Report Launch - What TV Gets Wrong About “Getting By”

New Report Examines How TV Portrayals of the Everyday Struggles of Working People are Flawed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 15, 2021
CONTACT: Christiaan Perez, press@opportuni​, 212-334-4275

New York, NY – Millions of people struggle to make ends meet, yet rarely do we see those struggles depicted in popular television. Today, The Opportunity Agenda published Power of Pop: What TV Gets Wrong About Getting By, a report that analyzes how dominant narratives around work and the economy are influenced by what we see on TV. The report offers guidance for advocates, entertainment executives, content creators, and media commentators who are interested in shifting dominant narratives or depictions of people who are struggling to make ends meet in the current economic climate.

The media analysis identifies specific themes in popular TV shows that often arise when depicting the struggles of working people. Some of the themes include:

  • TV avoids discussing the precarious nature of meeting daily expenses—such as paying for utilities, food, and other essentials—for those working with a low income.
  • Stories of economic hardship often focus on how the character’s personal flaws—not societal or structural issues— land them in financially precarious circumstances.
  • The popular use of comedy, as a genre, to tell the story of low-wage workers and their strife.

Porshèa Patterson-Hurst, Research Manager at The Opportunity Agenda, elaborates on these findings in the video linked here.

“This report is the latest in a growing body of research on why individuals with lived experience should be in writers’ rooms. After all, they are the experts in how their experiences should be portrayed in the stories we take in every day about the struggle to “get by.” We believe that it serves as a roadmap for how content creators, advocates, and online fandoms can shift dominant narratives and depictions around economic opportunity,” said Ellen Buchman, President at The Opportunity Agenda.

Power of Pop: What TV Gets Wrong About Getting By analyzed 105 randomly sampled television episodes that aired on broadcast, cable, and streaming services that broadcast from Fall 2017 to Spring 2018, such as:

  • Superstore
  • Bob’s Burgers
  • Shameless
  • The Middle
  • Scandal

The lessons learned from this analysis carry over to present-day TV programs such as Squid Game and Maid.

“The stories we watch shape our sense of how the world works. This is why it’s so problematic to see that poverty is almost never a theme in U.S. television shows. The good news is that the mass popularity of shows such as Squid Game prove that people are hungry for more nuanced and accurate stories about the struggle to escape poverty,” said Porshèa Patterson-Hurst, Research Manager at The Opportunity Agenda.

Along with the in-depth analysis, the report also includes the codebook dictionary that was developed to conduct the analysis. This codebook dictionary is being made available for researchers, content creators, and advocates who are interested in building on the research for further analysis.

Power of POP: What TV Gets Wrong About Getting By is the latest report developed by The Opportunity Agenda in its Power of POP series, a body of research that analyzes how popular TV engages with social justice themes. Past reports have focused on Media Analysis of Representations of Immigrants in Popular TV Shows and The Case of the Cultural Influencers: Colin Kaepernick, Jimmy Kimmel, and #MeToo.

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