I wrote this paper for a class today and I liked it. It sounds more essay-ish than bloggish, but I am too anxious about this election to alter it right now.
Popular media is rife with “hidden” values and power relationships—though in many cases the term “hidden” can be used only loosely. One could easily argue that in the past year, the presidential primaries and election have exposed extreme racism and sexism that continue to underlie media coverage. However, less remarked-upon values and power relationships also exist in both the news and entertainment media. One example of such that I have recently been noticing more and more is the value that the media places in wealth—especially those who have it and those who seem posed to gain it. In the United States, 1% of the country owns 38% of the country’s wealth—the odds of joining that 1% are very low for most people. However, political coverage, television shows, magazine articles, and other forms of media all convey the idea that the rich live the best lives, and they should be allowed to keep them, because someday you might be rich, too.
This year’s election has motivated extensive discussion about taxes, the economy, the rich and the poor; but perhaps most of all, the middle class. I find that the media consistently assumes that members of the middle class can have no more compelling goal than to become members of the upper class. Take, for example, an from Fortune magazine, which explores the plight of the HENRYs: “high earners, not rich yet” who are afraid they may never enter the upper class if the taxes on their $250,00-plus incomes are to increase. This article bemoans the fact that though “most HENRYs don't need to worry about making the next mortgage or credit card payment,” they also do not have golf-club memberships or $1,400 dresses. According to this article, HENRYs earn more than 98% of American households, yet the media encourages those 98% to think, If I work hard enough, it could be me earning $250,00 a year, and I don’t want to pay higher taxes when I earn that much. The media ihttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifs trying to convince us that to be rich requires more than a quarter of a million dollars per year, even though most of us would be thrilled just to not worry about paying our mortgages. Overall, I found the reasons this article presented for opposing higher taxes for HENRYs to be fairly ridiculous.
Entertainment media also perpetuates the idea that everyone should try to be rich by implying that rich people live the best and most exciting lives. Programs like VH1’s The Fabulous Life Of… and MTV’s Cribs show off the cool and crazy things that wealthy people can buy, while shows such as Fear Factor imply that eating disgusting things is worth it for a lot of money. However, it is shows like Gossip Girl that do the best job of instilling a sense of “rich is better” in citizens, because it is marketed to impressionable teenagers who think that with money, they can be like their favorite characters. I will be the first to admit that I adore Gossip Girl, and I fully agree with New York Magazine when they call it “the greatest show of our time.” Unfortunately, when I think, Thank god I wasn’t rich enough to be cruising around bars at age fifteen, other girls are probably thinking, I wish I were rich enough to be pictured in the tabloids. From a young age, Americans are taught that their own value is directly proportional to the value of their assets.
The portrayal of wealth in the media often presents itself as the American Dream, but it is a distorted picture. People like the HENRYs have been made to believe that their hard work that comfortably supports their families is still not enough to qualify themselves as successful, and teenagers who have not even had the chance to begin a career are taught to aim for wealth rather than something that will fulfill their interests and adequately support them. In addition to enforcing unachievable values and levels of power on American citizens, the power structure of wealth in the media reinforces corresponding values of racism and sexism—the wealthiest people in America tend to be white males. By intertwining America’s inherent value of the American Dream with a hidden value of unnecessary wealth, the media instills yet another power structure that alienates most of the country’s citizens.