Foxx would still be funny. People might regard it as poor taste to laugh at the poor folk, though.

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    • Jaybird – this makes sense, and maybe this is why this is so often a feature of comedies and romantic comedies. I suppose it’s really just that sometimes I’m watching a movie and they’re walking around in this massive kitchen in this gorgeous house, and they’re complaining about this or that problem and it’s…hard for me to sympathize. And I do think I am supposed to sympathize, but I don’t.

      I think you can do it without the wealth. A show like The Office isn’t peopled with upper-middle-class people. Or Parks and Recreation. It’s mainly just a trend I’ve noticed. The family in Mr. Mom, for instance, isn’t hurting financially, but they’re not rolling in cash either. Their house is fine, but it’s not so bloody *nice*.

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      • A kitchen with an island and granite counter tops and a margarita machine that you KNOW has never been used tells the viewer “this is why she is complaining about Tanya dating Wally even though Tanya KNEW that Ashleigh liked Wally and Ashleigh dating Tyler was only temporary and now Meaghan is stirring the pot by flirting with Tanya’s ex-boyfriend whom EVERYBODY hates.”

        People with kitchens where there is a stove, a sink, and enough counterspace for either a cutting board or a dishrack but not both do not have time for this kinda drama.

        It’s easy to imagine that people with islands and dual ovens and granite countertops that they never use do, though.

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    • This is an excellent point, and reminds me that some of ma favorite shows of late that were about people like me all had various surreal aspects to them. I’m thinking, especially, of Community -one of the few shows on the air with a cast of varying age and class.

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  2. ED,

    Thanks for the response.

    I agree that we are in something of a golden age of television. What made me think you thought otherwise was this:

    “I think something that’s far more troubling is the normalization of the upper-middle-class in film and television these days. Go back in time to a movie like E.T. or any number of films made in the 70’s and 80’s and the people in those films were pretty firmly middle class. They didn’t have big, perfect houses.”

    I put the stress on “these days” and “those films were pretty firmly middle class.” Yes, we had Friends and now Cougartown. But the more I think about it, the more I can come up with counterexamples. Almost half the TV shows seem to be cop procedurals dealing with the way middle class professionals deal with the underclass. You say the people are more beautiful than is reasonable, I say Ice-T and Richad Belzer. Doesn’t the Office and Parks and Recreation qualify as “real” in at least the economic sense?

    In my eyes, nothing appears different “these days.” In general, as much as we hate to admit it, you and I are… snobs. We like clever stuff written for young college graduates. Not Reba. Not Mike and Molly.

    In a perfect world, all the stuff starring “normal people” would be Roseanne or All in the Family. But it’s not, so we don’t watch it. Instead, we watch shows cleverly subverting upper middle class as people who are loveable DESPITE their money, not because of it. It gives us hope for ourselves.

    And the smartly written stuff about the other side of the tracks? I honestly don’t know. Who was the Wire written FOR? What was the demographic of the audience?

    I have to say that most of the gritty media that deal with stuff I am familiar with strike me as hopeless. I am from rural Western PA. I was supposed to love Breece DJ Pancake. I didn’t. I hated the Deerhunter. I wonder if guys from the hood in Baltimore feel the same about the Wire.

    So yeah. Charles Dickens did his thing. But I am glad Wodehouse wrote about Bertie and Jeeves. And I am glad Ed Bundy has a pnneumatic new wife.

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    • Wodehouse was spoofing the wealthy, of course.

      But in any case, I didn’t mean for my post to claim that we should never have portrayals of wealthy or moderately wealthy people in TV and film, or that this has never been done before. I think there has been a trend in a lot of movies to present the upper-middle-class as *normal* rather than as well-to-do. Has this always been done? Maybe so. It’s just something I’ve noticed with a lot of shows (but certainly not all shows).

      Nor do I think it’s necessary for good TV.

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  3. The point I was making is simply that overall the portrayal of ‘normal’ families seems to be of pretty rich families

    You are confounding affluent (ample income) with rich (ample assets and often an enterprise of consequence). I think you generally see the latter in (fictional and non-fictional) police procedurals — as perpetrators.

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