Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A poverty of time, but really just too affluent...

You really don't realize how affluent you are until you're not. I mean really not. We get use to a certain normality that we forget that our normal is really extraordinary. For instance, a car is practically a birthright in the U.S. It's our primary unit of transportation, we even have more cars that people. So cars are a fantastic metaphor for the irony of affluence.

If poverty is only being able to walk from place to place, we don't realize the effort it takes to walk until you have to walk again. But sometimes we feel poor on the freeway. When we drive, if we have the entire road to ourselves we feel like we are going fast, because we judge ourselves and our effort against walking. But bring traffic to the road, even if we are going the same speed as without traffic we feel poorer. Because relative to the rest of the traffic we feel slow again. We've taken a position of power and we've made it position of poverty. How odd, even though nothing has changed.

Affluence is a norm, and we focus not on our absolute condition, but instead on our relative. The others on the road change our perceptions of ourselves. So our sense of affluence is set not by ourselves, but by what we perceive of others. When we drive, we don't actually see our car, we only see other cars. We compare those cars to our sense of our cars. Our sense of affluence has changed.

In the past, if you had a home you were set. Now you have to have a big home. This is really visible in the way that television has changed. When TV first became popular, our TV shows were reflective of our society or our impressions of ourselves. Think The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, Leave it to Beaver, All in the Family and Eight is Enough. Think even a show as non-sensical as Three's Company. In all these shows from the 50s through the 70s TV shows were about how people lived. Kids shared a room, apartments looked like our own apartments.

Somewhere along the line, TV stopped being reflective of our lives, but prescriptive of our lives. Of how we should live. Think Dallas, Dynasty, Beverly Hills 90210 and even Friends. In those shows everyone has what they want, there are no struggles of money described. (contrast that with All in the Family) They all have nice things, even if they work in coffee shops as we see in Friends. If our TV friends have lives that good, shouldn't we was the message. These images burn into our psychic screens, and we now think that this is affluence. How did we start striving for television lives, how did we become aspirational of that.

So affluence is not a state of being, but a state of mind, or more accurately a state of television.


At 10:23 PM , Blogger Green Bean said...

The TV thing really hits me. I never thought about it but when we were growing up, we'd watch people on TV who lived in homes like ours, drove cars like ours, and sometimes struggled with finances. You almost never see anything like that on the boob tube these days.

At 9:28 AM , Blogger Dianna said...

you really notice the tv disparity when you watch shows from the 70s and imagine them now -- jim rockford in a crappy trailer in a parking lot at the beach? nope, he'd be in a high rise. All in the Family in a tatty rowhome in queens? not when the UPS driver in King of Queens and his secretary wife can apparently own a beautiful single family home in queens.

the massive apartment in friends was supposedly rent-controlled, i remember that from the first season, but notice it wasn't mentioned after that. tv definitely has skewed our expectations of what you can, and should, have.

At 2:25 PM , Blogger Alana said...

Tv definitely is used to try and show us what the "norm" is and to make is feel inadequate if we can't compare, especially with the ridiculously big houses. And now look at what has happened.


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