Last month David Wong, pretty much my favorite Cracked author (and the author of some completely amazing and bizarre books), wrote an article about the odd perception of wealth and poverty on TV. This week he's joined by Jack O'Brien and Kristi Harrison to talk about exactly how fucked up the presentation of money is on TV.
This is one of those great moments where you go through your memories and say "holy shit, they're right!" Think about the poorest non-addict, non-homeless character you've seen on TV. Or even someone who WAS homeless - I'm going to use Phoebe from Friends as an example here because she's PERFECT. Phoebe is a part-time masseuse who plays terrible music as a side gig. Once in a while she's got some other kind of wacky part-time job supporting her. How the fuck does Phoebe afford to live in New York? Using current numbers a NY masseuse will make about $2500 a month (about $25 an hour at 25 hours a week with really rough estimates on tips and taxes); Phoebe gets coffee at Central Perk at least two times a day every day of the week - using current NY Starbucks pricing for a coffee and a cookie each time (which is similar to Phoebe's typical order and also their cheapest offerings on the menu) that's about $225 a month. Let's assume that OTHER than the coffee shop Phoebe is usually frugal with food and spends only $100 a week on her vegetarian diet. She lives in New York and doesn't drive her cab often so she must have a metro card, and I'm going to assume she uses the $30 a week option instead of the $112 a month because it's unlikely that she'd be able to save up that much cash in a month but $30 a week isn't as big a hit even if it costs more overall. That leave her $1755 a month for rent, and hey, that means she can afford a whole 400 square foot apartment in Chinatown. And nothing else. No dinners out, no strings for her guitar, no insurance or registration for her cab, no toothpaste, new clothes, or health insurance. But Phoebe is at least at a net positive of $5 a month (especially since she's got a roommate at least part of the time. Joey, on the other hand, owed Chandler at least $100,000.00 at one point.
And you see the same thing all over the place in movies and TV - In Big Bang Theory Penny, a waitress and sometimes actress, can afford a similar apartment to two PhDs living down the hall from her (plus she spends a lot more money on clothes and hair and makeup stuff than Leonard and Sheldon do); hell even in Twin Peaks Big Ed keeps a nice house on the income from his small service station and the Log Lady has a great cabin and a nice tea set and money to eat at the diner in spite of having no visible means of income. Unless a show is mostly about poverty the writers totally erase poverty.
Anway, Harrison, O'Brien, and Wong make a lot of great points about the same sorts of things and it's well worth a listen.
Cracked Podcasts: Money Myths in Pop Culture
Cracked Articles: 5 Insane things you believe about money (Thanks to the movies)