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Class Tension In Film

post #1 of 49
Thread Starter 

I guess there's some unintentional topicality in regards to posting this on Black Friday.

 

Am I the only one who is bugged by the complete dismissal of the middle class in mainstream movies? I know most of the general public go to big studio movies to not think about the taxes and bills waiting for them at home. But do movies have to be so oblivious about how the middle and lower classes usually live?

 

I just saw a recent film where a major subplot involved a married couple with flailing businesses struggling to pay their bills on their house. Except that every other scene involved them doing something completely, obliviously costly and wasteful. They keep worrying about their finances, and it's the main crux of the film, and in the meantime they try to eat write by throwing out food. Lots and lots and lots of food, not being given to shelters, or to friends, but being thrown out completely. And not only that, but eventually their attitude, after no real belt-tightening, is, ah, we'll make do. Somehow.

 

I can't help but watch these movies and think, it's a deflated market. You don't need a big house. Move into an apartment. It very much looks like you can afford it. It's just not a compelling conflict, unless the filmmakers somehow give a serious grounding to the characters' economic and social situations.

 

Am I the only one bothered by how shitty mainstream movies are when dealing with these class issues?

post #2 of 49

Ditto any film showing young artists or office workers living in spacious, pristine inner-city studio apartments that in the real world would have a monthly rent equal to their yearly income.

post #3 of 49
Thread Starter 

There are so many movies where unfortunate characters walk into an apartment and just cringe at the size and quality, and I'm always thinking, "I dunno, given your circumstances, this place looks fucking great."

post #4 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by Workyticket View Post

Ditto any film showing young artists or office workers living in spacious, pristine inner-city studio apartments that in the real world would have a monthly rent equal to their yearly income.

The best example of this is the Kevin Bacon classic Quicksilver. Bike messenger Bacon and his ballet student girlfriend rent an apartment in New York that could honestly take up an entire city block.
post #5 of 49

Mainstream Hollywood is aspirational and expert in wish-fulfillment - it's been so since they were doing crazy sumptous musicals during the Great Depression. That being said, I agree with everything here and really wouldn't mind some more early Warner Bros or 70's Hollywood grimness to go with the times (Looper, which I didn't like much, at least had that going for it).

post #6 of 49

Interesting topic, and I agree with pretty much everything said so far.  I accepted a long time ago that pretty much everyone in Hollywood is completely disconnected from reality.

post #7 of 49

Hollywood has Mitt Romney's view of the middle class.

post #8 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by mcnooj82 View Post

Hollywood has Mitt Romney's view of the middle class.

 

Dunno if it's that, really. Hollywood isn't scornful of the have-nots; it just pretends they don't exist.

post #9 of 49

Oh, not in attitude.  Just in that it probably thinks the middle class makes $230,000 a year.

 

But in seriousness, it's as you already stated...  Hollywood is just in the aspirational/wish-fulfillment business.  Just as the people in its movies are often superhuman in appeal and physical beauty, so are its settings.

post #10 of 49

The worst offender in memory is Christmas With the Cranks. I remember being totally appalled at the spectacle of watching wealthy white middle-aged men battle over who has the best celebration of their pagan holiday with their egregious, wasteful decorations. Just absolutely disgusting. On top of that, of course Tim Allen's daughter was super model gorgeous. When Dan Aykroyd sniffs around about how the Cranks were not celebrating Christmas that year, and begins to pressure them to do so, I so wished for a Bolshevik-style execution of the whole community. I want that movie to die. 

post #11 of 49

FATHER OF THE FUCKING BRIDE. "Middle class" Steve Martin frets about how to afford his daughter's $100,000 wedding whilst bemoaning his financial status and bitching about his "run down" palatial home.
 

post #12 of 49

Not a smelly brown person in sight to ruin our Christmas celebration! My mechanical Santa that little Chinese slaved over is bigger than yours Nah Nah! I win! I love Jesus more! Your consolation prize is living in a mansion eight times larger than you will ever need, with the knowledge that 10,000 lessers have frozen to death on the streets this year. Christmas with the KKKranks is more like it! Fuck. 

post #13 of 49

This Is 40 looks like it will be a pretty bad offender. With Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann complaining about their lives with their gigantic house, successful careers and Apatow children.


Edited by Untitled - 11/23/12 at 10:44am
post #14 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by Andrew Merriweather View Post

FATHER OF THE FUCKING BRIDE. "Middle class" Steve Martin frets about how to afford his daughter's $100,000 wedding whilst bemoaning his financial status and bitching about his "run down" palatial home.
 

 

Mr. Burns to Homer: "Naturally I can't pay you much of a reward, because I'm strapped for cash."

(Ceiling gives way, causing huge pile of money and jewels to pour down on Mr. Burns)

Mr. Burns: "As you can see, this old place is falling apart."

post #15 of 49

Money fight!!!

 

http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l619cbTMCH1qztjn5o1_500.gif

post #16 of 49

Not to be overly nostalgic, but this was handled SO much better in the 70's, even into the early 80's. I can't remember the last time I saw a movie nail the working class the way films like "Norma Rae" or "Tender Mercies" or even something like "Silkwood" did. You'd think every production designer working today had never ventured outside Hollywood when it comes to how working class/blue collar houses  or cars look.

 

On a purely self promotional note, I've tried to deal with this in my own film work. 

 

On a comedic level with: www.wildgirlwaltz.com

 

And on a dramatic level with: www.baystateblues.net

post #17 of 49
Away We Go

I can't think of a film where I hated the main characters as much I hated the soon-to-be-parents in Away We Go. The whole hipster vanity road trip to prove themselves both morally and culturally superior to others in their relationship and thier plans for parenthood really rubbed me the wrong way.
post #18 of 49

Sure, Hollywood has trouble accurately depicting the middle class; but they make up for it by showing how inspirational and ennobling it is to be dirt poor.

post #19 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by levrock View Post

 I can't remember the last time I saw a movie nail the working class the way films like "Norma Rae" or "Tender Mercies" or even something like "Silkwood" did. 

Good call on "Tender Mercies". Just saw it for the first time a few weeks ago and it's one of my favourite movies I've seen this year. I was really impressed by how thoughtfully written and insightful it was...it's a movie about someone whose life, profession, and personality are about a million miles away from mine, and yet I found him very easy to connect with on a basic human level. I think I'll have to check out those others you recommended too.

post #20 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by Judas Booth View Post

Interesting topic, and I agree with pretty much everything said so far.  I accepted a long time ago that pretty much everyone in Hollywood is completely disconnected from reality.

 

But it's not just Hollywood's fault--it's people as well. Remember, most people who watch movies view it purely as escapism; it's there to make themselves feel better about their shitty lives. No one wants an accurate portrayal of middle-class America because they're well aware of how awful, and racist, and crappy it actually all is. Basically, it's "Twilight" for a general audience; movies filled with a bunch of young, hip, white people living in nice houses, with nice jobs fucking nice women, etc, etc... It's how we want our lives to desperately be, so we pay $10 so we can play pretend for a couple hours.

post #21 of 49
The obviousness is bad enough, but often I think that's mostly what it is. You get on a large-ish budget shoot and scout a few real locations and the camera department hold up a few sticks and you can't fit the camera through the door on a dolly; room X will look tiny even on the widest lens - get a bigger house or build, simple. Oh and then we can fit the crane in, and go from this room to that, show the how the house 'works', you'll be Alfred Hitchcock!
I don't know but I suspect a lot of realist ambition disappears that way. Escapism too of course (especially since the 80s). The technical side isn't as true any more of course, but then it becomes old habits are hard to break kind of situation.
Or I might be in too charitable a mood.
post #22 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gabe T View Post

I guess there's some unintentional topicality in regards to posting this on Black Friday.

 

Am I the only one who is bugged by the complete dismissal of the middle class in mainstream movies? I know most of the general public go to big studio movies to not think about the taxes and bills waiting for them at home. But do movies have to be so oblivious about how the middle and lower classes usually live?

 

I just saw a recent film where a major subplot involved a married couple with flailing businesses struggling to pay their bills on their house. Except that every other scene involved them doing something completely, obliviously costly and wasteful. They keep worrying about their finances, and it's the main crux of the film, and in the meantime they try to eat write by throwing out food. Lots and lots and lots of food, not being given to shelters, or to friends, but being thrown out completely. And not only that, but eventually their attitude, after no real belt-tightening, is, ah, we'll make do. Somehow.

 

I can't help but watch these movies and think, it's a deflated market. You don't need a big house. Move into an apartment. It very much looks like you can afford it. It's just not a compelling conflict, unless the filmmakers somehow give a serious grounding to the characters' economic and social situations.

 

Am I the only one bothered by how shitty mainstream movies are when dealing with these class issues?

 

Homes and apartments are the worst.

 

How about the young upstart who works at an office job but has an apartment that is so obviously out his price range that it's laughable...especially when it's set in NY or LA or another major metropolis.

 

But on the other hand you can't really fault the studios...they're manufacturing wish fulfillment...people want to go to the movies to see their potential, not their reality.

 

EDIT: Or what everyone in the thread has said so far.

post #23 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ska Oreo View Post

No one wants an accurate portrayal of middle-class America because they're well aware of how awful, and racist, and crappy it actually all is. 

 

I'd argue the racist part is well presented in these films.  Hollywood's entire modus operandi could be boiled down to... upper class white people problems.

post #24 of 49
Let us all decompress with a re-watch of Kermode's review of Sex and City 2
post #25 of 49

The concept of class is anathema to Americans. The whole concept of the "American Dream" depends on some idealized totally fluid class system. There is the upper class as an aspiration and the lower class as a cautionary example. The middle classs only exists as a transit station.

 

Why would their entertainment of all things deal with it?

post #26 of 49
Quote:

Originally Posted by stelios View Post

 

The middle classs only exists as a transit station.

 

Why would their entertainment of all things deal with it?

 

I don't agree with this.  Many, if not most people in the US aspire to being middle class, and have no illusions about becoming super rich.  And much of the traditional idea of what it is to live The American Dream is about being solidly middle class in suburbia.  People will disagree about what policies have led to the erosion of a healthy middle class, but it's something everyone (except the super rich, in my opinion) understands America needs to be healthy.

 

The reason Hollywood doesn't depict the middle ground is because extremes are easier to dramatize, and therefore market to large audiences.

post #27 of 49

On a side note, there was a good episode of Frontline recently which examined the life of the poor in part of Illinois.

 

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/poor-kids/
 

post #28 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bailey View Post

 

I don't agree with this.  Many, if not most people in the US aspire to being middle class, and have no illusions about becoming super rich.  And much of the traditional idea of what it is to live The American Dream is about being solidly middle class in suburbia.  People will disagree about what policies have led to the erosion of a healthy middle class, but it's something everyone (except the super rich, in my opinion) understands America needs to be healthy.

 

The reason Hollywood doesn't depict the middle ground is because extremes are easier to market.

 

I think you're half right.  While most Americans only aspire to be middle class in a realistic sense, they still dream of being wealthy (so they can quit their miserable job, take twelve vacations a year, have a maid, send all their kids and sibling's kids to top universities, move into the elite class of society, etc.).  They know the chances of them becoming wealthy are incredibly small if not zero, and that's why it remains a dream.  And movies fulfill that dream logic.  

post #29 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ambler View Post

 

I think you're half right.  While most Americans only aspire to be middle class in a realistic sense, they still dream of being wealthy (so they can quit their miserable job, take twelve vacations a year, have a maid, send all their kids and sibling's kids to top universities, move into the elite class of society, etc.).  They know the chances of them becoming wealthy are incredibly small if not zero, and that's why it remains a dream.  And movies fulfill that dream logic.  

 

Well who doesn't dream of having a better life?  That's not purely an economic proposition either.  Adventure stories play to our desire to have a more exciting life, regardless of our economic circumstances, for example.  That's an inherent part of storytelling, and is not unique to America.

 

(And isn't watching movies about rich people just our version of old stories about princes and princesses?)


Edited by Bailey - 11/25/12 at 9:09am
post #30 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bailey View Post

 

I don't agree with this.  Many, if not most people in the US aspire to being middle class, and have no illusions about becoming super rich.  And much of the traditional idea of what it is to live The American Dream is about being solidly middle class in suburbia.  People will disagree about what policies have led to the erosion of a healthy middle class, but it's something everyone (except the super rich, in my opinion) understands America needs to be healthy.

 

The reason Hollywood doesn't depict the middle ground is because extremes are easier to dramatize, and therefore market to large audiences.

 

The middle class people aspire to be isn't middle class at all. 

post #31 of 49

Suburban home, white picket fence, enough money to send your kids to college and retire to yard work and a comfortable chair on your front porch isn't middle class?  I know and have known plenty of people who had that as their aspiration.  And relatively few who wanted more. That is a key aspect of the idea of the American Dream.  It's not all about "you could one day be rich and famous."  That's only one part of it.

post #32 of 49

It sadly isn't anymore. It may have been for your grandparents. For your parents such fate was a lottery. For us? 

post #33 of 49

Fuck that white picket fence shit. When I grow up I want to be in my actor friend's entourage and get all the primo Hollywood tail! Bros b4 hos!

post #34 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by stelios View Post

It sadly isn't anymore. It may have been for your grandparents. For your parents such fate was a lottery. For us? 

 

1000

post #35 of 49

I don't think I've met a single person who didn't dream of being wealthy.  As in "wouldn't it be great if..." .  People will tell you what's realistic for them...but everyone has that impossible fantasy on repeat in the back of their minds, whether it's being wealthy, being a famous athlete or singer, being a secret agent, fighting wampas with a light saber, whatever.  That's what Hollywood is feeding.

post #36 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ambler View Post

I don't think I've met a single person who didn't dream of being wealthy.  As in "wouldn't it be great if..." .  People will tell you what's realistic for them...but everyone has that impossible fantasy on repeat in the back of their minds, whether it's being wealthy, being a famous athlete or singer, being a secret agent, fighting wampas with a light saber, whatever.  That's what Hollywood is feeding.

 

     The white picket fence is just metaphorical, obviously.  My point is the reality of pretty much everyone I know is to aspire to some kind of middle class comfort.  Not pie in the sky success.

 
Yes, people dream of wealth and fame... people dream of being a lot of things, and have for a long time.  I don't think that's unique to Hollywood.  Certainly our culture feeds pipe dreams, but that's also technology making things easier and more accessible, and Madison Avenue, etc...  Not just Hollywood.  And stories have been feeding people's fantasies forever.
post #37 of 49

I'm probably being Captain Obvious here, but I think it's also important to point out that escapism is a big part of what fiction's about and always has been. I don't begrudge people their aspirational fantasies and I think there's a place for it, if I can watch movies to imagine I'm in space or a hobbit I see no reason others can't want to look at some nice bathrooms. The balance is the thing, though, and there really need to be more gritty movies filling that niche that aren't just traditional arthouse realist miserabilism.

post #38 of 49
Thread Starter 

It is weird, though. I figure escapism for these audiences is not having to pay bills, not having to worry about mortgages. But then there are so many movies that use this as a source of tension, when in fact the house is obviously far too big, and they simply have a massive overhead, and/or the financial problems are resolved with a shrug and a "we'll just have to try harder" resolution. If it's escapism, why introduce this as a possible source of tension at all?

post #39 of 49

Mo money, mo problems VERISIMILITUDE!!!

post #40 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gabe T View Post

It is weird, though. I figure escapism for these audiences is not having to pay bills, not having to worry about mortgages. But then there are so many movies that use this as a source of tension, when in fact the house is obviously far too big, and they simply have a massive overhead, and/or the financial problems are resolved with a shrug and a "we'll just have to try harder" resolution. If it's escapism, why introduce this as a possible source of tension at all?

This topic has boiled down a bit to how big is your house, when it's much larger a subject than that, but the above is interesting (and I guess it has been the main subject since the start). That goes to the normalising of the McMansion phenomenon and it's kind of interesting how many people got themselves in deep shit over the idea that you're supposed to have a huge open plan Cosby house, talk in "square footage" all the time, two or three cars at least and hopefully a boat and renovate half the place as soon as you move in.
Even before the crash it was kind of stunning how many people (here as well) got saddled with terrible houses and terrible finance in a bid to get that look. People for some reason not quite grasping that ten halogen downlights in every room just might chew a bit of juice (and even catch fire if they're not put in well). The people who were trapped by this stuff were almost always working class aspirationals, and (not that TV interviews are much representation, but anyway) often held out a lot of anger that this lifestyle wasn't truly available to them. It's partly the way the media covered these things, sure -as putting the boot into utilities prices and the government etc is a bit of a free kick- but there is that fantasy that if taxes were lower, if those prices didn't keep going up or whatever then this should be theirs too. Truth is they bought a con of an image, they were bad at personal finance and generally had no idea.

So yes, I find it amazing how often people get themselves in this pickle and can't see the wood for the trees. As in the movie example, it's as if "just regular folks" are supposed to have a big house you can't truly afford. Like that's what makes you the Everyman today.
post #41 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gabe T View Post

It is weird, though. I figure escapism for these audiences is not having to pay bills, not having to worry about mortgages. But then there are so many movies that use this as a source of tension, when in fact the house is obviously far too big, and they simply have a massive overhead, and/or the financial problems are resolved with a shrug and a "we'll just have to try harder" resolution. If it's escapism, why introduce this as a possible source of tension at all?

BECAUSE I, AS THE AUDIENCE, CAN TOTALLY RELATE TO THE CHARACTERS IF THEY SEEMINGLY HAVE PROBLEMS THAT ARE RELATABLE TO MYSELF. IT'S LIKE BENAFFLECKDAMONREEVES IS LIKE ME, BRO.

post #42 of 49

I'm probably completely missing the point of the thread, but I saw Step Up 4 at the movies recently with one of my friends - it was free, if that makes it any less shameful - and we were both baffled by the toys all the "wrong side of the tracks" kids had. Like, multiple iPads, cars that bounce, giant apartments rented by single mothers and the rest of it. It's not that I expect anything resembling realism in a Step Up movie, but still. It makes suspending the disbelief just that little bit harder.

post #43 of 49

This is probably the LAST thing I ever think about when watching movies or TV. Does that make me stupid and unobservant? I don't believe that's true. Maybe my suspension of disbelief for this kind of thing is just higher.

 

That, and I guess I don't watch a lot of movies with plots like this.

post #44 of 49

I imagine there is some hazy relationship between between one's ability to suspend disbelief and consider social issues like this in film...

 

YOU WHO SHRUG OFF THE INSTITUTIONAL RACISM IN YOUR PRECIOUS DISNEY MOVIEEEEEEEEEES ! !! !! ! !!  !! !

 

No, you're not stupid and unobservant.  But when it comes to social topics like this (and Hollywood Whitewashing), there is a level of willingness to consider them.  Particularly when mainstream movies are so clueless (intentionally or not) about such things.  This isn't something you'd think about from watching one film.  It's a pattern you'd recognize from watching movies in general.

post #45 of 49

Well, I also know precisely dick about architecture, how much apartments cost, etc. Ergo, I don't really notice this kind of thing unless it's part of the theme or something.

 

I also tend to consider the story, characters and how the themes affect THOSE elements long before I consider any social implications. Whereas folks like Gabe go for it almost immediately.

post #46 of 49
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Spider View Post

Well, I also know precisely dick about architecture, how much apartments cost, etc. Ergo, I don't really notice this kind of thing unless it's part of the theme or something.

 

I also tend to consider the story, characters and how the themes affect THOSE elements long before I consider any social implications. Whereas folks like Gabe go for it almost immediately.

 

But class - and race - are part of what makes a character, and consequently influence both plot and themes. In some movies more than others, of course, but it's almost always there if you look for it.

post #47 of 49

True enough, I guess I just don't wonder as much about the stuff Gabe is talking about in his opening post like whether or not an on-screen apartment is too expensive for a character or not.

 

What I'm saying is, I certainly THINK about class if it's part of a character, plot or theme, but it doesn't become *distracting* or hurt my suspension of disbelief. Like, I'm going through Frasier right now on Netflix Instant, and the size of Frasier's apartment is certainly questionable, but it doesn't especially BOTHER me. Especially since he is established to be a prominent in-universe celebrity. Class is a part of that show as well, as Frasier and Niles clash with working-class characters like Martin or Daphne.

post #48 of 49
Well yeah but that's the point, Frasier is supposed to be an upper-class twit. What people are discussing in this thread is the same amount of wealth being attributed to people who're characterized as Joe Average.
post #49 of 49

Ah, gotcha. I can't think of any examples off the top of my head, to be perfectly honest.

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