Tag Archives: middle class

Why “F Is For Family” Is The Perfect Satire Of The American Dream

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What would you say about a man who constantly yells, curses like a sailor on crack, and constantly threatens to put his kids through a wall? On the surface, it sounds like this guy has some serious anger issues. You would probably suspect there’s something wrong with him and that he needs help from a competent therapist.

Then, after you find out that man’s name is Frank Murphy from the animated show, “F is for Family,” you quickly realize that even the best therapist in the world couldn’t do squat for this man. His anger, cursing, and threats of intentional property damage are entirely understandable. In fact, he would need a therapist if he didn’t exhibit some level of anger.

That’s because Frank Murphy, along with every other major theme in “F is for Family,” is the personification of the disillusion of the American Dream. Take everything you think you know about what it means to work hard, get ahead, and achieve your goals in life. Then, kick it in the gut, spit on it, and throw it through a brick wall. That’s Frank Murphy’s life. That’s what “F is for Family” is all about.

I only recently discovered this show while browsing Netflix and I’m glad I did. “F is for Family” is one of those shows that takes an overdone concept, like a dysfunctional cartoon family, and injects it with some overdue nuance. This isn’t a show about a bumbling dad, a nagging mom, or mischievous kids. The issues and themes in “F is for Family” feel genuinely relevant to the current state of the world.

For a show that takes place in the 1970s, that’s quite an accomplishment. At the same time, it makes sense for this show to take place during that particular time period in America because that’s when the hopes, dreams, and optimism of the post-World War II economic boom began to falter. They just faltered a lot faster for Frank Murphy and his family.

In many respects, Frank’s short-tempered persona is a byproduct of that decline. Throughout the show, it’s clear that Frank underwent a significant transformation. He wasn’t always this rage-filled working stiff who jumps at any chance to cuss out anyone in close proximity. He was once an upbeat, optimistic man who reflected the spirit of his time and his country. This is even reflected in the show’s opening theme.

He starts off as an idealistic youth. Born in 1931, he enters adulthood just as his country returns victorious from World War II. Like others before him, he serves his country after getting drafted in the Korean War. He returns home somewhat scarred, but still optimistic about his future. In 1958, he has dreams of flying airplanes and marrying Sue, a young woman in college at the time.

By all accounts, Frank plays by the rules. He works hard and carries out his duty as well as anyone can expect. He’s not some thick-headed dope like Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin. He’s also not some misanthropic underachiever like Al Bundy. He can speak in complete sentences, form coherent thoughts, and demonstrate an average level of competence.

He is, for the most part, an appropriate representation of a working class man trying to provide for his family. The problem, and the frequent source of his anger, is that his efforts often go unrewarded and unappreciated. In some cases, he gets completely screwed over, both by forces beyond his control and by unexpected consequences from his behavior.

In the first season, he works hard and sucks up to his asshole boss, Lance Dunbarton, to get a promotion at the airport he works at as a baggage handler. He even manages to avert a strike on Christmas Eve. Rather than get rewarded for this effort, he gets fired.

In the second season, he gets a chance to return to work, but the way he confronts his former supervisor, Bob Pogo, ends up making his situation worse.

Along the way, Frank also attempts to deal with the constant dysfunction of his family, which includes a rebellious teenage son, a wimpy pre-teen son who gets bullied at every turn, and a young daughter who refuses to conform to traditional gender norms. On top of all that, his wife is dissatisfied with just being a housewife and her efforts to achieve her own dreams cause plenty of marital strife.

At every level, Frank Murphy’s life is not the at all consistent with what the American dream had promised. Instead of the white picket fence with a content wife and well-behaved kids, his life is a constantly-devolving mess. No matter how hard he works or how much he plays by the rules, nothing seems to improve. Things only ever get more frustrating. After only a few episodes, it’s easy to understand why Frank is so angry.

To some extent, Frank Murphy is a fitting personification of Murphy’s Law. That’s not to say that everything goes wrong for him all the time, but through three eventful seasons, his attempts to improve his lot in life never works out. For every step forward he takes, he suffers a major setback.

He finally gets his job back at the airport where he hopes to pursue his dream as a pilot. Then, he gets his wife pregnant and they have to put their dreams on hold again.

He tries to improve things with Sue by taking his wife out for a romantic evening on their anniversary, but ends up getting into a major fight that makes everything worse.

Even his family isn’t immune to this regressive trap. While Frank struggles to find a stable job, Sue attempts to enter the working world, only to have her dreams crushed when the company she works for steals her invention. On top of that, she works in an office where she’s constantly belittled, harassed, and demeaned by co-workers whose conduct makes Don Draper look like a hippie.

His rebellious son also has dreams of becoming a rock star, but ends up getting kicked out of his band after a breakdown involving his drug-loving neighbor’s busty girlfriend. In season 3, he tries to reinvent himself and he tries to find a sense of belonging with a new group of friends. The end result is him getting arrested and spending a night in jail.

His youngest son, Bill Murphy, learns these harsh lessons even earlier than his father. He also tries to work hard and play by the rules. He tries to stand up for himself and confront the bully who torments him. Like his father, though, he ends up making things worse. I won’t get too deep into spoilers, but I will note that there’s some heavy arson and awkward boners involved.

Even his brainy daughter, Maureen, isn’t immune from it. Being a young girl in the early 1970s, her dreams are limited. Even when she aims low, like winning a ring toss contest on kids show, it still fails and through no fault of her own. Like her parents and brothers, the world seems determined to deny her any semblance of success.

If the essence of satire is to offer scathing criticism of a particular social construct, as those who edit Wikipedia imply, then “F is for Family” is a direct attack on the ideals and assumptions we associate with the American Dream. It never gets overly-nihilistic like “Rick and Morty” or “Bojack Horseman.” With every episode and sub-plot, it chips away at the foundation on which that dream is built.

It’s established throughout the show Frank and Sue were both in a position to achieve that dream. They were on a promising path with Sue being in college and Frank wanting to become a pilot. Even when they faced a major obstacle, namely Sue getting pregnant, they tried to do the right thing. They sacrificed for each other and their family.

That’s NOT red paint.

In any other narrative, their responsible behavior would be rewarded. By the standards of the American Dream, they did the right thing. They got married and tried to provide for their family. However, despite those sacrifices, they’re repeatedly denied their dreams. At the end of the day, doing the right thing and playing by the rules just doesn’t cut it.

Frank watches as his obese, slob of a boss screws him over on Christmas Eve. Sue watches as the company that made her so miserable steals her idea and profits from it. Their kids watch as the world around them rewards and punishes those who don’t deserve it. The only ones who ever seem to benefit are those strong enough to skirt the rules or well-connected enough to bend them.

In that context, it’s fitting that “F is for Family” takes place in the 1970s. That marked the end of the post-World War II economic boom and the beginning of major economic decline from which working class people never recovered. The well-paying, blue-collar jobs that once allowed a man like Frank Murphy to support his family are long gone thanks to the rise of automation and globalization.

While the show never dives too deep into the complexities of this decline, it provides a great deal of crude tongue-in-cheek humor that reveals just how flawed the American Dream had become at that point. There are not-too-subtle jokes about women, minorities, family life, politics, and the media that highlight just how flawed the system is. Frank Murphy is just the guy who gets screwed more than most.

In the end, though, that’s what makes “F is for Family” the ultimate satire for the idealized narrative we associate with the American Dream. It shows that this notion that a hard-working, self-sacrificing working man who plays by the rules will achieve his dream is nothing more than a bad fairy tale. Frank does everything society expects a working class man to do and rewards him with jack squat.

Given everything he endures, from abandoning his dreams of becoming a pilot so he could provide for a family that rarely shows him any gratitude, I’ll rephrase the question I asked earlier. What would you say about a man like Frank Murphy, who played by the rules and bought into the American Dream, only to see it screw him over at every turn? Can you really blame him for being so angry?

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, men's issues, political correctness, psychology, sex in media, television

Prostitutes, Dirty Jobs, And The (Flawed) Concept Of Degradation

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Certain concepts are inherently subjective. Art, beauty, and the extent to which body hair is attractive come to mind. One concept, which isn’t subject to nearly as much scrutiny, is that of degradation. By that, I don’t mean the kind of degradation you see in a car that stays parked in the desert for too long. I’m talking about the kind of degradation we ascribe to certain people, jobs, and lifestyles. Sometimes, they’re all the same thing.

The concept of degradation gets thrown around a lot whenever sex and the sex industry comes up. It also gets thrown around whenever someone talks about a lousy job they’ve had. I’ve shared one such horror story about my first job, complete with depictions of baby vomit. For the sake keeping the discussion concise, I’m going to try and focus on the sexier side of this issue, but only to a point.

The problem with degradation, be it in the adult entertainment industry or the fast food industry, isn’t just with the subjective nature of the idea. It’s the inconsistency with which it’s applied. In some cases, the inconsistency reflects a mix of double standards, generalizations, and assumptions that require mind-reading abilities on a massive scale.

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While degradation has a dictionary definition, there’s no universally-accepted criteria to determine what act, job, or life is truly degrading. It is possible for someone to be happy working as a prostitute, just as it’s possible for someone to be happy working in fast food. Not everyone is going to share that sentiment, but that doesn’t make their happiness any less valid.

When it comes to the adult industry, though, degradation takes on a greater importance. Beyond the misguided crusade to label porn a public health crisis, the frequent criticisms of the industry are often built around how it degrades the people in it and the lives of those who consume it.

Words like objectification and abuse will often get thrown around. They’ll often highlight people who have had bad experiences, as though a single experience is enough to generalize an entire industry. By that logic, every fast food worker was as miserable as I was at my first job and still has nightmares about baby vomit.

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That logic is flawed, but it still gets taken seriously when the adult industry is involved. The stories of those who don’t feel degraded or objectified don’t get told while horror stories of former porn stars and sex workers get pushed to the center of the discussion so that the degradation is on full display to evoke the necessary emotions.

It’s such a common tactic when talking about the sex industry that it’s kind of expected. Nobody is really that surprised when news comes out about a former porn star who suffered horribly. Nobody is surprised when a former prostitute details how terrible and degrading the experience was for them. Never mind the fact that human memory has a nasty tendency to exaggerate. That’s when degradation matters.

However, it’s the situations where degradation isn’t applied that can be just as revealing. While it’s somewhat understandable that the adult industry would be scrutinized more since it involves sex and sex makes people uncomfortable, it also negates the degradation that others experience.

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Most of us who have worked menial service jobs at some point in our lives know those experiences well. Fast food workers tend to have more than a few, but those are the most obvious. Think about the people working these jobs and don’t look for reasons why it may be degrading. Think about why we, as a society, don’t consider it as degrading as a sex worker.

A trash collector literally has to touch our trash, no matter how much it smells or leaks. Why is that not considered degrading?

A janitor has to clean up our messes for minimal pay and no gratitude. Why is that not considered degrading?

A factory worker has to stand on an assembly line around dangerous machinery, functioning as an easily-replaceable cog in much larger enterprise. Why is that not considered degrading?

A bartender has to serve drinks to obnoxious customers, listen to them whine, and deal with occasional bar fights. Why is that not considered degrading?

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There’s a long list of jobs out there with varying degrees of degradation. From interns to cashiers, they all have plenty of potential for degrading experiences. Whether it’s from the work itself or the managers who make the work miserable, there’s plenty of degradation to go around. However, it only seems to matter when sex and women are involved.

To put the inanity of that concept into perspective, consider this. Earlier this year, five porn stars died and that was major news. Granted, that is quite an anomaly given that deaths within the porn industry are extremely rare. However, when compared to other industries that are more dangerous and degrading, it’s not news at all.

In 2016, over 100 people died working in the roofing industry and nearly 1,000 died working in the trucking industry. These aren’t injuries, social stigma, or bad press. This is death, by far the most serious kind of degradation. These are also industries where the majority of the workforce doesn’t consist of beautiful women and doesn’t give some the potential to strike it rich.

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Again, and I know this question is already getting old for some people, why is that not considered degrading? The entire concept seems to break down when you see it being reserved for a specific class of people within a specific kind of industry. The fact that the class consists primarily of beautiful women is not a coincidence.

When it involves men putting their lives at risk to make a living, it’s not degrading. It’s just work. When it involves women having sex for money, though, it’s degrading. It’s as though no woman could possibly want to get paid to have sex without being degraded. It’s as though every woman’s mind is so fragile that they cannot possibly understand the risks and must be protected from it.

That last part was sarcasm, by the way. I’ll give every woman a moment to stop fuming, but it’s something that should concern them, if only because it treats them like children who can’t make decisions for themselves. Whether it’s radical, anti-porn feminists or uptight religious zealots, the idea that women are so easily degraded should be insulting to any woman who values their sense of autonomy.

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It should be just as insulting to the men who work jobs that don’t involve sex, but are far more dangerous, both in terms of risk and degradation. If one entire industry is going to be condemned on the basis of degradation, but not apply to others, then that’s not just illogical. It’s downright asinine.

It just becomes another excuse to whine about an industry where people have sex in ways that might make priests, rabbis, mullahs, and monks uncomfortable. It also becomes an excuse to overlook the danger and toil that people endure in other industries, just to make a living.

In the end, it’s insulting to men, women, and everything in between. There are serious issues in any industry, regardless of whether or not naked people are involved. However, if degradation is only going to apply to one special class of sex work, then that should reveal just how empty it truly is.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, sex in society, sexuality