Commentary

Five Signs Your Story Is Classist

A group of middleclass people are gathered together in a dungeon to watch something together

Spider-Man: Far From Home depicts billionaire Tony Stark as a hero and his unhappy employees as villains.

Like any other form of bigotry, it’s easy for classism to seep into our stories. Some of the signs of classism are similar to other types of bigotry, such as spreading stereotypes about poor people. But unlike most other areas of marginalization, no one is inherently impoverished, and no one wants to be. That means that in addition to reducing stigma, we should watch for tropes that help income inequality flourish. Start by searching your work for these five classist patterns.

1. Homeless People Are Treated as Novelties

Braxton with an overgrown beard and dirty clothes next to a wall of graffiti. In the Voyager episode Future’s End, Captain Braxton plays up the trope of a homeless man obsessed with conspiracy theories.

In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, the Canting Crew are a group of beggars that embody stereotypes of homeless people for humor. They are incredibly smelly and dirty, and they accept money in return for not following people around or showing up at parties. In an astounding dose of albeism, one of these characters has a “thinking brain dog” and “physical schizophrenia,” another has “multiple personalities,” and a third constantly wears a duck on his head.

While the Canting Crew is an exaggerated version, it’s not so different from the nonsensical bearded guy who wanders the city streets engaging in wacky hijinks during your favorite movie or TV show. Regardless of where it’s found, these stereotypes are used to dismiss homeless people as novelties rather than show them as human beings that have been pushed out of their homes.

When a homeless character does have agency and emphasis in the story, it’s usually as part of some feel-good narrative about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. This is because people find it comforting to believe that chronic homelessness only happens to those who’ve done something wrong. But it’s the strength of a society’s social safety net that determines whether people become homeless, not personal vice. Many people are only one medical crisis, one firing, one rent increase, or one pandemic away from being out on the street.

Plus, homeless people aren’t all older white guys. They are a diverse group that includes many people of color, young people, queer people, disabled people, and women. In the United States, 30% of homeless people are homeless with another family member, and many homeless people either have jobs or work sporadically.

What to do instead

It’s great to put homeless people in your stories. They are frequently erased or ignored, and storytellers can help. Just make them people and not gimmicks. Start your research by listening to stories about real homeless people. Then if you’re planning on giving your character a disability or disease like addiction, please do separate research on that and treat it sensitively.

2. Poor Heroes Have Expensive Lifestyles

Daredevil wakes up in his large and classy apartment

We’ve all seen sporadically employed heroes go home to expensive digs. Jessica Jones lives in Manhattan and, like any noir PI, struggles to get paid. Yet somehow she has an apartment that would cost several thousand a month all to herself. Angel does his unpaid rescue work in Los Angeles and gets an entire hotel for his operation. In the recent Picard show, Raffi complains about being poor but lives in an appealing future rustic home in a scenic park.

Sometimes popular stories come with explanations for how the hero can afford to live where they do. For instance, in the Daredevil Netflix show, supposedly Matt Murdock got his gorgeous apartment at a discount because of glowing billboards right outside the windows. But even when these explanations are realistic, storytellers are still choosing to carve out an exception that lets characters live beyond the means of real people in their income bracket.

These unrealistic depictions encourage inequality from two different angles. First, they deny the reality of high housing prices and insufficient wages in many cities. It’s easier to ignore how unaffordable housing is when the lower-income people in our stories all have plenty of space and privacy. Second, they deny meaningful representation to lower-income people. People who share a small apartment with several roommates or, *gasp*, live in their parent’s basement deserve to see that lifestyle in their stories.

What to do instead

If you want a relatable protagonist who has trouble making ends meet in a big city, make the rest of their lifestyle match that. Having to share a home with parents or roommates will make your protagonist more relatable and give you more opportunities for conflict. Now the protagonist might have to hide their secret identity from the people they live with.

If your character is a typical noir PI, you make their office a converted walk-in closet, put their desk in the boiler room, or force them to welcome their suspicious clients into their home. If a spacious home is a must, characters can instead live in a far-flung suburb and have a lengthy commute.

3. Minions Are Killed Without Thought

A man in a dark hood aims an arrow

The CW’s Arrow is all about a masked vigilante going after the rich and powerful who can’t be brought to justice any other way. But while our hero is happy to give his actual targets second chances, he makes little effort to avoid killing their hired goons. These goons aren’t good people by any means, but they’re responsible for a lot less suffering than their bosses, who get to live.

This is a surprisingly common trope across genres. If it’s not superheroes mowing down the villain’s goons, it’s fantasy warriors cutting through a horde of helmeted enemies, only to stop at the first baddie with a name and a royal title. It’s easy to fall into this trap because minions are often minor or unnamed characters, so we don’t pay as much attention to them. But even background characters should be treated like their lives mean something.

Not only that, but lower-level antagonists are rarely rich people with evil plans. They’re usually middle- to low-income people who engage in crime for money. While hoarding excess money is greedy, getting some money is what enables people to eat. In a country without a sufficient safety net, people might accept a shady job to pay medical bills or get their kids through school. Lower-level workers of any type have much less freedom over their vocation than the people on top. If any killing will be featured, heroes should be sparing minions while offing the big bad.

It’s especially troublesome when heroes focus on petty criminals because it encourages the over-policing of impoverished neighborhoods, particularly Black ones. How about instead of beating all those robbers up, heroes promote programs to reduce crime by giving people better opportunities?

What to do instead

First, if you want your heroes to destroy low-level enemies that show up in superior numbers, think carefully about what those enemies are and what messages you might send. It will also help if you’re realistic about how that enemy behaves. Neither people nor wild animals will attack an enemy that is slaughtering them. Once it’s clear the group is no match for the hero, they will naturally run away. If you want low-level antagonists the hero can cut down mindlessly, use robots or a supernatural monster.

If your hero captures minions instead of killing them, you can use that to further the plot. Maybe the hero discovers the minion was being blackmailed by the villain. Once the hero takes care of the blackmail, the minion tells the hero where the secret lair is.

Last, think through how lethal the hero’s attacks are. You may not have time to clarify how every minion lives, so if your hero throws a minion off a three-story building, that will look like murder.

4. Lower-Class People Are Mocked

A couple gelfings bath podlings out in the woods, with lots of bubbles floating about

In The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, the Gelfling are the richer ruling class, whereas the poor Podlings are styled to resemble peasants. When Brea, a Gelfling protagonist, is caught being disobedient, her punishment is to bathe Podlings. Not any particular Podlings, just the ones who happen to live in a nearby village. The show depicts these Podlings as averse to bathing and happy to roll around in the dirt all day. The Gelfling literally have to catch them, force them into the water, and scrub them down. Podlings are smaller than Gelflings, so the writers clearly thought it would be funny if they behaved like children.

While this may be an extreme example, it is common for fantasy stories to have commoners that are dirty, have rotting teeth, and carry lice. Characters following the dirty peasant stereotype are always happily oblivious to their current state, not trying to make the best out of the limited options of their means and time period.

In modern Earth settings, mocking lower-class people often means focusing on low-wage workers. Take season six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which Buffy gets a job at a fast food joint. The entire point of this job arc is how demeaning it is that Buffy has to work there. The other workers are humorously depicted as either dispirited drones or company tools. And like the Podlings, the show also emphasizes the uncleanliness of being a fast food worker. In one humorous scene, a vampire decides he doesn’t want to bite Buffy because she smells like fast food.

Other toxic stereotypes used to make lower-class people into jokes include crude language or behavior, having “too many” children, and being unintelligent. The United States has “hick” or “white trash” stereotypes that are often used to depict low-income white people. However, because people of color are disproportionately lower income, any negative class-based stereotypes also impact them a great deal. In particular, the “too many children” stereotype encourages attacks on women of color.

What to do instead

Depicting poor characters is great, but avoid making them lazy, dirty, crude, ignorant, or unintelligent. Even if your character never got a college degree, that doesn’t mean they don’t know anything. Maybe they don’t know much about Shakespeare, but they know a lot about fixing cars. Conversely, your character who didn’t attend college might love quoting Shakespeare. If your character has a job that makes them dirty, show how they carefully wash up afterward. Low-income characters can be funny, but stereotypes about low-income people shouldn’t be used to make them the butt of jokes.

5. The Masses Are Threatening

A room full of reporters looking dour from My Hero Academia

Left on its own, income inequality naturally gets worse over time. This is simply because the rich have the most power to promote their own interests, and their interests include amassing more wealth at the expense of others. Only one thing can keep this in check: the masses. Since the poor always outnumber the rich, collective action of various kinds is what keeps income inequality from spiraling out of control.

Collective action includes grassroots organizing, mass protests, worker’s unions, and democratic institutions. Along with that, the press has always been critical in telling the masses what the powerful few have been doing, so that the powerful can be held responsible when they do bad things.

Yet some stories choose to vilify collective action or the public in general. My Hero Academia insists the public has turned against the obviously glorified heroes of the show, apparently egged on by a media that is eager to smear them. In Spider-Man: Far From Home, the villains are a group of disgruntled former employees who decide to play tricks on the entire world instead of asking for fair wages like most employee groups do.

When collective action is villainized in a story like this, it is almost always in service to portraying the wealthy and privileged as the victims of the unreasonable and ignorant masses. But the wealthy don’t need protecting. They can hire an army of lawyers and fund political campaigns. Portraying them as victims only weakens the few checks on their power that exist.

What to do instead

Antagonistic groups can be great fun, but think critically about what parallels they have in real life. Unions, elected bodies, or the general public shouldn’t be vilified. White supremacists are natural villains but shouldn’t be glorified even a little, which limits their effectiveness as a fictional threat. However, it’s fine to invent some shadow cult or target a group that has a lot of privilege, such as a golf club.

The only way to create a realistic narrative where the public acts as an antagonist to your heroes is to make your heroes marginalized, and that has to be treated very sensitively. It’s not worth doing unless that’s something you’re passionate about depicting.


When thinking about classism, keep in mind that it intersects heavily with other forms of oppression, such as racism and ableism. Racist policies designed to punish people of color destroy social safety nets that everyone, but especially marginalized people, needs. Wealthy oligarchs spread bigotry to build a following they can use to amass more wealth. The dismissal of low-income people continues because many of those people have additional traits that society stigmatizes, erases, or ignores.

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Comments

  1. Jeppsson

    I really liked this list! (Context: I grew up in a working-class family, had fairly little money for the first part of my adult life, but much better finances nowadays.)

    In addition to 4, I would like to add that I also hate it when lower-class people are weirdly glorified. It’s common in Hollywood movies and mainstream TV shows to show poor people as being happy and warm, and wealthy people as being cold, stuck-up and miserable. On the face of it, this might seem like good representation for poor people. But I always feel this is like telling poor people they shouldn’t be jealous of the rich, or complain about being poor, because at least they get to be happy, right? And that seems like such stupid propaganda for the status quo, at the end of the day. (It doesn’t help that the happy poor people usually, for inexplicable reasons, also live in a decent house/apartment they couldn’t afford in real life like point 2 on this list, and never seem to have actual, concrete money problems, like being unable to pay a vital bill or buying some vital stuff, or even just being unable to join their friends when they do something fun.)

    I’m not saying stories shouldn’t have happy, warm poor people or unhappy, mean rich people. But I hate it when the story kind of hints that poverty CAUSES happiness whereas wealth CAUSES misery. Even if it’s true that extreme wealth is psychologically bad for you (I think there’s some serious debate over this, actually), it’s still true that moderately wealthy people – not billionaires, but people who don’t have to worry about expenses – tend to be MORE happy than poor people. Not the other way around.

    • Julia M.

      I don’t like that either. It can also play into the stereotype where poor people don’t exist as actual characters, but as props for the main character to either admire or pity, and then better themself with it. One of the biggest offenders of both the things we pointed out are A Christmas Carol.

      By the way, with the whole League of Ex-Employees thing, it makes me glad that I didn’t watch Far from Home.

      • SunlessNick

        I did watch it, but it’s the only one I haven’t had the urge to get on DVD. The irritating thing is that the side characters got some nice touches (like MJ’s constant snarking is something she doesn’t actually like about herself) – but that’s not enough for it to be worth seeing.

        • Julia M.

          The last Spider-Man movie I saw was Homecoming. (I didn’t see Endgame). Because I can’t tell faces apart that well, when I was watching it (Spoiler ahead) and the reveal that Spidey’s love interest’s dad was the villain happened, I had no idea. Everyone else was gasping, and I was like “Why is everybody acting so weird over a random guy?”

          By the way, how was Far from Home? And what’s your favorite Marvel movie? Mine is Black Panther, and my second favorite is Winter Soldier. I didn’t really like Infinity War too much, or Age of Ultron. Ultron’s God metaphors were getting too much for me. And the way he was so heavy handed was annoying. Also, he was defeated so easily. Vision literally blasts him to bits.

          • SunlessNick

            Black Panther, Winter Soldier, Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange are my top set. Least favourite are Iron Man 3, Civil War and Far From Home.

            Far From Home had a similar villain origin to Homecoming, except it was people Tony Start had fired rather than a contractor whose job he’d swiped. However while Vulture’s response was a low key criminal scheme that depended on avoiding the Avengers’ notice, this bunch’s revolved around worldwide spectacle and deliberately attracting the attention of SHIELD.
            I can’t stress enough how badly all this clashed with a film that also had the job of establishing how the world, and cast, were adjusting to the events of Infinity War and Endgame. There were nice and interesting character moments (like MJ doesn’t like how she snarks all the time, Flash seems to have an unhappy home life, and Happy is falling for Aunt May). But that stuff gets shoved into a corner.

            It should have been a more introspective film, whereas instead it was all spectacle.

            ********SPOILERS FOR THE WHOLE THING********

            Tony has left an army of orbital drones to Peter, and it’s these drones the ex-employees want, but faking a new superhero fighting an invasion of villains from another dimension, so as to attract Nick Fury’s attention, so that he drafts Spider-Man to help, and their fake superhero can con Peter into giving him the control system for the drones. This makes about as much sense as it looks.

            The only interesting thing to come out of the whole plotline is the reveal that Nick Fury and Maria Hill are actually Talos and his wife from Captain Marvel, covering for the real Fury (and presumably Hill) who are off doing something in space.

            After the ex employees have their scheme foiled, they get revenge by exposing Spider-Man’s identity to the world.

    • LeeEsq

      As an upper middle class person, I’ve noticed that the glorification of the poor comes in two modes. One is that poor/working class/lower middle class people are warm, happy, and salt of the earth types deeply as you noted above. The other type of weird glorification is to depict them as more, for lack of better words, primal and wild than people in higher socio-economic brackets. This is when you get the proudly dysfunctional depictions of the poor/working/lower middle class. The idea seems to be that they live closer to humans in a state of nature than the middle classes and above. Both are rather dehumanizing.

      • Jeppsson

        Good point. Haha, I grew up in RURAL working-class circumstances, I should be SO wild.

  2. Cay Reet

    When it comes to PIs, quite some older stories show them living in their office, either in a backroom or actually in the office, sleeping on a couch or suchlike. That does make a lot of sense, because you need to maintain an office address to be reachable, but you don’t need to have an additional flat to be a PI. My favourite PI (whose short stories aren’t meant to be dark, but funny) is written by a Swiss author and sleeps under his desk, because everyone knows a PI can’t afford their own flat (it’s a parody, after all). Alternatively, a PI in a suitable setting can work out of their flat. Albert Campion, whom I discovered recently, has a flat above a police station in 1930s London which is also his office address – and he isn’t even portrayed as poor, he’s definitely upper-class.

    It is pretty unrealistic when people who just ‘get by’ or are supposed to have regular money problems live in a place which is definitely expensive to rent and is furnished only by the best furniture. Or if, as with the BBC series “Sherlock” (which by now has many other problems), the detective needs a roommate, but wears expensive clothes and clearly can afford to buy what they need and always catch a cab instead of, say, the underground. Money management is very important when you have little of it and should feature in such stories as well. (Says she when writing a team of jewellery thieves who only rent a car when necessary and live in a small flat on the outskirts of Paris.)

    When it comes to 5, I think there’s a lot wrong with that when it comes to organisations fighting to make people’s lives better. While the general ‘intelligence’ or a mass of people tends to be a little lower than that of the individual, it takes a mass of people to inflict changes. A union can put pressure on employers the way an individual employee can’t. A civil organisation working to change laws can put pressure on politicians the way one person never could. Masses can change things whereas individuals usually fail at that. It’s easy to brush of one or two or three people saying ‘equal rights for orcs’, but if there’s a mass of people, humans as well as orcs, out there yelling the same slogan, it has a lot more impact. People might be less weary about joining such an organisation if they were portrayed more positively (which might be why they’re not … just an idea).

    • SunlessNick

      Jessica Jones’s living room is also her office.

    • LeeEsq

      Sherlock Holmes tends to come from money in most of his iterations. In the original stories he was of gentry stock I think. While Sherlock makes it pretty clear that his parents have money based on what we see of their real estate. Maybe he gets an allowance as many adult children of the wealthy receive.

      • GeniusLemur

        Holmes and Watson are both upper class in the original stories (Watson is a doctor, Holmes went to university), but at the start of A Study in Scarlet, Watson is just getting by on a wound pension, and Holmes can’t afford the rooms by himself (he seems to be just getting started with his detective business at this point).

      • Cay Reet

        Holmes seems to live off his work and not a stipend. There is a non-canon diary of his brother Mycroft where it’s mentioned that he sometimes borrows money off Mycroft and ‘forgets’ to pay it back before he moves into Baker Street with Watson, but really gets into his work afterwards. That, of course, is no original text by Doyle.

        Holmes and Watson become roommates because neither can afford suitable accommodation by themselves (Watson as an invalid not yet well enough to work again, Holmes still pretty early in his career). Later on, Watson makes enough for his own home and his own practice and Holmes doesn’t get another roommate, which suggests that by now he gets enough in fees.

        • Julia M.

          Later, in the cases after the story “The Final Problem”, Sherlock implicitly buys Watson’s medical practice so Watson can move back in with him.

          • Cay Reet

            By “The Final Problem”, Holmes is a household name who works for the crowned houses of Europe, so one might guess that he can field quite a long bill to some of his clients. It’s also suggested in some stories that he tools the bill to the client – demanding next to nothing from poor people for the same amount of work he’d bill a rich person heavily for. By then, he makes enough money to do as he pleases. Yet, “A Study in Scarlet” is clear about the financial situation not only of Watson, who is reaching the end of his rope, living at a hotel, but also of Holmes, who really wants the rooms in Baker Street, but has an irregular income and needs a flatmate.

            It’s suggested that he is behind another doctor (who might even be a farflung relative) buying Watson’s practice, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he paid alone for it – he might also have split with the the doctor. He’s also already very well-known by the time he comes back from his hiatus, so he has no problem getting clients.

  3. Jeppsson

    Another common thing related to where heroes live:

    Suppose that in city X, in real life, there’s area A, which is populated by low-income people, probably a high percentage black and brown people, and the area is generally considered a “rough” one, perhaps a bit scary, by people who live somewhere “better”.
    Also in city X, in real life, there’s area B. A hundred years ago area B was considered a rough one, and populated by low-income people. Fifty years ago, gentrification was underway already, in the sense that students, junior academics and struggling artists moved in there; its reputation turned from “rough” to “hip”, but it was still affordable. Fast forward to the present-day, and it’s expensive to live there; it’s populated by upper-middle-class people.

    Now, if an author writes about a hero who lives in city X in the present day, and wants the hero to live somewhere rough, they won’t have him live in area A. Instead, they’ll place him in area B, and pretend in the story that it’s still all rough and dangerous.

    • Uly

      Instead, they’ll place him in area B, and pretend in the story that it’s still all rough and dangerous.

      See: Daredevil. Hell’s Kitchen is just not that scary! Or cheap.

      • LeeEsq

        Or Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Once the East Village started getting too expensive in the 1980s and 1990s, the artists and bohemians took the L line into the Eastern European/Polish part of Williamsburg. South Williamsburg remained the domain of the Satmar Hasidim and Puerto Ricans. Eventually twenty somethings looking to make a decent start in the city moved into North Williamsburg and brought young people/hipster businesses into the city. South Williamsburg remained mainly Satmar Hasidim and Puerto Rican but towards the mid-2010s, also started to gentrify. I saw this first hand when I lived there.

  4. Dave L

    Is this right? Can this be?
    A mention of Discworld that is NOT about how it played a trope right???
    My whole world just crashed down around me

    One reason why on TV even poor people have nice big homes is that even w/ a three-walled set the crew needs room for cameras, lights, etc

    • Cay Reet

      I’m not sure whether the TV series argument really works. I can remember older series where they did small, narrow rooms very well while cameras and lights were a good deal bigger than today.

    • A Perspiring Writer

      The day has finally come, the Prophecy (it’s capitalized, so it must be impotent* and not something I just made up on the spot) has been fulfilled.

      *I accidentally spelled this with no r and was internally debating whether or not to keep it**. I think I will, it makes it funnier and gives it that SCP-586 fell.

      **Someone can probably edit it away if it’s too raunchy for the site. Although, given the current page image for Seven Ways to Use Consequences in Stories, I think not.

      • A Perspiring Writer

        maybe i should stop writing pointless comments like this one

        • Bunny

          Perspiring Writer, are you alright? Your last couple of comments on the site have seemed kind of… anxious or stressed, I suppose. I mean, that’s hard to tell from a comment, but I have noticed that you’ve been reversing and second-guessing and disclaiming yourself a lot. I don’t know anything about you, but since I do similar things when I’m stressed, if you are going through something, it might be worth it to clear your head and get offline for a while. I don’t mean to sound patronizing or anything, I just wish someone had given me that advice last time I used the Internet to doomspiral.

          If I’m reading too much into things, disregard this. Just hope you’re okay.

          • A Perspiring Writer

            I mean, have you seen the name I use here…?

            But in all seriousness*, I DO have a tendency to second-guess myself a lot, but mainly only on this site.

            It goes something like this; whenever I don’t get a response of any type on my comments, I tend to start thinking that I’ve made a horrible mistake and that everyone’s ignoring me because of it, and that stresses me out. Possibly due to social anxiety of some sort.

            (I’d also like to point out that I’ve been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, in case that explains anything.)

            That might actually be why I tend to put jokes in my comments*** a lot, I don’t take myself seriously some(most)times when I’m commenting.

            I’ve even asked for one of my comments to be deleted before, but the comment was kind of a knee-jerk reaction to the article, so I’m not sad to see that one go.

            It is nice to see that people are actually reading them, though. And you don’t sound patronizing at all.

            Just out of curiosity, what do you mean by ‘doomspiral’? I don’t think I’ve seen that anywhere before.

            *I won’t even put joking footnotes here**.
            **wait a minute
            ***Like this self-explanatory one.

          • A Perspiring Writer

            “Brief” addendum:

            My comments end up pretty long most of the time, especially in recent months. I’ve heard that one symptom of Asperger’s is feeling like you need to explain, not just your point, but why you have that point to begin with. Like you need to justify your actions.

            (Like this comment, I’m just now realizing.)

            That might be the cause of all that second-guessing; when I do all this justifying my point and get no response, then it feels like I never had a good reason to comment in the first place.

          • Bunny

            Glad to hear that things aren’t particularly bad right now or anything like that. I’m not super familiar with Asperger’s, so the addendum was actually pretty helpful, I didn’t know that was one of the symptoms! And yeah, I try to keep up with all the comments on the site,* so I’ve been seeing yours

            “Doomspiral” is a word I use to describe what happens when I go online and then lose myself to negative content online – most frequently news nowadays. I’ll read or see something that makes me feel disgusted or infuriated by the state of the world or the way people are acting and think something like, “We’re all doomed” (hence the name), then go searching for more depressing articles that seem to further confirm that thought. So I sink into a spiral of feeling worse and worse about things and then hating my past self for deciding to go looking for that sort of thing and basically feeling terrible and helpless for however long it takes the doomspiral to fade. Usually it doesn’t go away unless I physically put down my computer and force myself to do something else. TL;DR, a self-perpetuating negative mental state spurred by online content.

            *For the record, I dig the footnote jokes!

        • Bean

          You seem like you’d be a fan of Will Cuppy. He’s also really into the footnote jokes.

          • A Perspiring Writer

            Never actually heard of him; the footnotes are inspired by a combination of Terry Pratchett and a more little known writer, Ralph Hayes, Jr*.

            *Interesting aside, R. H. Junior (as he goes by online) actually wrote my favorite written work of all time. Not published (that’d be either Lord of the Rings or The Way of Kings**), but written (it’s a fanfic).

            **i really love titles with ‘ings’ in them don’t i

    • Uly

      They want that room, but they can live without it.

      One of the reason the sets on Malcolm in the Middle are so cramped is because they bought a cheap house and filmed inside it.

  5. Doug

    Thoughtful piece, but really bad example:

    > In the recent Picard show, Raffi complains about being poor but lives in an appealing future rustic home in a scenic park.

    Picard takes place in a distant, post-scarcity world. Everyone can use a public-access replicator that can convert energy into matter in pretty much any configuration, with a few notable exceptions for complex raw materials (e.g. dilithium). The poorest person on Earth has much more than basic necessities and building a rustic home is basically free and like a couple days of work.

    • Uly

      Yeah, maybe. ST never quite told us how their post-scarcity economy works. The materials and energy to build houses might be cheap, but you can’t just make more land, and some land is always going to be more desirable than other land.

      • Alara Rogers

        I mean… scenic park maybe, but it was a desert. Maybe desert land on Earth is cheap because most people do not like to live in deserts?

        (or, holdover from social problems they *do* have — maybe deserts were largely bought up by Vulcans in the 21st-22nd centuries while Vulcans were on Earth helping humanity to rebuild; anti-Vulcan prejudice was alive and well as recently as TOS era, so that could have depressed the land values.)

        If anyone who wants more space than they can easily get on Earth moves to a colony world, and humans don’t typically have more than two kids — do we know *any* Trek characters where there’s more than two biological children in a family? Kirk had a brother, Spock had a brother, McCoy we don’t know, Chekov was an only, Picard had a brother, Riker was an only until he had a transporter duplicate, Troi had a dead older sister, Sisko was an only, Janeway had a sister… did *anyone* have more than one sibling? Aside from Data who is not a biological being? Or Spock having a human foster sister who was not biologically related? Earth reproduction is at replacement rate, apparently. So land is probably still pretty cheap on Earth despite the fact that they can’t make more of it, because control of the weather means they can make most of the land something people can live on, and stuff like “it’s in a desert” probably makes land overall less desirable.

        Also, maybe that land’s been in Raffi’s family for some time.

  6. Tony

    From what I’ve heard, The Dark Knight Rises also fell into problem number 5 with the idea of Bane as a rabble-rousing villain who stirs up opposition to elites like Bruce Wayne. I’ve also heard that that series as a whole depicted a lot of poor people as antagonistic thugs who exist for Batman to kick their asses.

    On the topic of cannon fodder, what about depicting at least some of those enemies as classy special forces (under the “Elite Mooks” and “Elites Are More Glamorous” tropes)? That has the added benefit of making them more badass.

    • SunlessNick

      There was quite a disconnect between the three Dark Knight films. In the first one, the city’s economic hardship was played up – Joe Chill is depicted as being motivated by desperation, and Bruce’s desire for vengeance on him was framed as the wrong path. Instead, Batman is going after wealthy mobsters and secret societies.

      The second one is all about the Joker, and doesn’t really talk about wealth levels. However the greatest moment of grace is given to a scary black criminal who’s never named.

      In the third one, a billionaire operating outside the law is the only one who can save us from Occupy Wall Street. There are comments about wealth inequality, but they’re only spoken by villains.

  7. SunlessNick

    This is why the redemption story I wanted for the Star Wars sequels was Finn inspiring a faction of rebel stormtroopers, not Kylo Ren. Whatever else you can say about him, pro or con, he is “officer class” – I wanted a redemption arc for the enlisted.

    • Bellis

      Yeah, I was also super disappointed that Finn’s story didn’t seem to go anywhere or at least it didn’t live up to the promise of The Force Awakens, in which I loved him and wanted to see more of him!

  8. LeeEsq

    Two is kind of hard to avoid. One reason why we see not so well off characters living in to big places for their income level/city, is that filming in big houses is a lot easier than cramped real estate, so a certain amount of laziness is going to make giving our heroes great digs unavoidable for movies, tv, and streaming series at least. Many audiences tend to prefer seeing aspiration and wealth on screen, so the preference is always going to be more attractive characters and luxurious locations. We Americans seem especially prone to this, with the 1970s being something of an exception where grit was more acceptable in media.

  9. LeeEsq

    The Marvel Netflix shows have funny real estate because Hell’s Kitchen is no longer a disreputable area in Manhattan. It started gentrifying when Ed Koch was mayor. There really aren’t that many true down and out neighborhoods in Manhattan anymore. Nearly every part has some upper middle class or above condos. The real poor areas are in the outerboroughs and feature more Ultra-Orthodox Jews, African-Americans and other non-whites than any Marvel netflix show. Most of the down and out areas of New York City aren’t that especially dangerous compared to the not so distance past either when it comes to crime and stuff. One of the few true areas kind of like a fictional down and out universe is the Tenderloin in San Francisco more than anything in New York.

  10. Gwen

    As someone who is very involved in my union, I am happy to see this! People bring up union corruption in the past over and over, but never highlight some basic rights in the workplace were fought and won by unions. People died for it!

    A somewhat related idea, I feel it is harmful to many people when construction and blue collar work is portrayed as lesser or a “bad job”. These jobs are some of the few that pay well for those unable to pursue a college education. When options are falsely limited between College or a Low wage job, people are losing out on important opportunities. I have co-workers who have masters degrees but chose to go into a trade because it paid better and provided better benefits.

    Being a garbage collector or a construction worker is a really good job, that either requires no school or school that is fully paid for by the local union. And telling people they are demeaning or “bad” hurts people who might otherwise pursue it as a way to escape poverty.

    • Bellis

      Good points and cool that you do union work!

      Also these jobs are useful for society and really important. (Not that people in “frivolous” jobs like arts and entertainment deserve bad pay, but still.)

  11. Brigitta M.

    While I generally agree with the content of this article, there’s a few points I’d like to add (speaking from personal experience, up until recently I was legally homeless on the east coast for ten years (I’ll get to the “legally” in a bit) and when I was in my early 20s I was homeless in California…two different types of homelessness…which I’ll also get to in a bit).

    — Most homeless people you’d likely wouldn’t even think they were. Legally speaking, if you’re living in a hotel, you’re homeless. While that’s better than a car or the street, it still means home cooked meals are difficult to come by and rent in a hotel can make it difficult, if not impossible to rent an apartment. I went through a period where every other week I was living in a car or living in a hotel until two things happened: my boyfriend got a raise and the rent for the hotel went down.

    That’s not the only reason why you wouldn’t know. Societal stigma means we often keep our head low and mind our own business. Not only that, but family members and friends may be able to pay for certain amenities (like a cellphone or a car) but won’t have the room to let someone crash on their couch (or they can only crash on the couch after someone is in bed or only on certain days).

    Further, you’d be surprised what you can find in donation bins as it relates to clothes…or scrounge up a few quarters and get a new dress at Goodwill. My boyfriend and I would go to the laundromat often enough that we wouldn’t stink and we’d wash up as best we could in public bathrooms (change in there too).

    Finally, the weather makes a big difference as to how anyone dresses and the homeless are no different. I always found it weird when I watched a movie that was based in the summer and the homeless person was under layers of clothes. Like…why? Especially since the city is the best place to find places that will donate clothes.

    — Speaking of the city…

    Homeless people are everywhere. I’ve been homeless in the city, the country, and in small towns. Each place has different resources and different requirements for those resources (sometimes all you have to do is show up, sometimes you have to show ID) the more requirements a city or place has…the less helpful it actually is.

    — I touched on this earlier…but judging homeless people for what they have or any bad habits is 0% helpful. The assumption I’ve seen a lot of times is that homeless or poor people are squandering their money if they do X. It doesn’t take into account that poor people deserve a little happiness or that they could have had that smoking habit when they went homeless (trying to quit smoking and being homeless are incompatible tyvm) or that they got that thing through a gift or…whatever…it doesn’t matter.

    I know not all of these are broad-based writing related, but if anyone is interested in writing a character that is homeless, it could help.

    –Bri

    • LeeEsq

      I’ve never been homeless but I’ve lived most of my life in the two places in the United States classically associated with street homelessness, New York and San Francisco/Oakland. There are some big differences in how the homeless carry themselves. From what I remember in New York, the homeless are more passive and less likely to approach the none homeless. In San Francisco, they will come up directly rather than just having an alms cup out.

      • Prince Infidel

        @LeeEsq I’m guessing you mean the homeless people that ask for money in public, rather than homeless people in general.
        As most homeless people don’t ask for money in the street & not everyone who asks for money is homeless.

        Those who ask for money in public typically respond to how they’re treated. In places that are as heavily policed as New York City, asking directly can lead to violence, arrest, or even death. I say this as someone works with the homeless, & as a born & raised New Yorker.

        I can’t speak San Francisco, but if the police are less likely to respond with threats & violence than New York, then homeless people asking for money are more likely to ask directly.

        There’s also the more privileged citizens part in the culture of how homeless people & people asking for money are treated. If the people being asked are likely to react aggressively &/or call the police if they feel bothered, then the “passive” attitude you mentioned will become quite common. As the askers won’t want to risk being yelled at, attacked, or otherwise abused.

  12. JXMcKie

    Agree on most of these, though in fairness it has be said, that with regard to nr. 3) the protagonist in many stories, at least if they are much action-centered, often has to kill or maim various henchmen, as a matter of self-defense. The fighting and killing is not done as a punishment of the “baddies”, but as a natural and necessary consequence of fighting them (though it often seems that especially US movies, does indeed have a tendency, to depict violence against the “baddies”, as a sort of punishment, rather than just a consequence. A product of that tendency towards moral self-righteousness, that seems so prevalent in Anglo-Saxon culture, and especially in USA). But I agree that it makes little sense for the protagonist of an action-centered story, to kill the henchmen with little thought for mercy, and then suddenly decide to be magnanimous towards the big bad (again : often to “teach him a lesson”. All that US infatuation with moral justification). If one can kill the henchmen without compunction, then one should certainly also kill the leader, unless very good reasons for not doing so are stated.

  13. Bean

    How is it possible that not one comment mentioned Gilmore Girls? For a show that bases a large part of its premise on financial difficulties, it is flagrantly disrespectful in its portrayal of its “poor” heroines.

  14. Petar

    6. People Who Seek Money Are Demonized, Those Who Have It Glorified
    I think Oren discussed it in the “Five Behaviors Fiction Needs to Stop Demonizing” article. The title picture also presents a great example.

    I didn’t even realize this trope was a thing before before I read cracked’s “The 5 Ugly Lessons Hiding in Every Superhero Movie” article.
    Here’s an excerpt:

    “Tell me if you can spot what is similar about each of these hero-vs.-villain match-ups:
    Superman vs. Lex Luthor
    Batman vs. The Joker
    Batman vs. Bane
    Tony Stark vs. Obadiah Stane
    Tony Stark vs. Whiplash
    In each of those instances, the match-up is between a person who inherited his wealth and/or abilities and a self-made man who came up from nothing. And each time, we’re rooting for the former.”
    (To be fair, not all these examples are necessarily applicable to classism, but they’re still food for thought.)

    I have no idea why this is so common. Is it the male equivalent to the “natural beauty” trope? Like, being rich and powerful is cool and all, but getting there is often ugly, so, let’s just have our hero be born rich and no-one can blame them?
    Sure, greed is a motivator behind a lot of evil in the world, so, there’s nothing wrong with using it as a villain motivation. It just feels off when juxtaposed with a born-rich wish-fulfillment hero.

    • Bellis

      You’re right, it really feels like the message of this trope is “know your station in life and be content with it, don’t strive for more”, which I think is a christian message. It upholds injustices and imbalances and I wish we’d reject it or at least question it more in our fiction. Same with questioning how a super-rich person can really be moral (much less morally superior to someone striving to gain money) while hording money/resources other people need to survive.

    • Jeppsson

      It’s true there’s a weird pattern here… BUT rags-to-riches stories are also popular. There’s this idea that hard work pays off, and that a lot of people got rich through hard work alone, even though it’s very rare in real life that people truly work themselves up from poverty to wealth (and the US is, contrary to popular belief, one of the western countries with the LEAST mobility between classes).

      • Petar

        That’s a good point.

        It’s of course possible that the pattern is largely confined to superhero stories (which the article was about) and some adjacent genres. Or it could be just a result of the Cracked article having a rather small sample size. 3-5 data points isn’t much.

        • Jeppsson

          I think with Batman and Ironman, one reason for the pattern is that the writers just want their wealth there as a background condition, which allows them to have loads of tech and gadgets they can use to fight crime. Therefore, it’s easier if the wealth is there from the start.

          Superman and Lex Luthor actually don’t really fit the pattern. If you count Lex’s genius as a near-superpower, it’s usually portrayed as innate, something he was born with, like Superman was born with his Kryptonian physique. Looking at their material conditions, Superman/Clark Kent grew up at a farm, and worked himself up to be a successful and famous reporter, whereas Lex Luthor’s background varies between different continuities – sometimes he worked himself up from humble beginnings, sometimes he grew up in an already wealthy and powerful capitalist family.

          Also, Daredevil: Matt Murdock is a famous and successful lawyer who worked himself up from poor and humble beginnings. That’s just off the top of my head, there are probably many more. So yeah, I think this is a case of small skewed sample. And if you look at stories about sports, art etc, the MC is usually an underdog working themselves up.

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