Sunday, May 31, 2009

Un-broke: You don't know how to manage your money, so rich people are going to tell you how.

Friday night, I had just finished eating leftover stirfry and was looking forward to watching Super Nanny before going out for drinks. But Jo was nowhere to be found. Instead, like a public service announcement, Un-Broke interrupted regular Friday night broadcasting (and all of the pleasure I derive from seeing Jo's healthy discipline technique) to tell me that I need to be frugal.

The show is right. Americans have been dwelling in an increasingly borrowed reality that we do not own. We have way too many credit cards, debt up the ass, and all we have to show for it are heaping piles of junk we don't need. It's toxic on every level, from the damage to our psyches, to our growing fat asses.

Seth Green's Cribs parody (above) was perhaps the gem of the show. As a common man, he gives us a tour of his extremely modest dwelling (a 1 bedroom ranch style) while still employing the rich gangster vernacular. Case in point: " Keep yer spending tight, and your money on your mind."
We are shown a "state-of-the-art play station", which amounts to a pile of a boardgames; "bubbly," or bubble bath soap that he uses to clean his feet, and a luxurious plastic kiddy pool that is filled with "hose"... you get the picture.

This is what we should all be doing... living within our means. And that's great. This is what Americans need to hear. Too often, like the Cribs show Green was parodying, we are given rich celebrities to emulate, glamorizing consumerism and luxury. Green says:
"We're in a culture that emphasizes a lot of importance on financial wealth... so I'm concerned for all of America's youth who grew up watching [MTV's] My Super Sweet 16 and Cribs. They have such different goals and aspirations. You can't fault kids for their influences. Kids only learn what you tell them."
My only caveat is I sensed an underlying tongue-in-cheekness not just toward the Cribs show, but to the commonman austerity the clip was ostensibly idolizing. While it was extremely amusing to see juxtaposed a hood language of the rapping rich with modest living arrangements, it perhaps overemphasized the gap between the two. That is to say, seeing a kiddy pool might not make us think of poverty straightaway, but when you say "Staying cool by the pool" which elicits images of relaxing near a fancy pool, but then shoot to the kiddy pool, disappointing our expections, it simply exacerbates the jealousy we feel toward the wealthy.

It certainly does not help that during the course of the show, it is the super wealthy that are telling us how to manage our money, Green included. It is quite patronizing. Green, Will Smith, Rosario Dawson, the Jonas Brothers (perhaps most insulting of all), none of them have to deal with the realities of money management or austerity. They can continue to enjoy all of the luxury they desire, including multimillion dollar mansions. But it is they who are telling us to behave with our money, to only buy a shitty 1-bedroom ranch style home so as to keep housing costs at less than 1/3 of our total income. Easy for them to say.

In sum, the show was good. It attempted to inculcate values that have long since vanished from the US, first and foremost frugality and austerity. But the message might have resonated a little better with lesser known actors (whom we don't recognize for their lavish spending.) Although, I suppose then there might be less incentive to watch. You just can't win :)


Bret said...


The fact that "rich people" were on Un-Broke telling us to manage our money wisely was profound and significant. I didn't find it patronizing in the least.

High income people have the same types of money problems as regular folks, just on a much larger scale. And it's even more important for them to manage their money, because their careers are often short and their expenses are very high.

Case in point Will Smith. He squandered away a fortune during his tenure as a rapper. Now he manages his TV and movie money much more wisely. It's no coincidence that he contributed to this show.

Tyler said...

I fail to see how the choice of using people who are known for lavish spending for a show about financial restraint is either profound or significant (except as a showcase of American society's unhealthy anti intellectual obsession with celebrities) ... it's oxymoronic, isn't it?

You say that their expenses are high, and careers short, but isn't that which you are making sound so difficult actually something to be desired. In other words, they are living a fabulously excessive lifestyle and retiring early.

This aside, I see your point about Will Smith. But what about the Jonas Brothers? What can they possibly contribute to a show about financial responsibility?

Anyway, don't mind my highly argumentative nature. I do appreciate your comments! Thanks!