Class negotiations : poverty, welfare policy, and American television
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Television impacts the shape of our common culture by depicting our societal fears, myths and hopes in a constantly shifting and negotiated manner. There is a glaring lack of research regarding media representations of children/adolescents in poverty. The study of this intersection is critically important for understanding societal discourse around education, healthcare, government assistance programs and even the opinions and practices of teachers and administrators. Children under 18 years of age represent 24 percent of the population, but they comprise 34 percent of all people in poverty in the United States. Among all children, 45 percent live in low-income families and approximately one in every five (22 percent) live in poor families. In this thesis, I trace discourse in the mainstream news and popular culture regarding children and poverty through welfare debates and policy changes in the U.S. from the 1990s and 2000s through the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. Subsequently, I analyze the construction of this discourse on narrative television in the shows My So Called Life (ABC, 1994-1995) The O.C. (FOX, 2003-2007) and Shameless (Showtime, 2011-). Through this mapping, I examine how gender, sexuality, race, and age are mobilized in constructing televisual representations of poverty; as well as how shifting discourses and depictions make transparent society’s anxieties regarding poverty.