Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Very Brady America

Mike Brady was an architect. And on his architect's salary, he was able to support a blended family with six children, a stay-at-home wife, a live-in maid and a shaggy dog. And while this wasn't exactly a common situation in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when The Brady Bunch was still first-run television, it wasn't presented as openly fantastic - that is, it wasn't expected to require a particularly high level of willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewing audience. They weren't openly and conspicuously wealthy in the way the Ewings were portrayed on Dallas, about a decade later. The Bradys may have been more successful than many, but they were still intended to be seen as a middle-class suburban family, someone that viewers could identify with and reasonably aspire to.

I'm not a student of the economics of that period, but I suspect that for all the Bradys were intended to be an unusual family only in the size of the household and the strange fact that a man with three sons just happens to marry a woman with three daughters, one would have been unlikely unlikely to encounter real people living in similar circumstances. But for all that, there is this idea that there was once a prosperous America where many, if not most, people lived more or less like that. Dad went off to work every day, Mom took care of the household and the kids were kids.

And there were people who lived like that. But not everyone. There were a lot of families where both parents worked, either at or outside the home. And those families helped pay, to one degree or another, for the opportunities that better-off families had access to. And some of them were better off than others.

I think America is changing. It's changing before their eyes and I think that a lot of the angry white men who support Donald Trump have a belief that America has passed them by. And that people who don't look like them are getting ahead in the new America. And I think they all understand in some ways that Donald Trump is speaking in a less coded way than some others in the Republican Party, but he's saying Make America white again, not Make America great again. And I think, unfortunately, working class people have bought that. And that's why my heart is broken.
Richard Russo "Novelist Richard Russo: 'I Find Myself Now ... Having Lived The American Dream'"
While I understand where Mr. Russo, and others who express similar sentiments are coming from, I will disagree with them somewhat. Most of the people who feel that a Donald Trump presidency will result in them getting ahead in America again aren't calling on Mr. Trump or other Republicans to turn back the clock to the days of Jim Crow and water cannons. They're not asking for someone to make other people pay the price of their own prosperity.

And that's because I don't think that they understand that the prosperity they seek has a price. Part of the reason that Mike Brady made enough money to fold Carol and her children into his home was the fact that Carol wasn't expected to work outside of it. At least not as an architect. And it's a safe bet that had there been an office sitcom set in the firm where Mike Brady worked, everyone at his level and above would have been a White male, just as Mike was. And it was this locking out of the prestige workforce of such a large percentage of the population that made Mike Brady's labor valuable enough that he could support such a large family on it.

Of course, The Brady Bunch was a situation comedy, not a biting social commentary. It wasn't conceived as vehicle for the audience to understand the inequalities of society, who won and who lost and how those inequalities build the world that people lived in. I suspect that few other shows served that purpose, either. And so when people agitate for a return to a misremembered past that never really was, they're not thinking of reinstituting those inequalities. They're not thinking of those inequalities at all.

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