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What TV Can Teach Us About the White Working Class

(The American Conservative) Even in a nation obsessed with representation in the media and politics, the white working class has often gone forgotten.

Their economic decline, cultural decay, and frustration with the political system went unnoticed until it helped swing the 2016 presidential election. Yet even as cable news hosts and politicians were completely blindsided, narrative television did a decent job of showing this group’s suffering—even when it wasn’t portrayed accurately.

The white working class has been looked down upon since the earliest days of narrative television…

When All in the Family premiered in 1971, the character of Archie Bunker received similar treatment. He was a loud-mouthed bigot who often looked like he was taking his wife for granted and couldn’t understand his countercultural daughter, Gloria, or Mike, his hippie son-in-law.

Yet while Archie wasn’t always portrayed in a positive light, his political incorrectness made him an anti-hero and he was able to lead a respectable lifestyle in a single-income family. Like most men of his time, he was a homeowner who enjoyed strong civic institutions and a union that protected his job…

The visibility of working-class white families fell significantly after All in the Family. It took about a decade before Hollywood produced a trio of shows that gave serious attention to the demographic, with the creation of Married… with Children in 1987, Roseanne in 1988, and The Simpsons in 1989.

Married with Children’s Al Bundy put a farcical twist on working-class men’s loss of social standing. He was a shoe salesman making menial wages while living amid the consumerism that swept America during the 1980s.

These are the voters who made up the base of the Democratic Party for decades, the same voters they abandoned in exchange for cosmopolitan liberals, college-educated suburban women, and minorities. Nearly 7 million of these working-class whites switched their votes to Trump in 2016, just like Roseanne inevitably did when the show returned in 2018.

At the premiere of the reboot, audiences saw the Conner family in almost the exact same situation they were in 20 years before. Roseanne and Dan, now seniors, were struggling to get by and unable to afford their medication. Their three older children were all working various dead-end jobs.

By the time the 2016 presidential election rolled around, according to a WSJ/NBC poll, 48 percent of white working-class Americans said, “Things have changed so much that often they feel like strangers in their own country.”

In a world where Trump pervades every part of our culture and the Left believes all institutions have a responsibility to fight against him and his supporters, it’s unlikely we’re going to see many more accurate TV portraits of white working-class families.

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