Shameless Sociology: Critical Perspectives on a Popular Television Series [1 ed.] 1527557448, 9781527557444

In 2011, Showtime premiered Shameless, a comedy-drama about the audacious behaviors of the Gallaghers, a white, working-

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Shameless Sociology: Critical Perspectives on a Popular Television Series [1 ed.]
 1527557448, 9781527557444

Table of contents :
Table of Contents
Introduction • Pamela M. Hunt and Jennifer Beggs Weber
Part 1: Social Class
Dominant Hasslin’ and Subordinate Hustlin’: A Content Analysis Using the Generic Processes that Reproduce Inequality • Alexis P. Hilling, Erin Andro, and Kayla Cagwin
Shamefully Shameless: Critical Theory and Contemporary Television • Robert J. Leonard and Kyra Martinez
Learning and Coping: The (Mis)Education of Lip Gallagher • Liz Piatt and N. J. Akbar
Shameless, Single Parenthood, Low-Wage Work, and Initiatives to Help Families in Need • Monica Bixby Radu, Erin Fluegge, Sheldondra Brown, and Lisa McManus Rodriguez
Part 2: Race
The Shameless (and Race-less) Gallaghers • Marisela Martinez-Cola
Shamelessly White: Shades of Whiteness and Anti-Black Racism in Popular Media • Randall Wyatt
Part 3: Sexualities and Gender
Shameless Sexualities: The Incompleteness of Queer Acceptance as Depicted in a Popular Television Show • Tyler Flockhart and Abby Reiter
“Another Skanky ‘Hood Girl’”: Intersections of Class & Gender on Shameless’ South Side • Jennifer Beggs Weber and Tiffany A. Parsons
Pregnancy and Paths to Financial Freedom: A Tale of Two Gallagher Sisters • Leslie Welch and Kimberly Murray
Part 4: Social Psychology, Deviance, and Risk
“Nobody f**ks with the Gallaghers!”: Identity and The New American Family in Shameless • Marshall R. Schmidt and Leslie Riggle Miller
Excuse is the Refuge of the Moral Coward: The Gallaghers’ Use of Techniques of Neutralization to Justify Their Behavior and Manage Shame • Pamela M. Hunt
Urban Hustling, Emotion Work, and Reflexive Modernity: Managing Risk in the Television Show Shameless • Ran Keren
Part 5: Gentrification
“Gentrify This!”: A Critical Analysis of Gentrification in Season 5 of Shameless • Eric A. Jordan
Gentrifying the Gallaghers • Kristin Pitts

Citation preview

Shameless Sociology

Shameless Sociology: Critical Perspectives on a Popular Television Series Edited by

Jennifer Beggs Weber and Pamela M. Hunt

Shameless Sociology: Critical Perspectives on a Popular Television Series Edited by Jennifer Beggs Weber and Pamela M. Hunt This book first published 2020 Cambridge Scholars Publishing Lady Stephenson Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2PA, UK British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Copyright © 2020 by Jennifer Beggs Weber, Pamela M. Hunt and contributors All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. ISBN (10): 1-5275-5744-8 ISBN (13): 978-1-5275-5744-4

For Nathan, my partner in crime. – Jennifer For Perry and Grace. – Pam


Acknowledgments ..................................................................................... ix Introduction ................................................................................................ 1 Pamela M. Hunt and Jennifer Beggs Weber Part 1: Social Class Dominant Hasslin’ and Subordinate Hustlin’: A Content Analysis Using the Generic Processes that Reproduce Inequality ............................ 8 Alexis P. Hilling, Erin Andro, and Kayla Cagwin Shamefully Shameless: Critical Theory and Contemporary Television ... 29 Robert J. Leonard and Kyra Martinez Learning and Coping: The (Mis)Education of Lip Gallagher................... 52 Liz Piatt and N. J. Akbar Shameless, Single Parenthood, Low-Wage Work, and Initiatives to Help Families in Need .......................................................................... 67 Monica Bixby Radu, Erin Fluegge, Sheldondra Brown, and Lisa McManus Rodriguez Part 2: Race The Shameless (and Race-less) Gallaghers .............................................. 88 Marisela Martinez-Cola Shamelessly White: Shades of Whiteness and Anti-Black Racism in Popular Media .................................................................................... 109 Randall Wyatt


Table of Contents

Part 3: Sexualities and Gender Shameless Sexualities: The Incompleteness of Queer Acceptance as Depicted in a Popular Television Show ............................................. 130 Tyler Flockhart and Abby Reiter “Another Skanky ‘Hood Girl’”: Intersections of Class & Gender on Shameless’ South Side ....................................................................... 148 Jennifer Beggs Weber and Tiffany A. Parsons Pregnancy and Paths to Financial Freedom: A Tale of Two Gallagher Sisters ..................................................................................................... 164 Leslie Welch and Kimberly Murray Part 4: Social Psychology, Deviance, and Risk “Nobody f**ks with the Gallaghers!”: Identity and The New American Family in Shameless ............................................................................... 184 Marshall R. Schmidt and Leslie Riggle Miller Excuse is the Refuge of the Moral Coward: The Gallaghers’ Use of Techniques of Neutralization to Justify Their Behavior and Manage Shame................................................................................. 206 Pamela M. Hunt Urban Hustling, Emotion Work, and Reflexive Modernity: Managing Risk in the Television Show Shameless ................................................. 231 Ran Keren Part 5: Gentrification “Gentrify This!”: A Critical Analysis of Gentrification in Season 5 of Shameless ........................................................................................... 254 Eric A. Jordan Gentrifying the Gallaghers ..................................................................... 270 Kristin Pitts Contributors ............................................................................................ 284 Index ....................................................................................................... 289


We would like to thank Cambridge Scholars Publishing for providing this opportunity to us. Editing a volume of critical essays was something we both aspired to, and we are grateful that our first chance was one in which we could bring an interdisciplinary group of authors together to discuss something exciting: a celebrated and fun television series. Special thanks to Adam Rummens, our Commissioning Editor, for patiently guiding us through the proposal process. Finally, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to our families for their loving support.


shame noun:

shameless adjective:

a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety a condition of humiliating disgrace or disrepute something that brings censure or reproach having no shame; insensible to disgrace

(Merriam-Webster 2019)

History of Shameless Shameless is an American dramatic television series adapted from a British show of the same title. The program will soon air its eleventh and final season. Shameless premiered in 2011 on the Showtime network and is the longest-running scripted series in Showtime’s history. The show is loosely based on the childhood of the British version’s creator, Paul Abbott, whose own sister—much like the character Fiona—helped raise the children when Abbott’s mother left the family (Young 2007). Abbott reports that his childhood home was always filled with chaos and that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 23 (akin to Ian), yet one of his teachers took notice of his brilliance (similar to Lip) (Young 2007). The series has received critical acclaim. In 2014, The Atlantic called the series “poignant as well as funny.” Shameless has garnered over 40 award nominations since its debut, including fourteen Primetime Emmy nominations (Grant 2018). Joan Cusack won a Primetime Emmy in 2015, and William H. Macy has won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Lead Actor in a comedy series three times. Shameless follows the Gallaghers, a White working-class family living in a South Side Chicago neighborhood. The patriarch of Shameless is



Frank Gallagher. An alcoholic con man, Frank is manipulative—a trickster who is shifty, clever, and a harbinger of chaos. Frank is selfish, narcissistic, deceptive, and often pretends to care for others to get what he wants. His wife and matriarch of the Gallagher clan, Monica, is bipolar and an addict. She comes in and out of their lives as her whims and needs suit her, often stealing from her family, typically to buy drugs. All of the Gallagher children (there are six: Fiona, Lip, Ian, Debbie, Carl, and Liam) are crafty, unapologetic survivors. Indeed, a major theme in the series lies in the schemes they use for subsistence and the crafty attempts they make to get what they want. They rarely differentiate between moral and immoral means to get by, and though they despise his attempts at charisma, the Gallagher kids obviously learned a significant amount of their clandestine ways from their father. The fuel for these behaviors lies in something else they inherited from him—the belief that the system is rigged, and therefore, any and all means of resourcefulness are acceptable. This is where the notion of “shamelessness” in the series emerges. Other characters support and intertwine with the Gallagher clan. Indeed, their South Side neighborhood is populated with a host of quirky individuals. Veronica Fisher and Kevin Ball, best friends and fictive kin, live two doors down. Mickey and Mandy Milkovich, a brother and sister from a home even more broken than the Gallaghers, come to play significant roles in the lives of both Ian and Lip Gallagher. Karen Jackson, Lip’s first true love, and her agoraphobic mother, Sheila become central characters in many of the Gallagher family plots. There’s also Svetlana Yevgenivna, the tough and smart Russian prostitute who becomes Mickey’s wife, then later part of a “throuple” with Kevin and Veronica. Sammi Slot—the long-lost daughter of Frank—makes her appearance in Season 4. And, Jimmy/Steve, Fiona’s love-interest from Season 1, makes multiple reappearances throughout the series, seemingly reimagining his identity every time. But, the power of the series rests mostly in the ways in which each despicable, shameless act is located in relatable challenges. Unemployment, hunger, eviction, and broken water-heaters are things many Americans deal with on a daily basis. Moreover, each character is at one point both hateable and likable. Consider Monica: like Frank, she is also cunning and selfcentered. But, most of the time, Monica exudes a sweet and innocent demeanor, pulling at viewers’ heartstrings. In the rare times that she spends with her family, she plays the protective mama-bear role just enough to make viewers almost pity her. Or, Carl, the second-to-youngest Gallagher kid: Carl engages in some of the most criminal acts in the series. He hits people with a baseball bat, attempts to kill his cousin with rat poison, robs his foster parents, burns down a Native American sweat lodge, and straps

Pamela M. Hunt and Jennifer Beggs Weber


heroin to his adolescent cousin’s body to assist in the traffic of the drug. On the other hand, throughout the series, we see Carl tending to others and fighting for justice. He tries to find a new liver for his father, takes in dogs who are sentenced to be euthanatized, and chases down local delinquents in order to apprentice becoming a police officer. Just like the characters and their storylines, Shameless is both good and bad. It is both flawed and hopeful. In the chapters that follow, authors critically analyze the multifaceted ways that the Gallaghers are both loved and hated, and how Shameless simultaneously challenges and reinforces stereotypes, accurately and erroneously portrays the working-class, and often illustrates the harsh realities faced by working-class American families without suggesting solutions. The goal of this book is to address and explore these complexities.

Overview of Book Part 1: Social Class Dominant Hasslin’ and Subordinate Hustlin’: A Content Analysis Using the Generic Processes that Reproduce Inequality Hilling, Andro, and Cagwin conduct a content analysis and apply Schwalbe et al.’s (2000) generic processes of inequality to themes and incidences in the show. Shamefully Shameless: Critical Theory and Contemporary Television Leonard and Martinez analyze the extent to which the show emancipates (as the media portray it does) working-class families on television. The authors interrogate the assertion that Shameless has reinvented working-class television. Using critical theory, authors expose the limits of the show’s ability to contradict popular narratives around the working-class, poverty, and the processes of gentrification. Learning and Coping: The (Mis)Education of Lip Gallagher Piatt and Akbar write of the ever-present reality that social class remains a significant obstacle to enrolling in, staying in, and graduating from college. They use the case study of Lip, the prodigal son of the Gallagher family, to demonstrate this. Piatt and Akbar also discuss the elusive topic of what happens during a low-income student’s time on campus. In the end, the authors suggest TRIO programs (federal programs designed to increase higher education access for economically disadvantaged students) can make the difference for first generation, limited income students like Lip.



Shameless, Single Parenthood, Low-Wage Work, and Initiatives to Help Families in Need Radu, Fluegge, Brown, and McManus Rodriguez examine the challenges faced by families in modern times, including the decoupling of marriage and family, as well as economic barriers for low-income families, be they single parented or otherwise structured, and the struggles that children encounter in families with low parental involvement. The authors argue that Shameless illustrates these difficult realities, but the series stops short of suggesting solutions to the ills of its characters. The authors then suggest several programs to promote child well-being.

Part 2: Race The Shameless (and Race-less) Gallaghers Martinez-Cola uses instances in Shameless to argue that stereotypes about white people in the media, even when seemingly-damning, have very little negative consequences for the lives of white people in America. Shamelessly White: Shades of Whiteness and Anti-Black Racism in Popular Media Wyatt argues that although the show humanizes poor whites, it does so to the detriment of racial minorities, particularly Black Americans. To better understand how popular media is conveying contemporary stereotypes of Black people, he conducts a comparative analysis of the shows Shameless and The Chi.

Part 3: Sexualities and Gender Shameless Sexualities: The Incompleteness of Queer Acceptance as Depicted in a Popular Television Show Flockhart and Reiter analyze the use of humor and disdain for effeminacy by Shameless characters as examples of the incompleteness of queer acceptance in the U.S. The authors argue that the series simultaneously provides a diverse depiction of the modern queer experience and reinforces homophobic attitudes. “Another Skanky ‘Hood Girl’”: Intersections of Class & Gender on Shameless’ South Side Weber and Parsons explore the gendered, class-based expectations that the women on Shameless’ South Side face. Challenging claims that the series offers displays of female empowerment via their brazen and unapologetic

Pamela M. Hunt and Jennifer Beggs Weber


sexual availability, the authors demonstrate how the show works to reaffirm and maintain sexualized stereotypes of poor and working-class women. Pregnancy and Paths to Financial Freedom: A Tale of Two Gallagher Sisters Welch and Murray compare the pregnancy experiences of the two female siblings. They examine how individuals make choices regarding parenthood. Specifically, they discuss common debates within American culture regarding women’s rights, motherhood, abortion, and family values using a fresh perspective, through the eyes of the Gallagher sisters.

Part 4: Social Psychology, Deviance, and Risk “Nobody f**ks with the Gallaghers!”: Identity and The New American Family in Shameless Schmidt and Miller argue that Shameless illustrates the ever-changing nature of family as an institution. Additionally, these authors examine just how powerful and unbreakable the Gallagher family identity remains throughout the series, despite constant unrest, instability, and the frequent wish by some members to disidentify with it. Excuse is the Refuge of the Moral Coward: The Gallaghers’ Use of Techniques of Neutralization to Justify Their Behavior and Manage Shame Hunt explores society’s connotation of shame—a self-conscious moral, role-taking emotion—and its connection to deviant behavior. She analyzes the way in which the characters rationalize their deviant behaviors, and thus, manage the experience of shame by using justifications such as Sykes and Matza’s Techniques of Neutralization. She then argues that cultural expectations demand accounts of deviance from some groups, while allowing others the chance to deviate without explanation. Urban Hustling, Emotion Work, and Reflexive Modernity: Managing Risk in the Television Show Shameless Keren analyzes the stories, narratives, and actions of the expert risk managers in the series. He examines the concept of risk, specifically with regard to the concepts of “hustling,” “edge work,” and “emotion work.”



Part 5: Gentrification “Gentrify This!” A Critical Analysis of Gentrification in Season 5 of Shameless Jordan explores the notion that gentrification can apply not only to neighborhoods and housing districts, but to individuals. He uses the case of Lip to illustrate the positive and negative components of gentrification. Gentrifying the Gallaghers Applying gentrification to the Gallagher children, Pitts points out that despite the fact that social mobility is not common in the real world, almost every member of the Gallagher tribe climbs the social and economic ladder during the course of the series. Pitts contends that Shameless makes a realistic case for character gentrification as the Gallagher children move from a bunch of shameless hoodlums to a law-abiding, middle-class family.

References Grant, Tamara. 2019. “How Many Awards Does Shameless Have?” Showbiz Cheatsheet, November 18. Retrieved March 23, 2020 ( “Shame.” 2019. In Retrieved October 18, 2019 ( “Shameless.” 2019. In Retrieved October 18, 2019 ( Young, Kirsty. 2007. “Paul Abbott,” BBC Radio Desert Island Discs, Feb 11. Retrieved August 13, 2018 (



Social inequality is a persistent phenomenon within society and a central focus of broad inquiry among social scientists. Inequalities research considers the multiple forms and intersections between social structures such as race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability. Scholars have shown how these intersections of social inequality are reproduced in the media (Netherland and Hansen 2016; Oxendine 2019; Trolan 2013). In addition, researchers have explored the mechanisms and social processes that generate and maintain this inequality (Armstrong, Gleckman-Krut, and Johnson 2018; Foster and Hagan 2015; Schrock and Schwalbe 2009; Schwalbe et al. 2000). Since society is structured to perpetuate inequalities, examining how the media is a part of the reproduction of inequality provides an accessible way to analyze these structural forces (Kellner 2003). Focusing on the interactional maintenance of inequality, Schwalbe and colleagues (2000), in their meta-theory, propose four “generic processes in the reproduction of inequality”: othering, subordinate adaptation, boundary maintenance, and emotion management. The purpose of this chapter is to focus on the reproduction of inequality by applying Schwalbe and colleague’s (2000) meta-theory to Shameless. Throughout the series, the Gallagher family and other characters are in a constant struggle against poverty and for the power and resources held by individuals in the wealthy dominant group. In an attempt to overcome the persistent inequality facing them, characters engage in innovative tactics such as: differentiating themselves from others deemed inferior, finding alternative ways of earning a living and bettering their status, and working to maintain the boundaries in place between them and those of higher status. In this chapter, we begin by reviewing the literature on generating and maintaining social inequality

Alexis P. Hilling, Erin Andro, and Kayla Cagwin


with a specific focus on three of the four generic processes that are most applicable to the show: othering, subordinate adaptation, and boundary maintenance. Our goal is to show how these abstract theoretical processes in the reproduction of inequality are clearly and concretely demonstrated in Shameless. While the majority of research on social inequality emphasizes the macro-level, we add to this literature through our focus on the interactional-level and by demonstrating how the inequality present in society is also reproduced within media.

Literature Review While the prevailing level of analysis in inequalities research is at the structural and institutional level, many researchers have explored how micro-level interactional processes manifest into various forms of social inequality (Anderson and Snow 2001; Ridgeway 2019; Scarborough and Risman 2017; Schwalbe 2016). Heavily rooted in the interactionist tradition, Schwalbe et al. (2000) argued for the value of qualitative work that moves past understanding instances of inequality typically defined as “structural.” After extensively reviewing a broad body of qualitative inequality research, Schwalbe et al. (2000), noticed that four mechanisms of inequality (othering, subordinate adaptation, boundary maintenance, and emotion management) were present in all studies across small groups, organizations, communities, and societies. The first mechanism, othering, can be defined as a process of differentiation and demarcation, which draws a line between “us” and “them,” establishing and maintaining social distance between groups (Lister 2004). The creation and classification of different identities as more or less powerful are included within the othering process (Ezzell 2009; Jensen 2011). When othering occurs based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability, it creates stereotypes and expectations of people who are in that group. According to Lamont and Molnar (2002), these stereotypes lead to symbolic boundaries that are placed between groups of people, making it appear that there are significant differences. Once those socially constructed differences are emphasized, one group becomes oppressed under another (Lamont and Molnar 2002; Schwalbe et al. 2000). Subordinate adaptation is the strategy that oppressed individuals use to cope with their inferior position in society (Schwalbe et al. 2000). When subordinates have been othered by the dominant group, they must find ways to adapt to their position in order to survive. Schwalbe et al. (2000) identify three subprocesses to explain how this is often achieved: trading power for patronage, forming alternative subcultures, and hustling


Dominant Hasslin’ and Subordinate Hustlin’

and dropping out. Through these mechanisms, subordinates adapt to the hierarchy of power; however, their emphasized difference and need for adaptation play a key role in the overall reproduction of inequality (Schwalbe et al. 2000). Trading power for patronage occurs when subordinates seek out compensatory benefits from their relationships with members of the dominant group (Schwalbe et al. 2000). Recent literature that has investigated trading power for patronage has focused on gendered examples and outcomes (Fenstermaker and West 2002; Risman 2004; Mathers, Sumerau, and Ueno 2018). Less research has focused on how those subordinated for their socioeconomic status utilize trading power for patronage to improve their lives and become economically and socially mobile. Subordinates also adapt by forming alternative subcultures that contain differing hierarchies for prestige, power, and economic attainment (Schwalbe et al. 2000). Previous research has focused on examples surrounding alternative sexuality subcultures (McGrady 2016) and homeless populations (Snow and Anderson 1987). Few have considered how forming alternative subcultures might be executed to adapt to economic inequality. Further, when subordinates cannot achieve success under the norms of the dominant culture, they can also adapt by hustling or dropping out. Hustling refers to activities related to obtaining economic resources illegally or dishonestly, while dropping out refers to an individual or collective departure from interacting within the institutions of the dominant culture (Schwalbe et al. 2000). Boundary maintenance is the third process through which inequality is reproduced. In order for inequality to be preserved, the symbolic, spatial, and/or interactional boundaries between dominant and subordinate groups must be maintained. The preservation of these boundaries allows dominant groups to protect their acquired material and cultural capital from subordinated groups (Schwalbe et al. 2000). A boundary maintenance framework has been applied to various forms of stratification that create an “us versus them” dichotomy. According to Schwalbe et al. (2000), boundary maintenance takes the form of three specific processes: transmitting cultural capital, controlling network access, and the threat and use of violence. The processes of transmitting cultural capital and controlling network access overlap, as network access is in part controlled by the transmission of cultural capital (Schwalbe et al. 2000). Without these proper cultural credentials, it may be impossible to enter a network. This can be observed throughout a number of social institutions and organizations such as in higher education (Binder and Abel 2019; O’Shea 2016; Pascarella et al. 2004; Simon and Ainsworth 2012), management (Taylor, Gross, and

Alexis P. Hilling, Erin Andro, and Kayla Cagwin


Turgeon 2018; Turgeon, Taylor, and Niehaus 2014), and even parental responsibilities (Hook 2016; Lareau 2011; Wyness 1997). For example, in higher education, Pascarella et al. (2004) found that first-in-family college students lacked the cultural capital of their peers, which led to disadvantages in preparedness and knowledge about higher education, degree expectations, and financial support. This lack of cultural capital led to lower graduation rates and varying post-graduation success (Pascarella et al. 2004). Further, research has shown that these networks are critical to the reproduction of inequality (Lareau 2011; Lutter 2015; MacMillan, Tyler, and Vignoles 2015; Traweek 1992; McDonald 2011). While network boundaries are maintained through both ideological and spatial separations, individuals do step out of these boundaries. Elites view this as a problem and one solution is to inflict violence. This infliction of violence works to protect privilege and power, ensuring boundaries remain intact (Schwalbe 2000). Research has shown the threat and use of violence is a normal process of boundary maintenance in a number of institutions and groups (Cunningham 2013; Honeycutt 2005). Throughout the television series, Shameless, all three subcategories of boundary maintenance were observed. Controlling network access was a prevalent theme throughout the show. We often observed the Gallagher family attempting to obtain more cultural capital, with those in the dominant group continuing to restrict both access to cultural capital and network access. Overall, applying Schwalbe et al.’s (2000) generic processes framework to an analysis of Shameless offers fertile ground for the processual study of inequality, given the countless interactions between characters of different statuses.

Methods To examine the presence of the general processes in the reproduction of inequality in the Showtime original Shameless, we conducted an in-depth qualitative content analysis. The sample consisted of two randomly selected episodes from Seasons 1 through 9. Three coders each examined three seasons (six episodes each). Together, we analyzed 18 episodes total across nine seasons (Table 1-1). Episodes from Seasons 1-8 were retrieved from Netflix, and Season 9 was retrieved from the Showtime streaming service. The main goal of our study is to analyze instances of Schwalbe et al.’s (2000) broad processes. To accomplish this, we started our analysis by open coding all episodes for instances of othering, subordinate adaptation, and boundary maintenance. This was the process of organizing the data


Dominant Hasslin’ and Subordinate Hustlin’

(Corbin and Strauss 1990; Lofland et al. 2006). Once the data was organized, we focus-coded each episode for the presence of the three generic processes. Focus coding involves looking for specific themes in data and determining the patterns in those themes (Corbin and Strauss 1990; Hinojosa 2010; Lofland et al. 2006). Each coder noted examples of the processes, elaborating on the subcategories of each process, providing a description of the interaction and character quotes. Analysis included compiling codes in a Google sheet document and memoing the results. Finally, coders discussed all coding and memos to examine present themes and address similarities and discrepancies across episodes. We present the results of the analysis in the following section. Table 1-1: Season/Episode Numbers and Episode Titles in Hilling, Andro, and Cagwin Season/Episode

Episode Title

Season 1, Episode 3 Season 1, Episode 8

Aunt Ginger It's Time to Kill the Turtle

Season 2, Episode 5 Season 2, Episode 10

Father's Day A Great Cause

Season 3, Episode 2 Season 3, Episode 10

The American Dream Civil Wrongs

Season 4, Episode 6 Season 4, Episode 11

Iron City Emily

Season 5, Episode 2 Season 5, Episode 8

I'm the Liver Uncle Carl

Season 6, Episode 1 Season 6, Episode 10

I Only Miss Her When I'm Breathing Paradise Lost

Alexis P. Hilling, Erin Andro, and Kayla Cagwin

Season 7, Episode 5 Season 7, Episode 12

Own Your Shit Requiem for a Slut

Season 8, Episode 2 Season 8, Episode 10

Where's My Meth? The Church of Gay Jesus

Season 9, Episode 2 Season 9, Episode 9



Results Othering Using Shameless as an example of popular culture, we can see manifestations of three of the processes proposed by Schwalbe et al. (2000) (othering, subordinate adaptation, and boundary maintenance). Schwalbe et al. (2000) describe othering as a process of inequality, making one group seem inferior, or “othered,” compared to another group. During the othering process, there is one person or group of people with more power and class standing, along with another person or group being oppressed (Schwalbe et al. 2000). Schwalbe and colleagues (2000) break up othering into three subcategories: oppressive othering, creating powerful virtual selves, and defensive othering. Oppressive Othering One of the main storylines in Season 4 involves Lip’s girlfriend, Amanda, who is a member of a dominant group—the upper socioeconomic class. In Episode 11, she asks Lip to use his subordinate status and lifestyle—as a member of the working-class—to shock her wealthy parents. In an example of oppressive othering, Amanda believes that her parents will be upset, and in this assumption, the implication is that there is something inherently wrong with poor people and their experiences, and that they are inherently different from upper-class, wealthy people. When the parents finally make it to the Gallagher house, they are indeed horrified, and they do, in fact, engage in othering. They make it very clear that they are too good to be in this South Side Chicago neighborhood, and in this workingclass home, with an economically subordinate group of people. Amanda’s parents refuse to eat the meal that Lip and the Gallagher family prepared.

Dominant Hasslin’ and Subordinate Hustlin’


After dinner, Amanda's father says, “This is not the kind of environment I want for my daughter.” He asks Lip to stop dating Amanda and offers to pay him to end their relationship. He also informs Lip that Amanda is only dating him to upset her parents, implying that he and his family are too good to associate with people like the Gallaghers. By stating that the only reason their daughter would date a subordinate would be to spite her parents, this interaction illustrates that Amanda’s father is aware of the inequality between the two families. Even within an oppressed group, people often realize that their class standing influences the ways in which those in the dominant group will treat them. Sometimes, individuals in the oppressed group other themselves. For example, in Season 1, Episode 8, Lip and Fiona share an exchange about Carl. “Carl got invited someplace by some normal kids. Robbie Rebello's having a paintball party.” Carl explains he cannot go because he cannot afford it. Fiona gives Carl her last $35 to go. Carl is excited and Lip thanks Fiona saying “He really wanted to go. But knows we're strapped.” Here, the reference to “normal” kids implies the difference between Carl and his peers even though they attend the same school and are of similar social class status. Overall, oppressive othering stems from the idea that wealthier, more educated, and powerful people are superior, and that someone without those benefits is not worthy of respect. Powerful Virtual Selves Schwalbe et al. (2000) argues that the power enjoyed by the dominant group comes from the perception of moral difference between people in a higher social class and people in a lower class. The dominant group cultivates powerful virtual selves to ensure that the oppressed group understands that the dominant group deserves the power to decide what is right and what is wrong, what is acceptable or unacceptable (Schwalbe et al. 2000). This gives a “logical” reason as to why inequality exists between groups (Schwalbe et al. 2000). In Season 6, Episode 10, Professor Youens (a person from the upper-class) asks Lip (a person from the working-class) about the grades for the midterm exams in the professor’s class. Lip, his teaching assistant, does not have the exams graded. Lip:

Look I’m sorry, I didn’t have time to finish your work, I was busy getting fired, kicked out of my room, and forced to write a 10page essay on the dangers of drinking. Professor Youens: The department pays me to teach and grade students.

Alexis P. Hilling, Erin Andro, and Kayla Cagwin



Yeah, well, maybe they should be paying me since I’m the one doing it. Professor Youens: You’re two or three advanced degrees away from that.

The two are participating in oppressive othering and creating powerful virtual selves. The implication is that there is something special about having those degrees that makes it morally different and more acceptable that the professor gets paid while Lip does not. It also allows the professor to directly exploit Lip for his labor even though they are essentially doing the same work. In another example, in Season 8, Episode 2, Frank is on his way to an interview at “Lumber, Lawn, and Lighting” and is looking for a respectable outfit to wear. He knows that he cannot wear his usual disheveled and worn-out clothes. In Frank’s attempt to move away from his old, nonproductive ways, he must dress the part. In doing so, he reinforces the ideals of the dominant culture: the people that deserve power and respect are employed, well-dressed, and productive members of society. Frank is trying to take on the persona that is cultivated by the powerful in order to justify their dominance. All examples include someone being othered as not fitting the image of a powerful person. For example, others do not have a PhD, they do not dress appropriately, and they do not own a private business. The implication is that these are traits that belong to the wealthy/powerful and if someone does not fit that image, they do not deserve to have power or respect. Defensive Othering One way in which oppressed people try to mitigate their status in a culture is to participate in defensive othering—the process lower status people use to distance themselves from other lower status people, artificially inflating their own status (Schwalbe et al. 2000). The oppressed people are trying to place their oppression on others in order to seem more similar to higher status groups (Schwalbe et al. 2000). An illustration of this is when Kev and Vee (neighbors and good friends of the Gallaghers) agree to foster children for the money they will receive from the government to care for the kids. During the process of trying to get the house ready for the foster children, Vee hides valuables while Kev questions what she is doing. She explains she is “hiding our silverware in case we get a thief,” implying that the foster children are different and less trustworthy than other workingclass children. Kev and Vee are not upper-class characters on Shameless. However, they are distancing themselves from other lower social class


Dominant Hasslin’ and Subordinate Hustlin’

characters (children in foster care) by suggesting they have valuables that the foster care children would steal. Another example of defensive othering is in Season 7, Episode 5 when Carl and Fiona see a new washer and dryer being delivered to “Frank’s Home for the Homeless.” Carl says, “Even the homeless get better stuff than us.” This is a form of defensive othering because although the Gallaghers are class-subordinates, they still see others (e.g., the homeless) as “below” them. They are othering the homeless individuals and arguing that they do not deserve high-quality appliances. The implication is that the homeless are inherently different from Gallaghers. Throughout the series, othering is a trend among people of various statuses. The classification is typically based in power, education, and wealth. In other words, the same inequality processes seen in our society are also clearly reflected and reproduced in our popular media.

Subordinate Adaptation The Gallagher’s reconcile inequality through subordinate adaptation to cope with the poverty they encounter. According to Schwalbe et al. (2000), individuals in a subordinate status mitigate their circumstances by pushing against their subordinate label. Throughout the series, the Gallagher clan consistently participate in the three subtypes of subordinate adaptation to reconcile inequality: trading power for patronage, forming alternative subcultures, and hustling and dropping out. Trading Power for Patronage Subordinate status sometimes requires seeking compensatory benefits from relationships with the dominant group (Schwalbe et al. 2000). While these relationships can fulfill material needs, they also perpetuate inequality between the groups. In Shameless, some characters take entrepreneurial incentives to trade power for patronage. By using their relationships as a form of hustling, they manipulate others to meet their own needs. This is especially the case with Frank. He creates a “Franks’ Home for the Homeless” in Season 7, Episode 5. He gets the billionaire mogul/philanthropist Simon Epstein to invest in Frank’s Home as part of Epstein’s philanthropic efforts. Through this relationship, Frank and his other roommates receive a place to live with beds, new appliances, a TV, and other commodities. While Frank and his roommates have their material needs met for survival, Epstein can bolster his public image to maintain his majority group status. Though this is a short-term benefit for Frank and the

Alexis P. Hilling, Erin Andro, and Kayla Cagwin


others, it ultimately benefits the dominant group by providing a humanitarian shield to their vast wealth and power. Other characters use their intimate or romantic relationships as a method of trading power for patronage. While many characters do this in various ways, Fiona and Carl exhibit this behavior to better their class status. In Season 8, Episode 10, for example, Carl’s girlfriend wants to get married, but Ian and Fiona discourage the idea. Frank disagrees with this saying, “Marry her. Hear me and heed me. Do not let that frothing piece of lady meat out of your sight. She has a trust fund. Get joint checking. And whatever you do, do not sign a prenup.” Here, Frank encourages exploiting the benefits that follow relationships with those in the majority economic group. While these relationships can be symbiotic for all involved, they also perpetuate inequalities between subordinate and dominant groups due to the necessity of participating in them for those in the minority. Subordinated people entering these relationships allow material needs to be met at the cost of perpetuating their status and the larger system of inequality. The very need for exchange of monetary, social, or cultural capital highlights the lack of equality between the groups. Forming Alternative Subcultures When subordinates cannot participate in the culture of the dominant group, they adapt by forming alternate subcultures with differing hierarchies, forms of power, and ways of making a living (Schwalbe et al. 2000). Subordinate subculture norms are well represented throughout the Shameless series. We can see this through the ways that people react to the Gallaghers’ and other characters’ behaviors that would typically be seen as deviant. An early example in Season 3, Episode 2 involves Lip’s time doing community service for a crime he has committed. He meets another young man named Grizz and they exchange stories about why they are doing community service. Grizz: Lip: Grizz: Lip: Grizz: Lip:

Why they got you doing this man? B and E, theft and assault. Nice! You? Hit a kid with a brick. Kinda broke his face… At least there's always someone with some weed. You got any weed? 10 bucks a joint.

In this exchange, they establish street credentials through the discussion of participation in illegal activities, leading the two to earn mutual respect and

Dominant Hasslin’ and Subordinate Hustlin’


trust with one another. After this conversation, a group of youth with a community service volunteer program then show up and Grizz and Lip make fun of them. Grizz: Lip: Grizz:

Is that the fucking cast of Glee? Yeah, looks like a bunch of do-gooders. More like a bunch of gonna-get-their-ass-kicked-ers.

Together, they participate in othering the kids from the community service program, clearly members of the dominant economic group. Their exchange implies that voluntary community service is uncool whereas court-ordered service work is cool or normal within their own class-based subculture. While their actions preserve the hierarchy within their alternative subculture, it also maintains the divide between subordinate and dominant groups by highlighting their differences. This theme echoes throughout the series. During Season 5, Episode 2, the neighborhood where the Gallaghers live is experiencing gentrification. A member of the dominant group attempts to purchase Sheila Jackson’s house—where Frank is currently living—for double what it is worth. Frank is upset, proclaiming, “the man is moving in on our territory.” Frank argues that poor people will be pushed out of their own community by the dominant culture who do not welcome their lifestyles and values, but instead seek to change the neighborhood to their own standards. Frank expresses his outrage to others in the area stating, “I’m talking about gentrification my friends…they kick the homeless out of the park as if they don’t have a God-given right to sleep there.” Frank sees their neighborhood as the social location of the subordinate group’s subculture, where they can be distanced from wealthier people and live by their own norms. Unfortunately, this perpetuates the “us versus them” mindset. The need for alternate spaces for adaptive subcultures accentuates the perceived difference between groups, which ultimately widens the gap of inequality between them. Hustling and Dropping Out Another adaptation to the inability of subordinates to fulfill their needs to the standards of the dominant group is to hustle or drop out. Hustling occurs when subordinates operate on the margins of what is acceptable or even legal as defined by the dominant group, in order to survive (Schwalbe et al. 2000). Dropping out can range from not participating in conventional education or employment to forming countercultures that reject the oppressive norms of the dominant group

Alexis P. Hilling, Erin Andro, and Kayla Cagwin


(Schwalbe et al. 2000). Both hustling and dropping out saturate the plots and storylines of Shameless as nearly every character in the series participates in one or both at some point through the following means: selling drugs and/or obtaining money illegally, exploiting their relationships with others for resources, and dropping out of conventional institutions. Participating in the sale of drugs is commonplace for the Gallagher clan. Lip and Carl participate in this form of hustling throughout the series. In the quoted conversation involving Lip and Grizz from the previous section, one of the (upper-class) community service volunteers, Casper, approaches Lip to buy drugs when he notices Lip and Grizz smoking marijuana. Lip hustles Casper by charging him $20 a joint versus the $10 he charged Grizz, a person whose economic status more closely matches his own. In Season 5, Episode 8, Lip needs money to stay in college, so he and Kev set up a drug dealing venture in an empty dorm room. Later, they attend multiple frat parties to sell joints. They know they can hustle the wealthier college students to spend more on the drugs because the upper-middle-class young people do not have access to networks to obtain it otherwise. In the same episode, Carl also becomes a drug dealer and is assigned a job to run heroin to Flint, Michigan. Frank convinces Carl to strap the drugs to Chuckie, his younger cousin, to transport them with less suspicion. Carl does this but when they encounter drug-sniffing dogs at the bus station, Carl bails, leaving Chuckie to be detained by the police. Here Carl is participating in hustling by selling drugs, and further, in using his young cousin as a prop in the hustle. Hustling seems to be the most comfortable form of acquiring resources for the Gallaghers. It is a necessary tool and skill for them, and it is also how they have been conditioned to survive as members of the subordinate group. This becomes particularly evident with Lip and Fiona. When learning computer applications does not come easy to her, Fiona drops out to take a waitressing job at a sports bar where she endures sexual harassment. Fiona does take GED classes in Season 2 and attempts to better her career opportunities since her mother, Monica is back and taking care of her younger siblings. However, when Monica’s mental health degrades rapidly, Fiona drops out again to resume hustling to keep the family afloat. Similarly, Lip is able to attend college and succeed in ways that align with the dominant group’s values, as he is smart, scores well on tests, and shows academic promise. His teachers and partners encourage him to pursue college to improve his life chances. However, he initially resists this, as no one in his family has ever attended college. He views higher education as a waste of time that he could be on the streets hustling and selling drugs to support himself and his family.


Dominant Hasslin’ and Subordinate Hustlin’

Frank regularly drops out of society through drugs, alcohol, and homelessness. He rarely makes a living through conventional means, and instead hustles for money, usually to purchase drugs and alcohol. In Season 4, Episode 6, Frank dismisses a doctor who tries to warn him about the host of health issues he faces as a result of his addictions. Instead of allowing the medical institution to fix his ailments as someone in the dominant group would do, he participates in a Native American-style sweat lodge to rid his body of toxins. A more extreme example of dropping out occurs in Season 6, Episode 10 when Queenie takes Debbie (who is pregnant) and Frank (who is running from Carl’s ex-drug lord, G-Dogg) to a hippie commune. Here, the characters drop out of society completely, both from the dominant group and their own subordinate group, no longer willing to subscribe to the norms of either group.

Boundary Maintenance Schwalbe et al. (2000) assert that boundary maintenance is vital to maintaining the hierarchy of power and inequality. Throughout the entire series, the Gallaghers consistently participate in and experience boundary maintenance with elites, often finding themselves in situations where the borders of the structure meant to keep them outranked is tested in their interactions with other subordinates and elites. There are many examples of the three subtypes of boundary maintenance found within the series: controlling network access, transmitting cultural capital, and the threat and use of violence. Controlling Network Access Controlling network access was the most prevalent subprocess in Shameless, appearing in six of nine coded seasons. Controlling network access refers to the dominant group limiting access to key networks in which information is traded, decisions are made, and rewards are distributed to the subordinated group, ultimately leading to the reproduction of inequality. In Season 2, Episode 5, Fiona, the family matriarch, attends a wedding ceremony with a wealthy man who is unaware of her class status. Throughout the evening, Fiona attempts to transmit false messages of cultural capital via appearance and lies (e.g., stating that she attended Princeton). Her lies are soon uncovered when one of the members of the elite group corners her and exposes her lack of cultural capital, and assumes that Fiona is a sex worker. He then attempts to blackmail her warning, “How about you give me a taste, or I tell him the truth.” Here, network access is

Alexis P. Hilling, Erin Andro, and Kayla Cagwin


being controlled by a dominant group member and the cost of admittance into privilege is sex. Despite attempts to become upwardly mobile via attending college, military school, technical school, and through the acquirement of property, the Gallaghers often face situations in which network access is restricted, hindering their efforts. For instance, in Season 7, Episode 5, Fiona goes into her boss Margo’s office to discuss a potential raise given her efforts in turning “Patsy’s Diner” around and increasing profits. When Fiona arrives at the office, she is met by one of her boss’ employees who finds her request comical saying, “Join the club. Nobody making a paycheck is paid what they’re worth. Look, you have to own something to make real money, and Margo's the only owner around here.” This topic of conversation (on ownership and assets) emerges again later in episode when Fiona is having a conversation with a financial advisor with whom she’s having casual sex. The financial advisor states, “investing and ownership is really the only way to go from being poor to rich... Anybody who's really rich, owns something. Or lots of something.” In both examples, network access is being controlled by elites who have the resources and capital to own assets. Even when a member of the Gallagher family seems to be making strides toward obtaining more cultural capital, structural inequality prevents them from accessing the networks of the dominant group. We see one example of this in a conversation between Lip and one of his working-class college friends about the inequality they face on campus. Lip talks about interning for his “rich college friends” whose degrees are “bought and paid for by trust funds or whatever.” To which his friend replies, “I tutor douchebags like that in microengineering and they'll all still end up with the jobs. It sucks ass, but…” A final example of this process, appearing in Season 9, Episode 2, follows Fiona and her attempts to gain more cultural capital through the acquirement of rental properties. Fiona asks a “hot shot” relator to show her some properties, but it soon becomes apparent that he is only showing her undesirable ones. Fiona then remembers hearing about a retirement home investment opportunity. When she asks the relator about the opportunity, he states that the project already has all of the investors necessary. Yet, after a quick online search Liam, Fiona’s brother, realizes this is not the truth, to which Fiona replies: That piece of shit is sitting on a golden egg, and he’s trying to unload that dump on me that hasn’t been renovated since the ’80s and has been on the market—since… Oh, he’s a fuckin liar. He’s putting the whole thing together and he wrote me off as


Dominant Hasslin’ and Subordinate Hustlin’ dollar store trash. Sunset Brook is coming to my neighborhood. It’s comin’ to my backyard. It’s gonna print money. And I want in.

Again, this is an overt example of how network access is controlled by the dominant group, restricting access to all others. These examples encompass a central theme in the show: people with resources and opportunity (i.e., elites) restrict network access. This reproduces inequality by maintaining the hierarchy of resources and ensuring that those like the Gallaghers remain at the bottom. Transmitting Cultural Capital The following examples of boundary maintenance reflect the transmission of cultural capital, another emergent theme in our data. In all, three coded episodes conveyed messages of transmitting cultural capital, usually involving educational pursuits. Given the similarities among these three examples, only the two most overt are outlined. The first example appears in Season 2, Episode 10 and involves Fiona taking GED classes. The scene shows Fiona approaching the instructor asking if she should be studying at home, to which the instructor asks about her ambitions. After Fiona informs him that she aspires to become a manager, he reminds her just how limited her options are with the GED alone. After learning this, Fiona states “I guess I should aim a little lower. Massage Therapist?” The teacher replies, “you don’t have to aim low.” After asking why the whole class was not informed of this, the teacher tells Fiona that “they,” meaning those in charge of the GED program, tell him not to mention it. He encourages Fiona to go to community college and advises her that financial aid is available. Here, the instructor transmits cultural capital to Fiona by conveying the reality of her prospects from earning a GED and helping her understand college funding that would take her aspirations further. In Season 6, Episode 10, Lip’s professor is helping him obtain an internship. After the professor asks Lip if he is prepared for his interview, Lip replies “Prepare? What do I have to sell myself to work for free? I don’t know sounds like some millennial, ivy league crap to me.” The professor then responds: You’re on scholarship. You have a prestigious teaching assistant position. It’s time to stop thinking in terms of what a job pays and start thinking in terms of building a career. And in the meantime, get your shit together and turn in my midterm grades for my class.

Alexis P. Hilling, Erin Andro, and Kayla Cagwin


The professor is a wealthy, upper-class individual passing on cultural capital to Lip that is not available to him elsewhere. According to Schwalbe et al. (2000), the family is the primary unit in which cultural capital is transmitted, but not all cultural capital acquired is valued by individuals of specific class standing. The type of cultural capital Lip has previously obtained is not useful in a collegiate, upper-class setting. Therefore, it is necessary for his professor to transmit the cultural capital required for Lip to be successful in obtaining network access and making connections. The Threat and Use of Violence The threat and use of violence—the final subcategory of boundary maintenance outlined by Schwalbe et al.—can help to ensure that boundaries do not breakdown and that individuals remain “in their place” (Schwalbe et al. 2000). While this did not appear often in the coded episodes, two powerful examples emerged, both involving violence being threatened by a subordinate against someone higher in the social hierarchy. First, in Season 3, Episode 10, after Karen is hit by a car and hospitalized in a coma, a doctor comes in to tell Jody (Karen’s boyfriend) and Sheila (her mother), about Karen’s condition. However, the doctor is speaking in jargon that, given their working-class background, Jody and Sheila do not understand. Jody responds, saying: Hey. I'm a nice guy. Patient, not usually a violent dude. But if you try to leave without telling us what's going on in words we can understand, I will lift your tiny body over my head and throw you out the window.

Here, the doctor is maintaining a boundary between himself and economically subordinate individuals (Jody and Sheila) by explaining the situation to them in a way they do not understand and becoming offended when they attempt to get clarification. Furthermore, Jody is threatening violence as a way of maintaining his and Sheila’s position in the social hierarchy. Jody’s goal is not to transcend boundaries by pretending to understand the doctor’s jargon, but by maintaining the boundary between himself and the doctor through the threat of violence. In Season 6, Episode 1, Yanis (a neighbor and friend of Kev’s) threatens violence against wealthy newcomers gentrifying his neighborhood by spouting such bigoted and violent statements as, “these rich lesbo bitches always up in everybody’s business… they call the cops one more time, I’m gonna go over there, I’m gonna rape fuck the dyke out of them until they are begging for more.” Yanis is angry because both his physical neighborhood


Dominant Hasslin’ and Subordinate Hustlin’

and way of life are being violated by the wealthy. As a member of the economically subordinate group, he does not have the power to maintain physical separation between himself and the people he feels do not belong. Instead, he threatens physical violence to protect his neighborhood from the dominant group. The threat and use of violence in Shameless shows how subordinate group members mobilize to ensure that the limited resources and space they possess are protected from the infiltration of the dominant group.

Conclusion Understanding the interactional mechanisms and social processes that maintain inequality is an important step in understanding structural inequalities (Armstrong, Gleckman-Krut, and Johnson 2018; Foster and Hagan 2015; Schwalbe et al. 2000; Schrock and Schwalbe 2009). Schwalbe et al. (2000) propose a meta-theory in which four underlying processes of inequality are created and reproduced in social settings. In this chapter, we have applied this theory to the television series Shameless to show how othering, subordinate adaptation, and boundary maintenance—and their concurrent subprocesses—appear, overlap, and work to create and maintain inequality. Throughout the series, members of the Gallagher family and other characters engage these practices. The process of othering is observed through three subprocesses: oppressive othering, creating powerful virtual selves, and defensive othering. Each type of othering involves creating differences between groups of people based on statuses. In oppressive othering, the higher status characters “other” lower status characters, making those who are subordinated feel inferior. In creating powerful virtual selves, the powerful create a reality that reinforces the idea that they deserve power over people of lower statuses. Finally, within the oppressed group, characters other peers in order to improve their own statuses. In the series, lower status characters also attempt to reconcile inequality through subordinate adaptation in an attempt to push back against their subordinate status. This is observed through the subprocesses of trading power for patronage, forming alternative subcultures, and hustling and dropping out. The Gallaghers often trade power for patronage to benefit from relationships with those in the dominant group. The relationships themselves often take the form of hustling. Each relationship works to fulfill their basic needs and desires, but often come at the cost of perpetuating the inequality between individuals. When subordinated characters could not obtain access to dominant cultures, they acclimated by forming alternative

Alexis P. Hilling, Erin Andro, and Kayla Cagwin


subcultures with their own hierarchies, power formation, and ways of earning income. Most characters in the series were seen engaging in this subprocess, making money through alternative means such as selling drugs and exploiting relationships with others. Lastly, the Gallaghers and other subordinated characters find themselves navigating the boundaries between themselves and elites. The powerful work to maintain these boundaries, and therefore retain the structure that gives them power over others. Controlling network access was the most prevalent subprocess of boundary maintenance as the Gallaghers often attempted to become upwardly mobile. For example, their attempts to enter various institutional networks such as education and the military, were met by resistance from elites. Even once the Gallaghers were able to enter, it became clear that they did not have the necessary cultural capital to succeed. However, through building relationships with those in more elite positions, some cultural capital was transmitted to them. Finally, boundary maintenance was achieved frequently through using violence (or the threat of violence). The results indicate that these generic processes of inequality are not only present in everyday life, they are also present in our media. They reinforce ideas that legitimize power, subordination, and differences between groups of people. The representation of these generic processes in media indicates the normalization of inequality. Instead of recognizing how power is unequally distributed, it is used to create drama or comedy in popular media. Viewers watch a marginalized family navigate a landscape where the odds are stacked against them without recognizing that these same processes are reflective of real life. Through this chapter, we have shed light on this reflection and normalization of inequality through media. Future research should consider other television programs and other types of media to analyze how generic processes reproduce and normalize messages of inequality. If researchers continue to use a critical lens to investigate the role media plays in reproducing hierarchies of power, it may be possible to influence those creating media to use caution with the representation of differently powered groups.


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Is Shameless emancipatory? The popular and longest-running Showtime series is credited with re-inventing working-class television (Taylor 2012). A “dramedy based on a British series [that] centers on siblings in a dysfunctional Chicago family who struggle while coping with their alcoholic father” (Netflix 2019), Shameless is marketed by Showtime as a: Fiercely engaging and fearlessly twisted series. Chicagoan Frank Gallagher is the proud single dad of six smart, industrious, independent kids, who without him would be...perhaps better off. When Frank’s not at the bar spending what little money they have, he’s passed out on the floor. But the kids have found ways to grow up in spite of him. They may not be like any family you know but they make no apologies for being exactly who they are. (Showtime 2019).

The online media-service provider Netflix similarly describes the show as “soapy,” featuring both a “dysfunctional family” and “loveable loser[s]” (Netflix 2019). Widely distributed by several streaming services in collaboration with the premium television network Showtime, Shameless has achieved critical acclaim. The show’s popularity has been suggested to derive from its presentation of a “real view” of the working-class which challenges dominant narrative(s) of working-class personhood (Ashe 2017; Rochlin 2010; Spry 2016; Taylor 2012). As Paul Abbott 1, creator of the original (British) Shameless series relates, the American adaptation is not “My Name is Earl or Roseanne… [but has] a much graver level of poverty 1

Paul Abbott helped write the first two episodes of the American adaptation. The original British series was “semi-autobiographical” (Taylor 2012) and based off of Abbott’s childhood experiences (see Aitkenhead 2008; The Telegraph 2009).


Shamefully Shameless

attached to it. It’s not blue collar; it’s no collar” (Taylor 2012 [italics added]). Further, the American director John Wells contends, “we have a comedic tradition of making fun of the people in those worlds. The reality is that these people aren’t ‘the other’—they’re people who live four blocks down from you and two blocks over” (Taylor 2012). However, while Shameless is avowed to resist status quo narratives dominant within contemporary television, the aim here is to interrogate the assertion that Shameless has genuinely “reinvented” working-class television. Specifically, this chapter seeks to utilize critical theory to expose the limits of Shameless’ ability to contradict popular narratives around the working-class, poverty, and the processes of gentrification. As Theodor W. Adorno reminds us, “By exposing the socio-psychological implications and mechanisms of television, often operating under the guise of fake realism, not only may the shows be improved but more important possibly, the public at large may be sensitized to the nefarious effect of some of these mechanisms” (1954:213). Contemporary American society is marked by obvious competition for ideological domination (Gorski 2017; Jouet 2017) that rests upon technologies of representation. As such, a critical mindfulness is demanded that can indeed be inspired by that which mocks the status quo. And if there is any show that claims to be capable of providing that, it is Shameless. Our aim, then, is to evaluate the emancipatory potential of Shameless by an indepth exploration of the show’s treatment of gentrification, especially at the intersection of identity. Gentrification emerges as a central motif around which even preexistent plotlines are organized in Season 5 and thereby provides a viable lens from which to ruminate on the relationship between identity structure and social structure in the show. Understanding the intersection of identity and society is the fundamental “promise” of sociology” (Dandaneau 2001; Lemert [1995] 2000; Mills [1959] 2000), thus analysis of the ways in which the narrative of gentrification impedes the emancipatory potentialities of Shameless allows us to remark on the potential for emancipation in American society more broadly. As the media is not a causal force but one that mediates dominant, and at times competing, ideologies to individual consumers (Couldry & Hepp 2017; Horkheimer & Adorno [1944] 2002; Kellner 1979, 1981), consideration of Shameless as a media commodity reads the show for what it expresses about the broader ideological landscape of American society. Following the Frankfurt School tradition of critical theory, we ask more than just is Shameless emancipatory? but to what extent is emancipation even possible? Our analysis centers around the Frankfurt School’s concept of the culture industry, with particular attention paid to how emancipatory moments—those times when characters speak a structural critique—are

Robert J. Leonard and Kyra Martinez


subverted by their resolve through the dominant ideology of American Exceptionalism and Enlightenment philosophy. We contend that, even as Shameless seriously troubles the processes of gentrification, any emancipatory dialogue around the issue fails as it is dispelled through individual character development underwritten by these dominant ideological forces. Character development inevitably thwarts emancipation, as structural problems are repeatedly reduced to issues that emanate from within the individual.

Frankfurt School Critical Theory The Frankfurt School is the name given to a group of Jewish intellectuals and those subsequent generations that work in a similar theoretical tradition. 2 Associated with the Institute for Social Research (Institut fur Sozialforschung) in Frankfurt, Germany, the Frankfurt School conceptualized of critical theory in the United States after fleeing the Weimer Republic and Nazi Fascism in 1933. Broadly speaking, critical theory is a critical mode of analysis that draws significantly from Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Sigmund Freud. It is crucial to note that critical theory is not a paradigmatic social theory and that there is considerable variation in both view and theoretical positionality amongst those who identify as critical theorists. Nevertheless, there is an identifiable “core” to the tradition that, according to Dahms (2019), consists of: (1) A recognition that the logic of capital is not a solely economic logic, but one intertwined with other social forms. Critical theory therefore relates that a purely economic critique is inadequate for analyzing the totalizing logic of capital within contemporary society. (2) A recognition that all other aspects of social life function on the same terms as this economic logic. Accordingly, critical theorists seek to illuminate how the integration of this new economic logic within politics, culture, and society has been consequential to the function of all other social forms. The accelerated pace and dynamism of modern society makes the 2

The first generation of the Frankfurt School includes: Max Horkheimer (18951973), Theodor Adorno (1903-1969), Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979), Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), Friedrich Pollock (1894-1970), Leo Lowenthal (19001993), and Eric Fromm (1900-1980). Walter Benjamin committed suicide after trying to get to the United States via Portugal but being denied entry by the Spanish. The rest of his party made it to Portugal the next day.


Shamefully Shameless unveiling of this relationship difficult, therefore it is crucial to recognize that while our identities are not entirely shaped or determined by the logic of capital, they are never free from its domination. (3) A recognition that as modern society dynamically transforms at an ever-increasing rate, our ability to unmask and study the “dark side” of modernity becomes increasingly difficult. For the sociologist, there is a responsibility to not only understand the dynamisms of modern society, but to be critically reflexive about how our identities become structured by the very processes we study. Therefore, we must pay close attention to the dimensions of time and space within modern society. Such an effort enables one to develop a deeper understanding of the dynamism of modern society that is distinct from a static treatment of its forces. This is, however, an increasingly difficult task because, as the logic of capital becomes increasingly entrenched, its effects on our everyday lives are reified and become seemingly “natural.”

For example, the first generation of those impacted by the industrial revolution still had a real understanding about a previous set of social relations. These were the people usurped from rural feudal society and forced to relocate into urban centers for factory labor. Despite being regulated into an increased division of labor and forced to survive on wage labor, the earliest urban laborers maintained an understanding and habitus of what came before. Within very few generations, the urban laborer lost much knowledge of that prior life. Urban living, wage labor, and factory work were increasingly considered “natural” and any intimate knowledge of how to live under different social conditions had been lost. Fast forward 250 years and this process has not stopped. Rather, it has permeated all forms of social life. We live in conditions that we take as “natural” but are actually completely artificial and a consequence of modernity and the logic of capital. Think about the condition of the classroom: the artificially cooled and heated air that a machine circulates around the room lit by artificial lights where the instructor projects digitally created images onto one screen and writes on another artificial surface with chemically created markers. After class, you leave the room expecting to walk on concrete to wherever you need to be next. If the campus ground crew is working, you might see that a previous sidewalk is gone and you might be forced to take another route or worst yet, walk on the freshly uncovered dirt that might dirty your new, but one of several pairs, of relatively new shoes that you acquired while spending time with your friends “window shopping” at the local mall.

Robert J. Leonard and Kyra Martinez


This is what constitutes a normal experience in our contemporary modern society. Things created as a consequence of—and that serve the perpetuation of—the logic of capital are engrained not just in our economic but also social forms. Spending time with family now takes places around the television where you “converse” in silence while watching advertisements. You might “escape” this by taking a weekend trip to the amusement park or driving around a nearby state park. These are just minor examples from everyday life, but it extends to powerful social institutions such as the state, police, and the law. It is these seemingly innocent examples that demonstrate the power of the logic of capital on unassuming masses. While some of us may contest the actions of the state or police, very few us complain about the presence of air conditioning and sidewalks, and often complain about their absence. Our social existence is largely rooted in an artificial environment surrounded by commodities and we organize our leisure around their consumption. We do this passively and without contestation. This is a consequence of over 250 years of living with the logic of capital unchecked. Without critical reflexivity upon our conditions in their historical context, we cannot fully understand our society nor enact normatively positive change. While this is challenging and increasingly difficult, a foundational and normative aim of critical theory is emancipation, a radical qualitative transformation in social relations. However, it is the pervasiveness of this logic and its ideological domination that prevents people from understanding the hidden features of social structures that must be realized in order to have any hope of social emancipation. In order to maintain the current order of society, everything must be done to obscure and “naturalize” the domination that we constantly experience as a consequence of the logic of capital. One realm where the Frankfurt School saw the potential for broad emancipation is through art. It was conceived by many critical theorists, in a variety of ways, that art could transcend the “naturalized” features of modernity and call into question a series of assumptions that we have about our social existence (Adorno 1998; Bloch 1988; Lukacs 1970; Marcuse 1978) However, this relationship between modern society and art is contradictory as art can also serve to reinforce the logic of capital and serve an ideological function (Adorno and Horkheimer [1944] 2002; Benjamin [1936] 2008). It is this dynamic that we are exploring in this paper.


Shamefully Shameless

Gentrification: “A big fat comet called Starbucks” 3 Gentrification refers to the “conversion of socially marginal and working-class areas of the central city to middle-class residential use, [and] reflects a movement that began in the 1960s of private-market investment capital into downtown districts of major urban centers” (Zukin 1987:129). In Shameless, gentrification is first introduced when agents from Rothchild Real Estate knock at the door of Kevin and Vee, close friends of the Gallagher family. The agents inquire about the couple’s interest in selling their home; to which Kevin replies with confusion, “you want to buy this dump?” The developers inform him that their neighborhood, Canaryville, has been listed as one of the top five “up-and-coming” places in Chicago by Redfin 4, and it is later revealed that the Chicago Tribune has similarly listed the neighborhood as desirable. This interaction marks the moment when gentrification is made manifest in Shameless. Subsequent to this exchange, elements of gentrification are readily recognizable. First, a wealthy samesex married couple are portrayed as approaching and asking longtime residents to sell their homes. Then, a local homeless shelter gets turned into a Container Store, displacing its residents to the streets and/or a shelter 60 blocks away. The neighborhood’s public school is also closed due to lack of enrollment, as gentrifiers are sending their children to private school. Moreover, “urban pioneers” (i.e., hipsters) begin to frequent The Alibi Room, a local bar also owned by Kevin and Vee. Importantly, while most local businesses are closing or being bought and turned into high-end coffee shops, Jamba Juices, and Urban Outfitters, The Alibi Room serves as a central site where the community directly confronts gentrification. As well, while the Gallaghers initially maintain a neighborly relationship with local police who are themselves portrayed as being residents of Canaryville, this relationship alters with time. After the announcement of gentrification, not only does the family’s interaction with police become increasingly hostile but, as the camera pans down the streets of Canaryville, there are orange letters taped to the doors of multi-generational families with police often depicted as forcibly evicting long-time residents. While each of these phenomena demands structural analysis, the interest here is on how broader critique of these processes gets resolved through the character development of Fiona, who is the eldest child and matriarch of the Gallagher family. Our 3

Frank Gallagher on gentrification: “and a big, fat comet is headed for our sweet slice of Earth. And that comet is a Starbucks.” 4 Redfin ( is a national technology-oriented real estate brokerage known for implementing map-based real estate searches prior to the creation of Google or Bing maps.

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focus is not merely on Fiona’s response to gentrification however, but on how the narrative fixation upon her personal life and struggle precludes serious examination of the structural context of these processes—no matter how overtly they are called into question by other characters.

“The decline of civilization as we know it”: Fiona’s Journey 5 From the beginning, Fiona seems to embrace gentrification. While a major concern for other members of the Gallagher family, the only explicit reference Fiona makes to the potential consequences of these processes comes in Season 5 when she judges them as overwhelmingly positive. Carl, the youngest of the Gallagher brothers, and Fiona have a brief exchange in the kitchen during breakfast: Carl: Fiona: Carl: Fiona: Carl: Fiona:

I need some help terrorizing the lesbos after dinner. Lesbos? They're moving in down the street. Frank says they're gonna screw up the whole neighborhood. More cops, flowers, paint their houses—shit like that. That could be a good thing. A way for us to get out of the hood without leaving. Frank says that's a bad thing. Why? 'Cause you and Debs could go to a school without metal detectors? Liam could play in a park without empty crack vials?

However, despite Fiona’s unconcern with the displacing consequences of gentrification, other members of the Gallagher family openly discuss and critique these effects. The Gallagher’s father, Frank, often speaks historically and structurally about the negative consequences of gentrification. For example, take Frank’s dialogue one afternoon in The Alibi Room: “[...]I have seen this before on Fulton Street in '64. On Kirby Street in '68. Realtors started buying up property at better than market value, and within a few months, the whole neighborhood was overrun with the gentry, and we were forced out. Today, the urban gentry is monied lesbians. They knock on your door. They


This quote is Frank’s response to the third recent raid of a prostitution ring above The Alibi Room. His reasoning is that “they” are preparing the neighborhood for the “incoming hipster hordes”

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offer you twice what your home is worth, and they do it 'cause they know something you don't.

Although many of these critiques take place apart from Fiona, even when she is directly confronted by the systemic and all-encompassing hardships produced by gentrification, Fiona brushes it off as ‘not her problem.’ In Season 6, Episode 3, Fiona wakes to find that Frank has rented the yard to a local Mexican family [for treatment of these racialized components see Wyatt, this volume]. Fiona: Frank:

Fiona: Frank:

Frank, what the hell is going on? This is Jorge Mendoza and his clan. Got evicted. Bank sold it right out from under them, and the Mendozas came home yesterday to find all their stuff on the street. And how is this our problem? The loss of our unique community? Generations of the American melting pot getting kicked out of their homes. Gentrification is everyone's problem, Fiona.

However, gentrification quickly becomes Fiona’s problem. By episode end, she returns home to the infamous orange eviction notice taped to the Gallagher’s own front door. Confused by this, she discovers that Patrick, Frank’s cousin, has used the home as collateral for a loan he never intended to repay. In an effort to keep the house, Sean, Fiona’s boss and boyfriend, accompanies her to the bank where she learns how to apply for and obtain a loan. Without a credit score, she is shocked to realize that she has to borrow and spend money in order to borrow more money. Although she is able to secure a $100,000 loan, she is devastated when the house sells for $140,000 at auction and she cannot save the family from eviction. Soon, the Gallagher’s find their belongings hauled to the curb by sheriff deputies. Shortly after their expulsion, however, Fiona breaks into the house to retrieve a sentimental closet door and runs into the new homeowner who, upon realization of its disrepair, gives Fiona the opportunity to purchase back the home. Unable to do so as her estranged husband, Gus, refuses to sign divorce papers, Carl, the second youngest of the Gallagher brothers, hands Fiona a bag of “drug money” to buy it back. Season 6 ends with the Gallaghers not only moving back into the home, but with Fiona finalizing her divorce from Gus and excited for her impending marriage to Sean. When she discovers that he has been using heroin throughout the duration of their relationship, however, Fiona calls off the wedding and is left reeling.

Robert J. Leonard and Kyra Martinez


Season 7 begins with Fiona working tirelessly at Patsy’s Diner, where she has taken charge following Sean’s departure. Without the additional compensation afforded this role, Fiona at once feels extorted but certain about her ability to successfully operate a business. Her displeasure at the inequity of the situation leads Fiona to track down Patsy’s owner, whom she asks to be (technically) demoted back to waitstaff. She is told she can do as she pleases because the diner is being closed anyway, with plans to “redevelop” the whole block. Fiona convinces the agency to keep Patsy’s open with her on as manager. Yet, although she successfully revamps the diner, she gets a visit from Margo’s assistant, Chad, who warns her that if Patsy’s is to stay open, she must turn a larger profit. Feeling burned out, the viewer subsequently finds Fiona in the back office of Patsy’s Googling the profile of the women who owns the diner. She finds that Margo is a selfmade real estate mogul who, like Fiona, is a high school dropout. Shocked but inspired by her story, at home Fiona calls the Gallaghers to a family meeting where she gives each member their monthly portions of the bills. 6 Relaying that she will no longer take responsibility for anyone but herself, she asks them to place her last on their emergency contacts. Instead, they should call their eldest brother, Lip. Faced with pushback, Fiona argues that the mortgage payment must be paid on time for her to maintain good credit. Lip, who finds her seemingly sudden interest in credit absurd, insults Fiona by acting as though it is comical that she try to “make it out.” Exasperated, Fiona decries, “I am just as likely as anyone else in this family to make something of myself, and it’s about time you got that, you arrogant piece of shit.” With her newly found inspiration for success, Fiona goes into overdrive at work, turning Patsy’s to a 24-hour diner as if her previous exhaustion from work is no longer a problem. Despite feeling good about her personal revival, Fiona’s actions put a strain on her relationships with friends and family. She threatens to kick out high-school aged Debbie, who is expecting a baby, for not paying her share of the bills. She ruins her relationship with Vee, who returns everything she has of Fiona’s, including her key to the Gallagher house. Fed up Fiona, Ian, the middle Gallagher child, confronts Fiona about her recent behavior. Ian:


Jesus, how hard can managing a fucking diner be for you stop giving a shit about us and Vee?

Prior to this, the Gallaghers had a “squirrel fund” for paying the bills where everyone contributed what they could. Now, everyone must pay their share or they will be kicked out.

Shamefully Shameless

38 Fiona:

Who says I don’t give a shit? I’m not gonna apologize for getting my life together. Vee will be fine once she realizes that self-improvement is not a crime and so will all of you.

Increasingly, Fiona must face challenges regarding the impact of gentrification, but seems unphased. In Season 7, Episode 5, when the elderly and dementia-ridden owner of the laundromat next door to Patsy’s tells her that “north side suits” are trying to buy out her lease in the effort to buy the whole block, Fiona seems to at last realize the trouble the neighborhood faces. Greta relates that “the newbies around here don’t understand the South Side. You and me—the lifers—we still get it.” But what seems like a momentary change in Fiona’s consciousness is absolved as her displeasure serves only to catalyze an increased drive for success. The very next scene sees Fiona back at Margo’s office trying to negotiate with Chad for her own “piece of the pie.” Chad, however, tells Fiona to forget about it and to “join the club [because] nobody making a paycheck is paid what they’re have to own something to make real money.” Upset by this Fiona storms out of the office and returns to the laundromat where she offers to help Greta make improvements if she agrees to split the profits. Greta, disenchanted, replies with “what’s the use honey? Rich people always win.” Upon her return to Patsy’s, Fiona finds Margo waiting for her to discuss the raise she requested. Rather than the $50 dollars she asked for, Fiona is offered $25 a week. Feeling slighted, Fiona attempts to negotiate but is quickly interrupted by Margo, who relates: We’re negotiating now? [...] You got a city block somewhere or a rundown apartment building in some up-and-coming neighborhood? ‘Cause those are the only people I negotiate with. I’m throwing you a bone. Take it.

Angry with the “north side pricks,” Fiona goes into overdrive. She uses the Gallagher home as collateral to obtain a loan which allows her to purchase the laundromat from Greta for $80,000. When the rest of the Gallaghers learn what she has done, Fiona’s relationship with them becomes further strained. The laundromat needs extensive repairs, which Fiona funds by taking money from Patsy’s. Looking for advice about how to successfully run a small business, Fiona turns to Margo who discourages her, stating: [...] don’t do it. 99% of people who ask for my advice don’t have a clue of what it takes. They don’t have the balls. They fantasize about skydiving but they never get on the plane. And if they do,

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they’re too scared to jump. But don’t feel bad. Most people are pussies. Costs a lot of money to make money. And it’s a hell of a lot easier just to be an employee for the rest of their lives. Less stress.

Feeling deflated, Fiona storms over to the laundromat and rips up the check she gave Greta for its purchase. Word has gotten out that Fiona is the new owner, and Margo “benevolently” offers to buy her out for $90,000. This would leave Fiona with $2,000 of profit after repairs on an investment of only a few weeks. When confronted by Chad, who also tries to convince her to sell, Fiona refuses: It’s not about the money. I-I mean, I-I fixed this place up myself. I could have jumped ship right after I bought it and I didn’t. It’s important to me. And to all the people in the neighborhood who come here.

In a subsequent meeting with Margo, Fiona reflects on her promise to Greta, the role of the laundromat in the community, and her ability to employ family members. “I just don’t think that my conscience will allow me to sell,” she relates (Season 7, Episode 10). But Margo ups the stakes. If Fiona will not concede to $160,000 for the laundromat by day’s end, she will abandon the project entirely and develop “another shitty block” instead. Terrified of the money she stands to lose on her investment, Fiona sells, and the laundromat becomes the latest take as gentrification progresses.

“This one, shrewd as hell” 7 Despite the sincerity of Fiona’s refusal to sell the laundromat for the good of the neighborhood, Margo nonetheless interprets her restraint as an effort to “play hardball” and attain more money for the sale. As a result, Fiona becomes known as a key player in local development. The viewer soon finds her in attendance at a networking event at the very laundromat she has just sold. Here she meets a young developer, Ryan, who offers to show her an apartment building he has recently acquired. During their visit, he is impressed by Fiona’s vision to make the building more “marketable” and suggests that she buy it from him. After some negotiation, Season 7 ends with Fiona’s purchase of the building for what appears to be $250,000. 7

In Season 7, Episode 11, when Chad introduces Fiona to Ryan, he described her as “likes to play it off like she didn’t know what she was doing [in investing in the laundromat]. This one, shrewd as hell.”

Shamefully Shameless


For the remaining two seasons, Fiona’s narrative is almost solely tied to the apartment building. The viewer finds her working tirelessly at Patsy’s while trying to renovate the building. Despite being told otherwise, Fiona is able to rent the units for over the monthly rate initially advertised. Yet she struggles with getting older tenants to pay on-time and, faced with having to evict a single mother, is shaken by the similarities they share. Nevertheless, she decides to evict her when offered more rental price by a potential tenant. In the effort to sabotage this agreement and move her friends up the building’s waitlist, however, another of Fiona’s tenants spreads rumors of a building infestation. Angered by this, Fiona, offers the tenant a stern warning: I’ve been trying to be...nice. Been trying to be mature. Trying to rise above my station in life. But if you want to go ghetto on me, I will beat you at that game every fucking time. So, you are going to call [the applicant] and tell him that you were lying. ‘Cause if you don’t, I will fill your bed with real bed bugs just so I have an excuse to burn all your shit in the street. And then I’ll evict you so I can double your rent. ‘Cause you don’t scare me.

Fiona’s anger is not directed just towards the tenants alone. In Season 8, her ex-fiancé Sean returns briefly to deliver an envelope of money in an effort to help cover their wedding costs. An irate Fiona imparts: You’re trying to buy your way back in? [Sean says no] You think you can just show up and everything is going to be okay? Like you didn’t drive a stake through my fuckin’ heart. [...] You destroyed me. I moved on with my life. I made something of myself.

Fiona seems to channel all of this anger into the new apartment building. The viewer finds her working constantly to increase the property’s value. The surrounding area is regularly populated by “junkies” and a large group of squatters who live in vacant church, so Fiona decides to buy the church when it goes up for sale. However, she must compete against Ian’s boyfriend, Trevor, who wants to lease and develop it into a shelter for houseless queer and trans youth. When Fiona arranges for two artists to purchase the property, Ian disrupts the meeting to put a down payment for the shelter: Fiona: Ian:

The people are against the neighborhood. You, like, speak for the neighborhood now?

Robert J. Leonard and Kyra Martinez Fiona: Ian: Fiona:

Ian: Fiona: Ian: Fiona: Ian: Fiona:


They wanna feel safe. My kids wanna feel safe. These guys [looking to buy the church] are South Side. They want to give back. They want to engage the community, provide programs for kids in need. Kids like yours! My kids don’t need art classes. They need homes. They’re at-risk. They are not at-risk, they are risk, Ian. That girl you brought into our house bit off a dick! That’s exactly why she needs help. I have worked too hard and risked too much of my ass to put it on the line— I promised those kids that church Fiona. I’m not tearing it— Find another fucking church!

Later, Fiona is talking about the situation with a tenant she has grown close to about her frustrations with Ian. “What pisses me [Fiona] off most is that Ian knows I am not against a shelter for those kids. It’s just...not in my backyard” (Season 8, Episode 6). She later goes to Ian to try to work things out... Ian: Fiona: Ian: Fiona: Ian: Fiona: Ian: Fiona: Ian: Fiona: Ian: Fiona: Ian: Fiona: Ian:

Do what you gotta do. Hey. We’re family. Come on, there’s nothing more important than that. There is to you. What’s that supposed to mean? Money That is so unfair. If I had known that it was you trying to buy it, I would have come to you first to talk about it. Still would’ve made the same mistake. So what? I didn’t make a mistake. Right. Because what’s good for Fiona can’t be a mistake. You’re wrong. Bunch of kids just needed a place to sleep. But you getting rich is more important than that. Getting rich? Yeah I’m barely scraping by! I’ve been cleaning a dead body out of an apartment all day. Your moral compass is seriously fucked up.

Shamefully Shameless

42 Fiona:

Ian: Fiona:


Moral compass? I’ve been working my ass off trying to make a life for myself and you turn on me. For what? A bunch of strangers? Why should I sacrifice everything I worked for just so they can move into that building? Because they’re helpless and you’re not! That’s bullshit. They have just as much of a chance as I ever had. The fuck—I’m not gonna apologize to you or anybody else for trying to better myself. Better all of us. I don’t know who you are anymore.

In the next episode (Season 8, Episode 7), the tension between Ian and Fiona culminates as he and others from the group vandalize Fiona’s “property.” Ian rents an adjacent lot and sets up an encampment to get back at Fiona, calling it “Occupy Fiona.” When Fiona pays each of the kids $20 to go to a nearby park and eat pizza, the protest seemingly subsides. As she picks up and throws out their stuff, she decides it would be best for her to move out of the Gallagher home and into her own apartment building. A few weeks in, Fiona meets and starts dating Ford, a woodworker she employs for renovations. They visit a furniture store together and, when Fiona sees a chair she really likes, Ford negotiates the price from $2000 to $450. Although Ford is quite proud, Fiona scoffs at him: Fiona: I’m not going to spend $450 on a chair. Ford: It’s not a chair. It’s an investment in your future self. [Fiona sighs] How much did that building cost you? Fiona: It was a lot more than I had. Ford: Why’d you buy it then? Fiona: You’re good. (Season 8, Episode 10)

Fiona buys the chair. Things seem to be “looking up” until she gets a call that a contractor doing roof work on the building has fallen off and injured himself. Unable to work, Fiona eventually finds the man and his family living in their car outside of the building. She allows them to stay in her apartment for a few days until a local shelter can take them, but they change the locks and file a $6 million lawsuit against her. Facing an insurance payout of $500,000 and an impending bankruptcy, Fiona resolves the situation in “the Gallagher way” by using a pipe bomb to smoke the family out and giving them a settlement of $9,800.

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After she forces the family out, Fiona’s life again seems stable. However, when Ian is arrested for his involvement in the queer rights movement, Fiona gets the building appraised so that she can borrow the $50,000 to bail him out. Ford expresses hesitancy, suggesting that she should use the money instead to invest in something else. Although Fiona is initially appalled, she nevertheless decides to use the money to invest in a commercial real estate project. Later, Fiona reflects on her decision, noting that a “Gallagher finally made it off first base” (Season 9, Episode 2). And while Fiona has never expressed an interest in politics before, her probusiness sentiments manifest in support for a largely unpopular conservative politician. Fiona:

Ruiz is pro-development, pro-business. He’ll be good for the South Side. Ford: [chuckles] And he’ll be good for you. Fiona: I’m not gonna apologize for enlightened self-interest. That’s what makes America work. Ford: Spoken like a true robber baron. Fiona: Spoken like a true socialist [regarding Ford]. Ford: I’m Irish—free health care, free college tuition. Fiona: Endless rain, potato famine. Ford: Bit behind the times, aren’t you? Fiona: It doesn’t rain? [...] Patsy’s at 5:00. We’ll hit Pilsen. We got to get those Ruiz votes out so I can continue exploiting the masses. (Season 9, Episode 4)

At Patsy’s, Fiona gives free nachos to those who wear Ruiz red and comes to work herself wearing an “I Voted” sticker. When confronted by an employee for this, Fiona snaps “It’s the way of the world, Tyesha. Every vote can be bought. Some votes are just cheaper than others” (Season 9, Episode 4). 8 Although things seem, again, to be going well for Fiona, when an investment property gets denied re-zoning rights without $25,000 for a series of reports (money Fiona does not have), she begins to “spin out.” Her refusal to tell Ford that she needs to back out of a shared lease compels her to ask the bank for more money. Denied additional funds, Fiona contemplates borrowing what she needs from Patsy’s but decides instead to try and get out of the investment deal. Simultaneously, her personal life begins to unravel. When she discovers that Ford is married with a child, she becomes heavily intoxicated and totals her car, completely unraveling. When Max, a 8 On election night, Fiona tells Ford that she actually voted for Wyman, the female candidate popular amongst the working-class.

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partner in the development deal, offers Fiona $292,000 for the apartment building, which happens to be the exact amount she needs not to be forced into foreclosure, Fiona takes the deal. Although she is hesitant at first because it will “leave [her] with nothing” (Season 9, Episode 7), Max reminds her that it will keep her credit intact. However, when she later discovers that Max has sold the building for $475,000, Fiona takes out her resultant frustrations on everyone, from family and friends to strangers. Forced to move back into the Gallagher home, Fiona’s continues to drink heavily and her siblings, irked by her behavior, return in kind the requirements she once unleashed on them, like paying her share of the rent. No longer able to “functionally” drink, Fiona is fired from Patsy’s and subsequently arrested for assaulting a woman on the street. When she is released on bail, a desperate and exhausted Fiona begins selling opioids, and convinces Lip’s AA sponsee to drink alcohol. Even the neighborhood typically tolerant of alcoholism harshly critiques her behavior. She has gone “too far” and, eventually, she shows up at an AA meeting where she speaks with Lip: Fiona:

I was doing so well for a while. I really thought I had a chance. Lip: You do have a chance. Fiona: I don’t know if I believe that anymore. I don’t know what happened. It all fell apart so fast. I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do now. Lip: Only thing you can. You get back up. You start over. Fiona: It’s that easy, huh? Lip: No, it’s fucking hard, but you’re strong. Fiona: Are you sure? Lip: Yeah. I’m sure. Fiona: All right. Shit. I gotta go to work. (Season 9, Episode 13)

In the effort to plead down her felony assault charges to a misdemeanor, Fiona takes a job as the night clerk at a convenience store. She runs into Max, the developer, who tells her that she should get a pay-out in 6-12 months for the development deal. However, he offers Fiona to buy-out her $100,000 investment immediately, which she contemplates seriously. In the finale of Season 9, supposedly Fiona’s last appearance, she decides to leave after “losing” everything in order to get a fresh start. She leaves a check for $50,000 on the fridge with a note saying “love you” and leaves, skipping her goodbye party with the other Gallaghers.

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Analysis One can understand Fiona’s narrative in its complexities through the lens American Exceptionalism. Before it was appropriated by Republicans after Obama’s 2008 election, American Exceptionalism referred to the ways in which the United States differed from similarly developed Western nation-states (Jouet 2017; Lipset 1996). In the context of this paper, however, our particular interest is to unpack the ways in which components of American Exceptionalism get described as “individualism” (Bellah et. al. 1985; Fischer 2008; Lipset 1996). Rather than treat individualism as something that makes the US in particular qualitatively different from other developed Western nation-states, the aim here is to view it within the continual processes of Enlightenment. As described by Horkheimer and Adorno ([1944] 2002), individualism can be cast as one of the defining characteristics which makes modernity qualitatively different from previous forms of social life. Specifically, American Exceptionalism, as a derivative of the Enlightenment, has unceasingly placed emphasis on character [self] development as a trait that marks the contemporary as distinct from that which came before. While our goal is not to trace the historical emergence of individualism, the aim it is to underscore how the “evolution” of Fiona within Shameless dovetails nicely with the precepts of the tradition of critical theory that illuminate how modernity society relies upon narratives that center the person. To place emphasis upon character development detracts from understanding the gravity exerted by the structural forces which shape and constrict our lived experiences and, ultimately, what makes efforts to overcome or emancipate ourselves from these structural forces exceedingly difficult.

From Enlightenment to American Exceptionalism as Character Development Enlightenment 9 in social theory usually refers to the intellectual and philosophical movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries which questioned the traditions of rational science. As well, it not only laid the foundation for the Industrial Revolution but saw the emergence of modern society. Sociology, as a discipline, developed therein as the study of this transition (Callinicos 2007). In Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno ([1944] 2002) describe the Enlightenment as an ongoing process 9

Enlightenment refers to the particular historical period of approximately 16501800 and enlightenment refers to the general process of enlightenment over time.


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that actually predates what is typically understood as the Enlightenment Period. The purpose of enlightenment thought was to gain increased knowledge over nature in an effort to predict and control it. This continual process of domination over nature has led to the suppression of nature within humans (human nature) as well as the superiority of some humans by others. However, this is highly contradictory, given that the general trope of enlightenment was that it would lead towards progress and freedom. In reality, the increased freedoms it offered have been rigidly structured by the economic logics introduced by the emergence of capitalism—logics that have become embedded within all other social forms. If there is anything “special” about the enlightenment, it is the impact of this reasoning on the way we think, especially critically, about the social world. The infamous quote by Horkheimer and Adorno ([1944] 2002:xviii) “myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts back to mythology” captures this well. While the first half of this quote refers to their critique of enlightenment, which did not lead to the replacement of myth or to the triumph of scientific rationality, the second half contends it as not just a variation of, but reliant upon, the myths that preceded it. That is, there is continuity in the ways that humans perceive reality across time and these perceptions are rooted in the past. Rather than becoming rationally aware, we began to act on the basis of instrumental reason. As this method of reason violates the critical awareness presumed to be brought about by the Enlightenment, instrumentality is directly linked to the processes of domination over nature. In the pursuit of scientific discovery aimed at enhanced understanding of the natural world for the sake of dominating it, we created an anthropocentric myth that placed domination by humans for our own advancement at the center of our reasoning. This factual and ahistorical scientific domination creates a powerful yearning for manipulation and domination that now extends beyond the scientific realm. We no longer want to manipulate and dominate nature alone, but also non-natural things, such as commodities, and even ourselves. This, in part, manifests as a strong desire for self-preservation, which is directly connected to the individualistic ethos of the United States. In the literature on American Exceptionalism, much time is spent discussing the centrality of individualism to an identifiable core of what makes the United States unique (Bellah et. al. 1985; Fischer 2008; Lipset 1996). Seymour Martin Lipset (1996), who first conceptualized American Exceptionalism as a way to refer to a unique American identity, argued that to understand social, economic, and political trends in the U.S., one had to understand them within the dimensions of the American creed: liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire. Individualism is

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not unique to the U.S. but, as a consequence of socio-historical conditions, it developed differently and arguably more intensely than in other nationstates. If individualism is the norm in modern society, then the United States is hyper-individual. The origin of American individualism is said to be found on the “frontier” (Turner 1962). The frontier refers to the outward westward expansion of the United States’ boundaries. It is commonly argued that this expansion, which happened with the absence of feudal ties and a strong national state, led to the development of a unique American ethos (Hartz [1955] 1991; Lipset 1979; Lipset 1996). “The conquest of the wilderness and the subjugation or displacement of the Native Americans who originally inhabited it have been the means to our achievement of a national identity, a democratic polity, an ever-expanding economy, and a phenomenally dynamic and ‘progressive’ civilization” (Slotkin 1998:10). Key to this process, therefore, was the development of an intense individualism. Westward expansion without government oversight placed the achievement of success or failure on the individual’s ability to survive. Consequently, the emphasis placed on the success of the individual over the nation or community was also infused with the economic logic of modernity. Their success was based on the ability to secure vast amounts of land or valuable resources such as gold. “The complete ‘American’ of the Myth [of the Frontier] was one who had defended and freed himself from both the ‘savage’ of the western wilderness and the metropolitan regime of authoritarian politics and class privilege” (Slotkin 1998:11). In other words, the American is one who betters their life by overcoming the hardships thrown at them through individual effort. Fiona’s narrative throughout Shameless fits well with the preceding theoretical discussion. It is important to note that while we focused nearly exclusively on Fiona in this paper, there were several other moments in the show, when Fiona was not involved, where structural and systemic critiques of gentrification were made. This is important for the analysis because while Fiona may or may not have been aware of these critiques, the viewer watching the show was. As such, it is important to keep that in mind as we consider how the viewer consciously and/or subconsciously processes the way in which the structural critiques, what we refer to as emancipatory moments, get resolved. The viewer sees these critiques raised and subsequently sees how those critiques affect the rest of the cast, of which Fiona is the main protagonist. To Fiona, these structural critiques do not matter. As shown in the narrative above, at times, Fiona is explicitly stating that there are no odds people cannot overcome. She ignores the warnings of friends and families and pursues individual betterment through financial gain. When Fiona fails, it is not social forces


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that are responsible, but herself or others immediately around her. Whenever she loses “everything” (i.e., the Gallagher house or her investments), the loss is associated not with structural issues but her personal life. At the end of her stint at the show, when she loses all of her investments, Fiona does not look like she falls into alcoholism and selling drugs because of those losses, but rather because her relationship with Ford is ruined and over. When Fiona appears to be going backwards in her self-directed betterment, it is directly connected and resolved through problems in her personal life. When she fixes those problems, she begins to achieve better business success as well. While the connection between individualism in the United States and critical theory is clear, as well as its application in Shameless, we want to go one step further and claim character development is a more encompassing phenomenon within this theoretical argument. By character development, we mean the emphasis placed on bettering oneself as a fundamental purpose, or goal, in life. Examples abound, from addiction handbooks, self-help books, and career guides to films, advertisements, college personal statements, and more that suggests the fundamental point of living is to live the best life possible for ourselves, at whatever cost to others or society. While Fiona’s actions are very much aligned towards an individualist orientation, it would be reductive to focus on that alone because above all, she wants to become a better person. This desire to become a better person is inextricably tied to the individualist ethos that is also pervasive across the US, and we cannot think about one without the other. While we are not suggesting that living a good life is bad and should be undesirable, it is necessary to understand that the ability and capacity to think this way is rather limited to the period of modernity. Prior forms of social arrangements did not allow for such a way of thinking. Rather, it was the freeing of traditional social structures and the rise of rationality that gave way to the potential to create a life, rather than just live one. No one is born into the best life—it is something we must spend our life creating. This is the project of modernity for most individuals. However, given the above discussion of critical theory we should remain dubious about the extent to which this emphasis on character development is genuinely rational and beneficial. This emphasis locates the burden of becoming a better individual on the individual rather than a larger group, such as the community or society. We join organizations, such as support groups, study groups, and churches, to the extent that it benefits us as an individual and helps us grow personally. This is an embodiment, at a very individual level, of the instrumental reasoning that Adorno and Horkheimer ([1944] 2002) warned us about. It skirts all systemic and structural forces. As in the case of Fiona Gallagher, when structural forces come crashing

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down on you, its personal and not systemic. This is not exclusive to Shameless or to television in general. Rather, it is a systemic feature of American society and extends across all facets of our social lives. For example, some of the most “radical” policy reforms suggested thus far by 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have been to eliminate a significant portion of, or all, student loan debt. Doing so will better the lives of millions struggling students and graduates across the country. That is not an inaccurate statement. Many lives will be bettered, and burdens lifted, enabling these people to live better lives. However, it does absolutely nothing to the structural problem of student loan debt. Many of the same students will be forced to take out predatory loans the very next semester despite being able to better their lives through the forgiveness of previous loans. In this paper, we introduce character development as a fundamental characteristic of American society. Placing character development within the literature on critical theory and American Exceptionalism, we have provided a robust theoretical explanation of how character development has become central to American society. We utilized the narrative of Fiona Gallagher to illustrate character development in action and how it thwarts emancipatory tendencies by resolving structural problems and critiques through her wanting to become a better person. We argue that it is not possible to create a better society through character development and that structural critiques are useless when emphasis is placed solely on becoming a better person within the ideological confines of the contemporary mind. These confines stem from the ideological domination found with the emergence of modern society. In order to work toward a better society and achieve any hope of emancipation, we need to put behind us the logic of character development that plays a central role in our identity structure today because character development thwarts emancipatory tendencies.

References Adorno, Theodore W. 1954. “How to Look at Television.” The Quarterly of Film Radio and Television 8(3):213-235. —. 1998. Aesthetic Theory. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Aitkenhead, Decca. 2008. “Estate of Play.” The Guardian, July 11. Retrieved March 18, 2019 ( Ashe, Stephanie. 2017. “Shameless is the Rare Show to Accurately Portray the Working Class.” Nylon, November 3. Retrieved November 1, 2018


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( Bellah, Robert N., Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and Steven M. Tipton. 1985. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Berkley, CA: University of California Press. Benjamin, Walter. [1936] 2008. “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility: Second Version,” Pp. 19-55 in The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility and Other Writings of Media, edited by Michael Jennings, Brigid Doherty, and Thomas Levin. Cambridge, MA and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Bloch, Ernst. 1988. The Utopian Function of Art and Literature. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Callinicos, Alex. 2007. Social Theory: A Historical Introduction. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Polity Press. Couldry, Nick and Andreas Hepp. 2017. The Mediated Construction of Reality. Cambridge, UK: Polity. Dahms, Harry F. 2019. “Critical Theory Derailed: Paradigm Fetishism and Critical Liberalism in Honneth (and Habermas).” Pp. 207-242 in Axel Honneth and the Critical Theory of Recognition, edited by Volker Schmitz. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Dandaneau, Steven P. 2001. Taking it Big: Developing Sociological Consciousness in Postmodern Times. Boston: Pine Forge Press. Fischer, Claude S. 2008. “Paradoxes of American Exceptionalism.” Sociological Forum 23(2):363-372. Gorski, Philip. 2017. American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion from the Puritans to the Present. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Hartz, Louis. [1955] 1991. The Liberal Tradition in America. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, Brace & Company. Horkheimer, Max and Theodor W. Adorno. 2002 [1944]. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.” Pp. 94-136 in Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, edited by Gunzelin Schmid Noerr. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Jouet, Mugambi. 2017. Exceptional America: What Divides Americans from the World and from Each Other. Oakland, CA: University of California Press. Kellner, Douglas. 1979. “TV, Ideology, and Emancipatory Popular Culture.” Socialist Review 45:13-53.

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—. 1981. “Network Television and American Society: Introduction to a Critical Theory of Television.” Theory and Society 10(1):31-62. Lemert, Charles. [1995] 2000. Sociology After the Crisis. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers. Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1979. The First New Nation: The United States in Historical and Comparative Perspective. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. —. 1996. American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. Lukacs, Georg. 1970. Writer and Critics and Other Essays. New York: Grosset and Dunlap. Marcuse, Herbert. 1978. The Aesthetic Dimension: Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics. Boston: Beacon Press. Mills, C. Wright. [1959] 2000. The Sociological Imagination. Oxford, UL: Oxford University Press. Netflix [Streaming Video Service].” Retrieved November 1, 2018. ( Rochlin, Margy. 2010. “The Family that Frays Together.” The New York Times, December 31. Retrieved November 1, 2018 ( Showtime Networks Inc. “Shameless: About the Series.” Retrieved November 1, 2018 ( Slotkin, Richard. 1998. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America. New York: University of Oklahoma Press. Spry, Mike. 2016. “Poverty on Television: Shameless and the American Dream.” Flood Magazine, December 19. Retrieved November 1, 2018 ( Taylor, English. 2012. “How Shameless Reinvented the Working-ClassFamily TV Show.” The Atlantic, February 10. Retrieved November 1, 2018 ( The Telegraph. 2009. “Paul Abbott Profile for State of Play.” The Telegraph, April 24. Retrieved March 18, 2018 ( l-Abbott-profile-for-State-of-Play.html) Turner, Frederick Jackson. 1962. The Frontier in American History. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. Zukin, Sharon. 1987. “Gentrification: Culture and Capital in the Urban Core.” Annual Review of Sociology 13:129-147.


Introduction Phillip “Lip” Gallagher is the second child, and oldest boy, in the Gallagher family. Frank, his father, introduces him to us as a straight A student on the honor roll. The family struggles to make ends meet because they are on their own—essentially the kids manage without any assistance from their parents. This is evident in the first episode. Fiona, the oldest sibling in the family, sees on the kitchen calendar that the electric bill is due. As her siblings come down to breakfast, she lets them know the bill needs to be paid and they pass a box around the table to collect contributions. Every kid has a “job” that allows them to contribute to the electric bill. The Gallagher kids have a small, but close social network that includes their neighbors, Kevin and Veronica, agoraphobic Sheila Jackson, and other families in their Canaryville neighborhood. They all help each other by sharing financial and instrumental resources; Kevin loans a toaster and Sheila babysits Liam, the youngest Gallagher child, when everyone else is working or at school. While all the Gallagher kids contribute to the economic resources of the family, Lip and Fiona, bear most of this responsibility. Lip takes his role as a bread winner seriously. He uses his intelligence to earn money legitimately—tutoring his classmates—and illegitimately, like getting paid to take the SAT for people. Although Lip is initially not interested in going to college, he gets caught taking the SAT for a classmate by Professor Hearst, a teacher and researcher at the Chicago Polytechnic University (CPU), who invites Lip to visit his lab and challenges Lip to think beyond his small network. Later, his girlfriend applies to several colleges for him without his knowledge. Lip is accepted to several universities, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but makes the decision—like many first-generation, limitedincome students—to go to college close to home at CPU, where he received a full ride scholarship. Despite having much of the cost of attendance

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covered by a scholarship, Lip encounters a number of challenges that make persisting in college difficult. These challenges are because Lip is from a family with very limited-income, and the first to attend college. Just like colleges can describe the gender, race and ACT/SAT profile of their campuses, they should be able to describe their class profile (Barratt 2011). In other words, they should be able to say what proportion of their students are first in their families to enroll in college and how many of their students come from families with incomes at or below 150% of the federal poverty threshold. Many cannot. This is because, until recently, colleges have paid little attention to the ways that social class impacts how students experience campus academic and social life. There are, however, colleges which recognize that first-generation and limited-income students face unique challenges. Many of those institutions have committed to supporting TRIO programs on their campuses. TRIO programs are funded by the U.S. Department of Education aimed at increasing college access, retention, and graduation of firstgeneration, low-income students. Two TRIO programs that would be particularly helpful to Lip Gallagher are Student Support Services (SSS) and the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program (McNair). SSS provides tutoring support, assistance with navigating the university, financial aid counseling, and academic advising. McNair programs help this population of students get into doctoral degree programs. McNair programs provide assistance with preparing application materials, program exploration through graduate school visits, and research internships, so that students have experience conducting research and presenting at academic conferences. We see many students like Lip Gallagher in our work in TRIO and other university academic success programs. Students who, despite being really smart, struggle in the college environment because they are managing financial issues, toxic family dynamics, and class-based microaggressions. All of these problems add up to students feeling like they just don’t belong. They end up leaving college, not because they can’t do the work, but because institutions of higher education aren’t student-ready (McNair et al. 2016). McNair et al. operationalizes a student-ready college as, “one that strategically and holistically advances student success, and works tirelessly to educate all students for civic and economic participation in a global, interconnected society” (2016:5). Students come to our colleges from different socioeconomic statuses, racial backgrounds and ages, just to name a few. Shameless provides a good illustration of the ways in which social class impedes college retention and graduation. TRIO Programs can provide


Learning and Coping

the support necessary for first-generation, limited-income students to close the retention and graduation gaps. Most colleges are not prepared for the diverse experiences that students bring to their campuses. In this chapter, we analyze the show, Shameless, to demonstrate how social class plays out on college campuses (Barratt 2011), the ways that limited-income depletes the mental bandwidth that students can access (Verschelden 2017), and the ways colleges and universities can become what McNair et al. (2016) term “student-ready” campuses. In addition, we will discuss how TRIO programs like Student Support Services and McNair help support the success of firstgeneration, limited-income college students like Lip Gallagher, as he navigates a transition to college in Seasons 1-5 of Shameless.

Social Class and the Campus Experience Two criteria are typically used to assess a student’s social class on campus: family income and parents’ educational attainment. A student’s family income is considered limited when they meet eligibility requirements for the federal Pell Grant. Students from limited-income families are far less likely to enroll in college than their better resourced peers, primarily because of their lack of economic capital (Bourdieu 1986). Data from the Pell Institute (Mortenson 2018) shows that in 2016, while nearly 83% of students from families in the highest quartile of income enrolled in college, only 62% of students from the bottom quartile of family income enrolled. When examining graduation rates, the impact of social class is even more evident. 71% of the highest income students graduate in six years, compared to only 32% of lowest income students (Whistle and Hiler 2018). Some researchers (e.g., Bailey and Dynarski 2011) have estimated that the highest income students are six times as likely to earn a bachelor’s by age 25, compared to limited-income students. The Higher Education Act of 1965 provides support for limitedincome students seeking degrees through Pell grants. Pell Grants are a form of financial aid aimed at making college more affordable for limited-income students. The amount of a Pell Grant is determined based on the Expected Family Contribution, as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and the cost of attendance for the college the student plans to attend. The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that Pelleligible students are more likely to have characteristics which put them at greater risk of dropping out college, such as having dependents other than one’s spouse (Wei & Horn 2009). But, income also has an effect on the pathway students take in college completion. Sara Goldrick-Rab (2006) found that students in the lowest income quintile (the bottom fifth) were

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almost three times as likely as the highest income quintile to experience at least one interruption of at least six months in their schooling, and to attend multiple schools with at least one interruption. In other words, limitedincome students are more likely to stop out of school, and are more likely to stop out when they transfer to another school. College access, persistence, and matriculation are less likely for students from limited-income families. Students whose parents have not completed a bachelor’s degree— or, first-generation college students—currently make up about 30% of first year college students (Skomsvold 2015). This proportion is expected to grow, as institutions look to recruit students who have traditionally been underserved by higher education. There is a large body of research which shows that first-generation college students have outcomes similar to limited-income students in terms of retention, persistence and graduation. A 2018 report on access, retention and persistence of first-generation college students finds that, compared to their continuing generation peers, these students are much less likely to enroll in post-secondary education (Cataldi, Bennett, and Chen 2018). The rate of enrollment in public fouryear colleges for first-generation students was 26%, compared to 45% for continuing generation students. When first-generation students do enroll, they are three times more likely to enroll in for-profit colleges and more likely to leave college without having earned a degree, even after six years. Fifty-six percent of first-generation students had graduated or were still enrolled after six years, while 74% of continuing generation students had graduated/remained enrolled. Students who are first in their family to go to college are also more likely to be from limited-income backgrounds. Research (Gallop 2015) suggests that these students take out more loans on average compared to continuing generation students, but also are much more likely to quit school because they can’t afford it. Too often, first-generation, limited-income students are one financial emergency—a car breaking down; a family member getting sick; or child care falling through—away from having to drop out. In addition, many of these students are food or housing insecure, meaning that they often go hungry or don’t have permanent housing. Colleges typically reflect and reproduce the social and cultural capital of highly educated, upper-class people. According to Bourdieu (1986), social capital is defined as connections, or membership in a group. People who are well connected, or have broad social networks, have social capital. Cultural capital refers to those things that make up the material and non-material components of culture, and comes in three forms. Embodied cultural capital is how we act out cultural knowledge which we have acquired through socialization—how we eat; how we use language; what


Learning and Coping

norms are important; the beliefs, values, and attitudes we hold. Objectified cultural capital is how culture is represented in the things we own—books, music, smartphones, etc. Institutionalized cultural capital refers to certifications, degrees, and credentials that mark individuals as having acquired a certain kind of cultural capital. Education is a mechanism to get ahead and stay ahead. Maintaining social relationships is necessary to increase life outcomes (Bourdieu 1986). When an individual has acquired social capital, they can selectively decide when to activate it (Lamont and Lareau 1999). The social and cultural capital you have is dependent on your social class—this is evident for social capital in studies on social networks. Research on the relationship between social networks and social class shows that people from lower class categories have friends and business connections that are restricted in diversity and density (Wilson 1987). For people who grew up poor and have since ascended up the social ladder can engage in social inclusion or exclusion (Lamont and Lareau 1999) due to the social context. In other words, if you are poor, it is likely that your social network is composed of people who are similar to you in class, race, gender and age (diversity), but also people with whom you have close relationships (density). Dense networks—those characterized by close relationships as opposed to acquaintances, or “friends of friends”—limit the resources and opportunities available to you (Granovetter 1973). More recently, Sultan, et al. (2014) find that the social networks of working-class people are significantly smaller and provide less social support than those of middleclass people. As mentioned above, Lip’s social network is limited to his family and those in his neighborhood. However, getting caught cheating on the SAT (Season 1, Episode 6) connects him to Professor Hearst which gets Lip to start thinking more seriously that college might be a viable option for him. We also know that social class is related to cultural capital. Bourdieu theorized that class standing was reproduced, or passed down from parent to child, through the educational system. Students who have the cultural capital of the middle- and upper-class are at an advantage because they have learned the language, skills, expectations, and ways of thinking that have been institutionalized. DiMaggio’s (1982) research on the relationship between cultural activity and school grades supports this idea. He finds that high school students who were more engaged in art, music and literature received higher grades. Other studies have found that limited-income students have lower sense of belonging (Ostrove, Stewart, and Curtin 2011). In other words, they feel like they just don’t fit. This plays out in some of the experiences that

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Lip has on campus. His only friends are the Latinx people who work with him in the dining hall, one of whom remarks on the “bunch of spoiled, los muchachos de la madre” (Season 4, Episode 1)—spoiled mamma’s boys— they have to deal with in their work there. It is clear that his roommate’s girlfriend doesn’t like him. She looks at Lip with disdain as he comes into the dorm room, throws his dirty shoes on the floor and starts to roll a joint. His roommate, Ron, clearly wants to include Lip in their circle of friends, inviting Lip to their study group. The girlfriend looks at Ron as if he’s crazy, then turns to Lip saying, “Um, we agreed to keep the group small; we already have six people, so…” The students use their smartphones to communicate and share information, but Lip is out of the loop because he doesn’t have a cell phone, and finds out about the flash mob freeze only because Ron mentions it. He is relieved to run into a friend from his high school at a party, who points out how underprepared they are and how out of place they feel. This isolation is illustrated near the end of Season 4, Episode 1, when Lip is the only student on the campus quad who isn’t participating in the flash mob freeze. In summary, first-generation, limitedincome students do not have the cultural or social capital that their continuing-generation and better resourced peers possess. All of this can make colleges unwelcoming spaces for students who don’t fit the continuing-generation, middle/upper-class demographic. This is reflected in the expectation that students be “college-ready” when they come to our campuses. And if these students fail, we blame them, or the high school from which they graduated, for not being prepared. Professor Hearst’s interactions with Lip in Season one of Shameless are echoes of conversations we have had with faculty colleagues about what they call “unprepared students.” When Professor Hearst meets Lip for the first time, he expresses disbelief that a student from Lip’s “crappy high school” could get such good scores on the SAT without cheating (Season 1, Episode 6). As mentioned above, students who are first-generation and limited-income often don’t have the social and cultural capital that allows them to navigate the university and feel a sense of belonging. As Lip begins college in Season 4, he struggles with something that many students do: studying. In high school, Lip didn’t really have to study, and could get through homework assignments so effortlessly that he made money doing other students’ work. In college, however, he figures out that he actually has to develop study habits to get the grades he did in high school. Lip gets a D on a macroeconomics quiz because he only studies for fifteen minutes right before class (Season 4, Episode 2). He is surprised—and angry—when he gets a D on his first essay in English, and the TA calls him out, “Look—you


Learning and Coping

threw it together and you thought nobody would notice, but I noticed…” (Season 4, Episode 1). In addition to expecting first-generation, limited-income students to navigate campus academic and social life on their own, colleges and universities tend to structure services, offices and opportunities for campus engagement in ways that reflect the upper-class. This limits the ability of first-generation, limited-income students to participate in those things. We see in Shameless that even programs aimed at assisting this population of students are organized in such a way that they get in the way of student success, not support it. Financial aid is one of those services that is there to help students pay for their education, but is really complicated to navigate. By the end of Season 5, although Lip has figured out ways to make his college experience better—through work as a resident assistant (even though he has to manage daily hassles of things like lockouts), he still struggles to navigate the bureaucracy of higher education. This is evident when his classes are suddenly cancelled without notice and we watch him get the typical college runaround. First, he stands in line at the registrar’s office—which he had to find—then is sent across campus to the financial aid office—again an office he had to find because he didn’t know where it was. Lip didn’t know that he was supposed to complete financial aid forms every year! The only help he is given by the financial aid officer is a tenday grace period to find someone to write a check for his current balance. When the financial aid officer asks if a relative can write him a check for what he owes, Lip says, “My family didn’t give me a registered letter; you think they can write me a check for that much?” Lip signs up for a bunch of instant approval credit cards and takes out $5000 in cash advances to help cover some of the cost so he doesn’t lose his classes. The ways in which college policies can get in the way of student success is also evident in Lip’s experience of work-study. Federal WorkStudy is a program for limited-income students which allows them to work to cover some of their educational expenses. Employers are incentivized to hire these students because the student’s wages are subsidized; often an employer can get two Work-Study students for the cost of one regular employee. Research on Federal Work-Study suggests that participation in the program increases student persistence (Alon 2005), and their chances of holding student employment that is clerical, as opposed to service (ScottClayton and Minaya 2015). But, Lip’s experience highlights a problem with student employment. While the program is intended to enhance a student’s program of study by providing meaningful experiences related to their major, institutions struggle to place students in jobs that meet these criteria (NASFAA 2016). Traditional students—straight out of high school—often

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lack the experience to do a job in an office setting. Lip, for example, has no experience in the formal job market, using his interest and talent for science, computers and robotics to make money for the family in the underground economy (Venkatesh 2006). Too often, students like Lip end up working in a service placement, much like Lip’s job in the college dining hall, with supervisors who are unwilling to accommodate students’ academic schedules beyond not scheduling students during class (Season 4, Episode 3). Another example of the ways that campus life is reflective of the economic capital of the upper-class is in laptop policies. Many higher education institutions now require that students arrive on campus with a laptop. These policies typically include specifications for the laptop regarding processing speed, memory, and software, which makes an adequate laptop out of reach for many limited-income students. Lip does not have a laptop of his own his freshman year, and is often borrowing his roommate’s, or trying to get time on the shared family laptop when he is at home on the weekends.

Social Class and Bandwidth Another way that social class impacts the way that students experience campus life is in terms of cognitive capacity. There are a number of sociological studies that demonstrate the relationship between class standing and health outcomes. Referred to as the social gradient in health (Marmot et al. 1991), there is a strong and persistent correlation whereby those with higher class standing are healthier and happier. In other words, having limited economic resources negatively affects your mental health. One of the reasons this happens is because people with fewer money resources are limited in their ability to manage or cope with the stressors they encounter (Pearlin et al. 1981). For example, an emergency car repair would be a major stressor to a student whose family is living paycheck to paycheck, with no savings. If there isn’t money to fix the car, then that student can’t get to school and work; this leads to additional stressors— missed classes and lost hours at work. The same situation would be a minor hassle to a student whose family has the money to get the car fixed. In addition to exposing you to additional stress, Mullainathan and Shafir (2013) have demonstrated that cognitive capacity—the amount of brain power you have available to you—is depleted by stress and the multiple responsibilities that those with limited-incomes have to manage. If we think about mental bandwidth in terms of learning, students from limited-income backgrounds come to college campuses with fewer


Learning and Coping

cognitive resources available to process new information (Verschelden 2017). The mental capacity of first-generation, limited-income students is depleted by managing multiple concerns including how to meet basic needs of food and housing; how to support family who are struggling financially at home or dealing with issues of family, crime and violence. In our work with this population of students, we talk to students every week who are supporting siblings or parents who need help with rent, groceries, or unexpected car repairs. These students also need help managing mental and physical health issues as a result of the stress that comes with trying to balance school responsibilities and family problems. Beginning with the first season of Shameless, it is clear that Lip is like many of our students, doing what he can to contribute to the family’s financial stability by writing papers, doing homework, and taking the SAT for his classmates. His work in the underground economy to bolster the “Squirrel Fund” includes selling marijuana from the ice cream truck with Kevin in the summer and using his computer hacking skills to swipe credit card numbers. At the same time, he is struggling to perform academically due to the demands on his mental bandwidth. Lip is dealing with a multitude of problems at home, including worrying about Ian, who is AWOL from the Army; Liam who ends up in the PICU after getting into Fiona’s stash of birthday cocaine; and keeping the house and Frank in order so that his siblings don’t get put into foster care. Unfortunately, we often blame students when they make poor decisions, miss assignments, or don’t participate in class. Lip was late to a mid-term because his laundry was taken out of the dryer before it was done and he got locked out of his room. None of the people Lip appealed to in order to get the opportunity to take the exam were sympathetic to his situation; they blamed his lack of planning. After Liam’s cocaine overdose, Lip’s physics professor allows him to turn in an assignment late; however, she tells him, “For every day it’s late, I’m docking you half a letter grade.” (Season 4, Episode 7) But, the research done by Mullainathan and Shafir (2013) suggests that in addition to its effect on cognitive capacity, social class has an effect on executive control such that less mental bandwidth can result in less selfcontrol. These students have trouble planning, initiating action, and controlling impulses. So, Lip is so frustrated by both the professor and dean’s refusal to allow him to take the mid-term that he grabs a sledge hammer off the back of a campus work wagon and starts smashing cars. In summary, research on the relationship between social class and the college experience suggests that first-generation, limited-income students are less likely to go to college, less likely to persist in college, and

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less likely to graduate. Lack of social, cultural, and economic capital could be one reason why these disparities exist. Another explanation could be the ways that limited-income can diminish cognitive capacity.

Conclusion: How Colleges Can Help First-Generation, Limited-Income Students Succeed McNair et al. (2016) state that colleges should be “…prepared for today’s students, regardless of their backgrounds and academic strengths and challenges” (2016:5). They argue that if a student is admitted, then the institution is signaling to that student that they are ready for college. This thinking is consistent with research which suggests that institutions that focus on student independence may negatively impact first-generation students’ academic performance (Stephens et al. 2012). Therefore, colleges need to meet students where they are and provide supports which maximize their chances of earning a degree. Examples of ways a college can be student-ready include requiring academic advising, including laptops or iPads in the cost of tuition, and providing learning centered work-study opportunities. Colleges can also be student-ready through the provision of TRIO Support Services (SSS) and TRIO McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Programs (McNair). These programs, established by the Higher Education Act of 1965 and funded by the U.S. Department of Education, exist to address the very challenges that first-generation, limited-income students like Lip Gallagher face when they go to college. Two-thirds of SSS and McNair program participants must be both limited-income and firstgeneration; Lip would be eligible for these programs. The U.S. Department of Education says that SSS programs: “…must provide: academic tutoring, which may include instruction in reading, writing, study skills, mathematics, science, and other subjects; advice and assistance in postsecondary course selection, assist student with information on both the full range of student financial aid programs, benefits and resources for locating public and private scholarships; and assistance in completing financial aid applications. Education or counseling services designed to improve the financial and economic literacy and assist students in applying for admission to graduate and professional programs; and assist students enrolled in two-year institutions and applying for admission to, and obtaining financial assistance for enrollment in four-year


Learning and Coping programs. The SSS projects may also provide individualized counseling for personal, career, and academic information, activities, and instruction designed to acquaint students with career options; exposure to cultural events and academic programs not usually available; mentoring programs, securing temporary housing during breaks for students who are homeless youths and students who are in foster care or are aging out of the foster care system” (U.S. Department of Education 2019).

SSS at Kent State University is a one-stop, wraparound program which provides all of the above services; if Lip had been a student at our institution, he could have used the SSS computer lab or checked out a laptop instead of waiting until his roommate’s laptop was available for use. He would have participated in workshops on study skills, so that he was better prepared for exams. And because Lip is a good student, our SSS staff would have hired him as a tutor to work one-on-one with other SSS students, engaging him in learning-centered work-study. SSS staff would have also helped Lip navigate the financial aid system and manage the pressures that first-generation, limited-income students encounter, and which often cause them to drop out of school. When Lip realized his schedule was canceled because of non-payment at the beginning of his sophomore year, his SSS advisor would have called the financial aid office to find out what the problem was, gotten duplicate copies of the paperwork issued so that Lip wouldn’t have to go home to try to find them, and helped him fill them out. In the meantime, SSS would have been able to issue some emergency aid so that he could stay enrolled until the financial aid paperwork was processed. SSS staff would also work with Lip on financial literacy so that he fully comprehended the impact of applying for all of those credit cards. The purpose of McNair Programs is to prepare students for doctoral study. McNair Programs: “…must provide the…opportunities for research or other scholarly activities; summer internships; seminars and other educational activities designed to prepare students for doctoral study; tutoring; academic counseling; and activities designed to assist students participating in the project in securing admission to and financial assistance for enrollment in graduate programs. McNair projects may also provide the following additional activities: education or counseling services designed to improve financial and economic literacy of students; mentoring programs involving faculty members at institutions of higher education or students, or any combination of such persons; and

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exposure to cultural events and academic programs not usually available to disadvantaged students” (U.S. Department of Education 2019a).

While many of the services McNair provides students are similar to those in SSS, our aim in McNair is to get students into doctoral programs. Our scholars complete paid research internships, present at conferences, visit graduate programs, prepare application materials, and get assistance with application and entrance test fees. We also talk with scholars about the experience of graduate school. All of this is done to build cultural capital so that students know what to expect in graduate school, but we also do this to maximize the chances that our participants will be able to complete doctoral study without paying for it themselves. The McNair students who are accepted into graduate programs typically get full funding; their doctoral education is paid for with a research or teaching assistantship. During the “Uncle Carl” episode in Season 5, Lip tells his financial aid officer that people keep telling him that finishing college is the best chance he has at helping his brothers and sisters (Season 5, Episode 8). As mentioned earlier in this chapter, low-income college students face an immense amount of pressure to ”contribute to family expenses,” which impedes on their success (Goldrick-Rab 2018). Goldrick-Rab describes this invisible price of attending college as betraying the promise of the American dream. Oftentimes, college professionals don’t recognize the pressures these students are facing, and instead mischaracterize college students from low-income families as lazy, lacking a strong work ethic and lacking personal responsibility. On the contrary, some scholars contend that social issues such as food insecurity and family obligations (Goldrick-Rab 2018), stereotype threat (Steele and Aronson 1995), social reproduction (Bourdieu 1973), and structural racism (Ladson-Billings and Tate 1995) exacerbate hinderances to success. The story of Lip highlights a contrast to this false narrative by providing the full context of his lived experience. Many students face similar challenges to balance demands and persist to college graduation. But, there are many students who despite the known obstacles want to pursue a graduate education so that they can make a difference in their communities. They want to help students like themselves succeed. Colleges can assist low-income and first-generation students to reach this goal by explicitly rejecting the false narratives that are widely perpetuated in society. Colleges can also assist by offering scholarship and emergency funds that cover more than tuition and books. These dash-like grants cover expenses such as utility bills to prevent disconnections, and car repairs so that students can continue to travel to


Learning and Coping

school and work. This can have an incredibly profound impact on their college success. In the end, if college campuses do not recognize the fullness of students like Lip, and have structures and programs in place to support them, college persistence and graduations rates will decrease. Colleges offering TRIO programs are well positioned to ensure more students, like Lip Gallagher, graduate college and beyond. In the future, these same students will not only give back to the institution monetarily, but through their own career as employees. Their presence on college campuses as faculty will help institutions become more student-ready. And who wouldn’t want to have Lip Gallagher as a professor?

References Alon, Sigal. 2005. “Model Mis-Specification in Assessing the Impact of Financial Aid on Academic Outcomes.” Research in Higher Education 46(1):109-125. Bailey, Martha and Susan Dynarski. 2011. “Educational Expectations and Attainment.” Pp. 133-162 in Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances, edited by Greg Duncan and Richard Murane. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. Barratt, Will. 2011. Social Class on Campus: Theories and Manifestations. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1973. Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction. London: Tavistock. —. 1986. “The Forms of Capital.” Pp. 241-258 in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, edited by J. Richardson. New York: Greenwood Publishers. Cataldi, Emily Forrest, Christopher Bennett, and Xianglei Chen. 2018. “First-Generation Students: College Access, Persistence and Postbachelor’s Outcomes.” Stats in Brief. National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC. DiMaggio, Paul. 1982. “Cultural Capital and School Success: The Impact of Status Culture Participation on the Grades of U.S. High School Students.” American Sociological Review 47:189-201. Gallop-Purdue Index 2015 Report. 2015. “Great Jobs, Great Lives. The Relationship Between Student Debt, Experiences and Perceptions of College Worth.” Retrieved June 3, 2019 from

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Goldrick-Rab, Sara. 2006. “Following Their Every Move: An Investigation of Social-Class Differences in College Pathways.” Sociology of Education 79:61-79. —. 2016. Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Granovetter, Mark. 1973. “The Strength of Weak Ties.” American Journal of Sociology 78(6):1360-1380. Marmot MG, Smith GD, Stansfeld S, Patel C, North F, Head J, White I, Brunner E, Feeney A. 1991. “Health Inequalities among British Civil Servants: The Whitehall II Study.” Lancet 337:1387-1393. McNair, Tia Brown, Susan Albertine, Michelle Asha Cooper, Nicole McDonald, and Thomas Major. 2016. Becoming a Student-Ready College: A New Culture of Leadership for Student Success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass. Mortenson, Tom. 2018. “Estimated Baccalaureate Degree Attainment by Age 24 by Family Income Quartiles: 1970 to 2016.” Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. Mullainathan, Sendhil and Eldar Shafir. 2013. Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. New York: Times Books/Henry Holt and Company. National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. 2016. Federal Work-Study Research: Literature Review & Policy Scan. Retrieved April 3, 2019 ( y_Literature_Review_and_Policy_Scan.pdf) Ostrove, Joan, Abigail Stewart, and Nicola Curtin. 2011. “Social Class and Belonging: Implications for Graduate Students’ Career Aspirations.” The Journal of Higher Education 82(6):748-774. Pearlin, Leonard, Elizabeth Menaghan, Morton Lieberman and Joseph Mullan. 1981. “The Stress Process.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 22(4):337-356. Scott-Clayton, Judith and Veronica Minaya. 2015. “Should Student Employment be Subsidized? Conditional Counterfactuals and the Outcomes of Work-Study Participation.” Economics of Education Review 52:1-18. Skomsvold, Paul. 2015. “Web Tables, Profile of Undergraduate Students: 2011-12” (NCES 2015-167). U.S. Department of Education. Washington D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved April 15, 2019 (


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Steele, Claude M. and Joshua Aronson. 1995. “Stereotype Threat and the Intellectual Test Performance of African Americans.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69(5):797-811. Stephens, Nicole, Stephanie Fryberg, Hazel Markus, Camille Johnson, and Rebecca Covarrubias. 2012. “How American Universities’ Focus on Independence Undermines the Academic Performance of FirstGeneration College Students.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 102(6):1178-1197. Student Support Services. U.S. Department of Education. 2019. Retrieved April 25, 2020 ( Sultan, Dawood, Claire Norris, Maryouri Avendano, Makeda Roberts, and Brandy Davis. 2014. “An Examination of Class Differences in Network Capital, Social Support and Psychological Distress in Orleans Parish Prior to Hurricane Katrina.” Health Sociology Review 23(3):178-189. U.S. Department of Education. 2019a. Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. Retrieved April 25, 2020 ( Venkatesh, Sudhir. 2006. Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor. Cambridge, MA: First Harvard University Press. Verschelden, Cia. 2017. Bandwidth Recovery: Helping Students Reclaim Cognitive Resources Lost to Poverty, Racism and Social Marginalization. Sterling Virginia: Stylus Publishing. Wei, C.C., and Horn, L. 2009. A Profile of Successful Pell Grant Recipients: Time to Bachelor’s Degree and Early Graduate School Enrollment (NCES 2009-156). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC. Retrieved March 23, 2019 ( Whistle, Wesley and Tamara Hiler. 2018. The Pell Divide: How Four-Year Institutions are Failing to Graduate Low- and Moderate-Income Students. Third Way. Wilson, Julius. 1987. The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.


Introduction Family structures have become increasingly varied over the past forty years. Increasing divorce rates, growing numbers of complex stepfamilies, as well as increases in cohabitation and non-marital childbearing (Lamidi et al. 2019), have led to decreases in the number of “traditional” two-parent, heterosexual families (McLanahan and Perscheski 2008; Shrage 2018). In the early 1990’s Popenoe (1993) argued that these trends were representative of the widespread decline of the institution of the family. More than a decade later, Cherlin (2010) suggested that these changes are inevitable, stemming largely from the fact that Americans tend to embrace two contradictory cultural ideals—one emphasizing individualism and personal choice, and another suggesting marriage is a formal, lifelong commitment to another person. More recently, Coontz (2016) argued that shifting trends in American family formation are not signs that the family is in decline or that Americans are conflicted. Instead, she suggests the reorganization of families and family life is a response to social and cultural changes, and that we should develop/embrace new family ideals rather than trying to “hold on” to or recreate “traditional” families of the past. While these changes among families are widely discussed among sociologists and family scholars, many Americans may be detached or unaware of macro-level factors that have contributed to changes. For example, Edin and Kefalas’ (2011) research on low-income mothers addresses the taken-for-granted assumption that poor women do not value


Shameless, Single Parenthood, Low-Wage Work, and Initiatives to Help Families in Need

marriage. The authors found that the women in their study placed a high value on marriage. However, unemployment, deindustrialization, and mass incarceration made finding a suitable partner in the inner-city difficult for these single mothers (Edin and Kefalas 2011). Additionally, Duncan, Huston, and Weisner’s (2007) work focused on the experiences of single mothers, many of which identified as part of the working poor population in America. Their research addressed structural barriers that made it challenging for low income, single mothers to escape poverty, which included precarious work, lack of benefits, irregular work hours, and unreliable and often costly childcare. In the television series, Shameless, viewers have the opportunity to take a first-hand look at contemporary family changes, trends, and issues that are addressed from both cultural and structural perspectives. For example, the trend of the decoupling of marriage and childbearing is a theme that is both explicitly and implicitly addressed in various storylines. Through the portrayal of experiences of unplanned pregnancy, along with cultural expectations of what constitutes a “good” mother, as well as the challenges of balancing family life with low-wage work, Shameless makes visible the variety of structural barriers low-income families living in the inner-city often face. Drawing on historical and contemporary analyses of family, we explore these themes and others across various seasons of the show, Shameless. Specifically, we argue that these depictions bring awareness to many challenges and obstacles that influence family structure and stability, particularly for low-income individuals and couples with children. We also discuss the structural barriers that prevent low-income couples from marrying before (or after) they have children, as well as the difficulties of balancing work and family among workers in low-wage jobs where familyfriendly policies do not exist. However, despite the show’s attempt to bring attention to these issues, we also offer a critique of the series’ lack of realistic solutions to these problems. We conclude by discussing various policies that may be effective for increasing family stability and child wellbeing.

The Decoupling of Marriage and Childbearing Marriage rates among low-income couples tend to be lower than those of the general population (Cherlin 2010; Hayford et al. 2014). Research suggests there are several reasons for this. Conventional wisdom often posits that low-income men and women don’t value marriage in the same ways that couples in upper-/middle-classes do. However, research

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suggests this is not the case. For example, Edin and Kefalas (2011) found that low income women tend to revere marriage; but, for various reasons, they often believe it is something they will likely never achieve. This reverence for marriage, they argue, actually works to deter low-income from actually marrying (Edin and Kefalas 2011). Indeed, many couples view marriage as a capstone of life, something that only comes when all the other milestones have been met (e.g. school, job, and home ownership) (Cherlin 2010; Gibson-Davis et al. 2005). For low-income and working-class individuals and couples, meeting these standards can be difficult, if not impossible. For example, drawing on data garnered from a nationally representative birth cohort study of 47 couples whose annual household incomes were less than $30,000 or used Medicaid for the birth of their child, Gibson-Davis (2007) found that couples repeatedly reported that employment of both partners was a prerequisite for marriage. Welfare receipt or economic reliance on others were markers that the individual/couple was not ready for marriage. Importantly, contrary to public opinions about welfare dependency, the couples in their study did not report losing their welfare benefits as a reason for postponing marriage (Gibson-Davis 2007). To be sure, the desire for economic stability prior to marriage is not unique to the lower-/working-classes, but economic stability is more difficult for lower-class couples to achieve (Hacker 2019). Beyond financial (in-) security, another explanation offered for the decoupling of marriage and childbearing among disadvantaged populations is a lack of marriageable men (Bridges and Boyd 2016; Cohen and Pepin 2018). This, in turn, often has to do with education. For instance, trends from 1960-2010 have repeatedly suggested that women with lower levels of education are less likely to marry (McLanahan and Jacobsen 2015). Indeed, women with more and/or higher levels of education tend to have more opportunities for mate selection through educational environments, social organizations, and vast social networks. But, because of their education— and their likelihood to date partners with similar levels of education—they are also more likely to achieve financial security earlier, making marriage more attainable. Low-income women, especially single mothers, tend to be more aware of the costs and limitations of marriage. As a result, they may avoid or delay marriage as a way of averting a permanent relationship with an unreliable or economically unstable partner (Bridges and Boyd 2016; see also Edin and Kefalas 2011). In other words, while low-income and poor parents do want and hope to get married, there are barriers that often prevent them from achieving this goal—unemployment, precarious work, general economic instability, housing insecurity and discrimination, as well as


Shameless, Single Parenthood, Low-Wage Work, and Initiatives to Help Families in Need

higher rates of involvement in the criminal justice system are only a few of the problems they face. The complex relationship between (1) cultural ideals about marriage and childbearing and (2) structural realities of the lower-class are especially evident on Shameless when Debbie, the youngest Gallagher sister becomes pregnant at fifteen (Season 5, Episode 12). Debbie’s pregnancy was intentional—this is evident when she convinces her boyfriend, Derek, to have sex without a condom, falsely assuring him that she was on birth control. Importantly, Debbie’s desire to get pregnant before marriage demonstrates the high value she, and many other low-income women like her, place on having a child as a sign of both adulthood and womanhood (see Edin and Kefalas 2011). She hoped that having a baby would strengthen her relationship with Derek, resulting in a forever after that included marriage and a stable family life for herself and her child. Derek unexpectedly left town shortly after the discovery, not wanting or ready to be a father. His abandonment, combined with her family’s inability/refusal to offer any financial or social support, results in Debbie struggling to adequately care for her daughter, Franny. In Season 7, viewers watch an overwhelmed Debbie consider leaving her daughter at a fire station. This moment serves as a turning point for Debbie—choosing not to abandon Franny, the remainder of the season centers on Debbie working to figure out and navigate cultural expectations of what it means to be a “good mother.” Research consistently demonstrates that middle-class mothers are often expected to perform “intensive mothering”: a rigorous form of parenting that requires spending a lot of time, money, and energy on their children (Damaske 2013; Hays 1998). While Debbie does not attempt to meet these unrealistic standards, similar to Edin and Kefalas’s (2011) findings, Debbie does attempt to demonstrate to others that she is a “good mother” by meeting Franny’s basic needs, despite her limited economic resources and lack of support from Derek and her own family. As a young, single mother, Debbie was determined to prove to her older sister, Fiona—and the rest of her family—that mothering was a role that she could fill independently. Becoming a mother is difficult for many women, as it is not uncommon for new mothers to face social isolation (Gibson and Hanson 2013), be at an information deficit in terms of basic care for their infant (Gazmararian et al. 2014), and feel overwhelmed by their new responsibilities in caring for a newborn (Nyström & Öhrling 2004). Viewers see these challenges in Season 6, Episode 10, “Paradise Lost,” as Debbie’s role as a mother begins when she gives birth to her daughter Frances (“Franny”) at home, on the kitchen table. In the following episode (Episode 11), Debbie is tired and overwhelmed, yet she still refuses

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the help of others. In her exhausted state, Debbie dozes off while holding Franny, which results in Franny falling to the ground. Later in the episode, Fiona comes home and sees the newborn crying frantically on the couch while Debbie hides in the crawlspace under the stairs. In her tireless effort to prove that she does not need help caring for Franny, Debbie feels that she has failed as a mother. Debbie’s own expectations of a “good mother” meant not having to receive help from others. When in reality, new mothers often rely on the help of others, and social support for new parents is associated with more positive child development outcomes and parent-child interactions (Meadows 2011).

Maternal Employment and Low-Wage Work Since the 1950s, one of the most profound changes in American family life has been the increase of mothers in the workforce (Coontz 2016; Pilkauskas et al. 2018). While some have argued that maternal employment is a sign of social progress, others argue that there are negative consequences associated with mothers working outside of the home—especially for children (e.g., Pilkauskas et al. 2018). Many studies have examined the relationship between maternal employment and childhood outcomes, with most finding that maternal work has positive or little to no effect on child outcomes (see Bianchi and Milkie 2010). Maternal employment among low-income families may be associated with positive outcomes for both mothers and their children, particularly when there are other supports in place, such as reliable childcare and healthcare benefits (Duncan et al. 2007). Women’s decisions regarding how to cope with work-family conflict are different than men’s because women’s ability to balance work and family tend to be constrained by the cultural ideology that women’s primary devotion should be to marriage and motherhood (Elliott et al. 2015). The dramatic increase of women in the paid labor workforce, particularly the increase of women with young children sparked concerns regarding the potentially adverse effects of maternal employment on child socialization and development (Nomaguchi 2006). For example, Coleman’s (1988) notion of social capital invoked discussion regarding parental investments and child outcomes. Social capital refers to the bonds between parents and children, and the time and attention parents give to their children (Dufur et al. 2008). Coleman (1988) argued that children may experience a decline in social capital when mothers work outside of the home. Specifically, he suggested that social capital would be weakened by maternal employment because it decreases the total amount of time parents


Shameless, Single Parenthood, Low-Wage Work, and Initiatives to Help Families in Need

spend with their children, and reduces relations with neighbors, which in turn diminishes the collective investment in promoting child well-being. Some studies suggest that the amount of time mothers spend working outside the home may moderate the effect of maternal employment on child outcomes (Bianchi 2000). That is, mothers working long work hours may have less time to spend with their children, and this in turn may have negative consequences for their children (Bianchi 2000). Others have argued that perhaps it is not the quantity of time mothers spend with their children, but “quality” time that matters for children’s socialization and development. For example, maternal employment may be associated with the quality of mothers’ activities with children (e.g., reading to their children), which in turn has positive effects on children’s development. When society thinks of “working mothers,” we often imagine women in professional positions (e.g., teachers, nurses, counselors, etc.) who utilize family support, daycare services, and nannies to supplement their children’s care while at work. However, Debbie Gallagher shows viewers a different side of working motherhood when she takes on a legitimate job working in a parking garage. Low-income mothers are often situated in a context with little support (Radey 2018) and a lack of social capital (Desmond 2016). Unable to draw support from family or friends for her child-care needs, Debbie keeps Franny in a dog-like kennel at her job. Debbie is unable to afford daycare, but she cannot afford not to work either. Later, Debbie is able to utilize reliable childcare through her cohabiting partner, Neil Morton, which then allows Debbie to go back to school to pursue a trade in welding. This was a positive time in Debbie’s life as she progressed towards her vocational goal and financial stability. However, this childcare solution was an unrealistic solution to a real-life structural problem many low-income single mothers face. It also turns out to be a short-term solution to Debbie’s childcare problem because her relationship with Neil ends abruptly after he begins to feel taken advantage of for his caregiving responsibilities. Shortly thereafter, Debbie reluctantly moves back into the Gallagher home, still struggling to find reliable childcare for Franny. Long-time neighbor and Gallagher family friend, Veronica also has difficulties being able to afford putting her twin daughters, Amy and Jemma, in a well-respected, structured pre-school. While Veronica has the support of her partner, Kevin, they are both engaged in low-wage work and not able to afford the luxury of enrolling both of their daughters in preschool. Viewers see Amy and Jemma spend most of their time in a “pack n’ play” set-up in the neighborhood bar, The Alibi Room, where Veronica and Kevin are part owners and full-time employees. Eventually, Veronica

Monica Bixby Radu, Erin Fluegge, Sheldondra Brown, and Lisa McManus Rodriguez


and Kevin decide to send both girls to the preschool. But the solution to the problem is that the twins are never seen together at the same time in order to pretend they are one child. While the solution to the lack of affordable childcare for Amy and Jemma was comical and far-fetched, Shameless addresses a genuine problem for many working couples engaged in lowwage work. Debbie’s and Veronica’s struggles with low-wage work and motherhood point to welfare policies and their effects on the lives of lowincome families. One approach to welfare provides cash and noncash assistance to the recipients of welfare, whereas the other approach encourages work, supplementing wages from work with governmental programs. In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 restructured welfare laws and created welfare-to-work initiatives that required work in exchange for limited financial assistance (Hays 2004). The 1996 welfare reform included time-limits, work stipulations, paternity requirements, and other restrictive measures for the recipients of welfare. The reform increased provisions intended to improve work rates while reducing welfare benefits for individuals who did not meet requirements (e.g. looking for work and becoming employed). Hays (2004) argued that the structure of the welfare system, including the 1996 welfare reform did not help poor single mothers because of its contradictory message that promoted both independence from the welfare system but dependence on marriage and family. Moreover, the 1996 welfare reform draws on the notion of personal responsibility and self-sufficiency, suggesting that women on welfare lack cultural values attached to hard work and personal responsibility (Hays 2004). Although some considered the reform to be problematic, research has shown there may be benefits for children when low-income mothers work outside the home (e.g., Duncan et al. 2007). However, these advantages only exist if there are adequate supports in place, such as childcare subsidies, to help mothers cope with work-family conflict. Studies have shown that low-income mothers may refrain from working outside of the home because of a lack of quality or affordable childcare (Flynn 2017). Indeed, the lack of childcare is a constant struggle for Debbie as she tries to gain steady employment to provide for herself and Franny. Unable to draw on family support, Debbie’s storyline repeatedly depicts the struggles of single-mothers engaged in low-wage work while trying to balance family and work expectations.


Shameless, Single Parenthood, Low-Wage Work, and Initiatives to Help Families in Need

Challenges for Low-Income Fathers Changes in the U.S. economy have heightened challenges for lowincome and working-class fathers in meeting both breadwinning and caregiving responsibilities attached to fatherhood. Economic prospects for men without a college degree have declined (White and Rogers 2000), and many low-paying and working-class jobs do not offer family-friendly arrangements such as flexible job schedules or telecommuting (Bianchi and Milkie 2010). Research suggests that these fathers experience considerable stress attached to parenting because of their struggle to provide both financial and social support for their children (Roy and Dyson 2010). Lowwage workers face particularly harsh work-family conflicts, and viewers see this theme first emerge in Season 2, when teenager, Karen Jackson, becomes pregnant. The potential father of the child, Phillip “Lip” Gallagher, is eager to drop out of high school to get a job in order to financially support Karen and the child. Sociological research supports the notion that low-income fathers often feel pressured to provide financial support for their child as a way to demonstrate they are a “good father.” But for other fathers, “being there” for their child is equally important (Edin and Nelson 2013). Lip’s own father, Frank Gallagher, had not been willing or able to financially or emotionally support his five children. Consequently, Lip’s primary concern was not repeating the vicious cycle of fatherlessness that he experienced first-hand. In their study of economically disadvantaged single fathers in inner-city Philadelphia, Edin and Nelson (2013) found that the men they interviewed faced tremendous difficulties providing economic support for their children. Importantly, in the U.S., being a financial provider is traditionally an important role for men in families, ultimately defining what it means to be a “good dad” (McGill 2014). Indeed, the men in Edin and Nelson’s study reported feeling constant pressure from their child/children’s mother to provide financially for their children. When the men were unable to assume the traditional responsibilities of fatherhood, the burden fell to the mothers to take on the roles of being both the economic provider and the day-to-day caregiver for their children. While the forced union between Mickey Milkovich and pregnant Russian prostitute Svetlana may have been one of the most far-fetched storylines, Mickey and Svetlana’s experiences also point to cultural expectations and structural barriers attached to fatherhood. Currently, there are two contrasting images of fathers in the U.S. One stresses the importance of employment for men’s identity, focusing on men’s breadwinning as their primary role as a father (Lamb and Lewis 2013). The other emphasizes the

Monica Bixby Radu, Erin Fluegge, Sheldondra Brown, and Lisa McManus Rodriguez


importance of father-child closeness for children’s socialization and development, and the growing expectation for fathers to be involved in childrearing (Lamb and Lewis 2013). We see that Mickey struggles with both roles attached to fatherhood. With Svetlana unable to work, the financial burden fell to Mickey. While not explicitly addressed, we can assume that Mickey had a low-level of education and lacked legal work experience, as much of his storyline focused on his involvement in criminal activity. Consequently, Mickey consistently struggled to meet Svetlana’s expectations of the breadwinning role. Additionally, Mickey appears to have little to no desire to share a closeness with his son. Mickey’s storyline clearly depicts him as a “bad dad” (Marsiglio 1993), as he “fails” at both the breadwinning and caregiving roles.

Programs to Promote Child Well-Being The structural family issues attached to the decoupling of marriage and childbearing and low-wage work addressed in Shameless are the same problems we are seeing among many American families. Yet, seldomly are viewers introduced to solutions or policies that may help address these issues that are disproportionately affecting low-income parents and their children. In the 2000s, much of the discussion on family policy in the U.S. focused on family structure (Cowan et al. 2009). Focusing on the quality of family relationships—not just family structure—provides a more useful framework for designing interventions to promote family and child wellbeing. In this section, we suggest three types of programs that may be helpful for promoting child well-being, including (1) educational programs that promote healthy relationships between parents, (2) work initiatives that are aimed to help low-income families support themselves through work, and (3) programs that promote father involvement.

Promoting Healthy Relationships Research suggests that a “healthy marriage” is optimal for child well-being. Proponents of marriage argue that marriage provides children with a host of benefits, which is why it is in society’s benefit to promote it (Waite and Gallagher 2001). Yet, other scholars have argued that the advantages of marriage are due to selection factors, rather than marriage itself. This suggests that the benefits of marriage are unevenly distributed. For example, studies suggest that marriage has a positive effect on mental health (Waite and Gallagher 2001). However, the association between marriage and mental health may not be the direct result of marriage because


Shameless, Single Parenthood, Low-Wage Work, and Initiatives to Help Families in Need

individuals from families with (1) higher socioeconomic statuses and (2) more family stability are more likely to both marry and be emotionally healthy (Perelli-Harris and Styrc 2018). Marriages with high levels of conflict are associated with negative outcomes for both parents and their children (Amato and Cheadle 2008). One particularly unhealthy relationship shown in Shameless is the marriage between Frank and Monica Gallagher. Substance abuse, mental health issues, and verbal and physical conflict are just a few of the problems that arise between Frank and Monica. Monica is first introduced to viewers during Episode 6 of Season 1. Almost immediately, viewers are exposed to a high level of conflict between the couple, as Frank accuses Monica of abandoning their family, and Monica accuses Frank of prior abuse. The Gallagher children are often present during these conflicts, such as when Monica and her new partner, Roberta attempt to take the youngest Gallagher, Liam, to live with them. Consequently, children do not benefit from marriages with high levels of marital conflict (Morrison and Coiro 1999). Therefore, the quality of parents’ relationships may be more important than marriage itself, as the Gallagher children do not appear to benefit in any way from the marriage between Monica and Frank. One project that focused specifically on the quality of marital relationships is the Becoming a Family Project, which followed 96 couples over a period of five years. Recruited from the San Francisco Bay Area, the program was designed as a “preventative intervention” educational program aimed to help enhance marital stability and promote child well-being. The program focused on improving communication between partners as they made the transition to becoming parents—a time at which marital satisfaction typically declines (Moore et al. 2002). Using an experimental design, Schultz and Cowan (2001) found that couples who participated in the program reported less decline in marital satisfaction in the first two years of parenthood compared to couples who received no intervention. Additionally, there were no separations or divorces among the parents participating in the couples’ group (until the children were three years-old), compared to 15% among couples who did not receive the intervention (Schultz and Cowan 2001). The findings from the longer-term evaluation were mixed, as there was no difference in the divorce rate between the experimental and control groups by the time children completed kindergarten; however, among those who remained married, marital satisfaction remained higher for those who participated in the couples’ group, while satisfaction of couples in the control group declined over time (Schultz and Cowan 2001). Most importantly, children fared better

Monica Bixby Radu, Erin Fluegge, Sheldondra Brown, and Lisa McManus Rodriguez


regarding their adaptation to kindergarten (as rated by their teachers) for the parents who received the intervention. Research suggests that, for unmarried men, a strong predictor of whether a father will become and remain involved in his child’s life is the quality of his relationship with the child’s mother (Edin and Nelson 2013). We argue that educational programs, such as the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) may benefit unmarried parents, such as Lip Gallagher and Tami Tamietti, as they navigate their relatively new relationship and parenthood. The Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) was designed to teach couples about communication and problem-solving skills, addressing issues such as danger signs in relationships, relationship expectations, and how to talk and listen effectively—all of which that have been found to improve marital satisfaction (Moore et al. 2002). Couples that participated in PREP showed greater use of communication skills, greater relationship satisfaction, more positive impact of communication, and fewer relationship problems than control couples. At the five-year follow-up, PREP husbands showed greater relationship satisfaction than control husbands and showed less denial and negative escalation, and greater use of problem-solving behaviors than the husbands in the control group (Markman et al. 1993). Among the couples in the control group, 19% had divorced or separated, while 8% of PREP couples had done so at the five-year follow-up. Additionally, at the three, four, and five-year follow-up, PREP couples reported fewer instances of intimate partner violence than the control couples (Markman et al. 1993). These findings suggest that couples like Lip and Tami could benefit from a program that focuses on quality parental relationships because these relationships foster (1) higher-quality parenting and (2) increased father involvement, both of which have long-term positive implications for child well-being and development. In Episode 5 of Season 10, viewers see Lip and Tami attempt to maintain a healthy relationship while learning to be parents to son, Freddie. Due to complications with her caesarean section, Tami remained in the hospital for several weeks following childbirth. Lip cared for Freddie on his own and was able to find support through an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting that was tailored to mother’s struggling with alcohol addiction. Even though Lip was the only father in the group, he was able to find reliable support from the group members. Later, once Tami was discharged from the hospital, she struggles with motherhood and accepting Lip’s relationship with one of the mothers from the AA group. Additionally, Lip and Tami have difficulties determining whether they are in a committed (monogamous) relationship or co-parents (only). Throughout Season 10,


Shameless, Single Parenthood, Low-Wage Work, and Initiatives to Help Families in Need

viewers can expect to see Lip and Tami continue their journey, building their co-parenting relationship and establishing stability for Freddie. For Freddie’s sake, viewers may hope that the new parents can develop a strong and stable relationship. In addition to quality parental relationships, the economic resources that parents invest in their children are associated with more favorable childhood socialization and development. In the following section, we argue that social programs that promote employment— particularly for low-income mothers and fathers—may be beneficial for parents and their children because family financial capital promotes child well-being.

Work Initiatives Studies have examined how welfare policies affect the lives of families, particularly the lives of low-income single mothers (Hetling et al. 2015). Throughout Shameless, viewers are shown how the lack of financial resources creates barriers for single mothers. For example, in Seasons 4 and 5, Frank’s oldest daughter, Sammi Slott struggles with being able to provide housing and other basic necessities for her son, Chuckie. Debbie Gallagher is unable to afford reliable childcare so she can finish her vocational training in Season 8. Most recently, in Season 10, we see Tami Tamietti struggle with the contradictions of needing to work for money, needing reliable daycare to work, and needing to work in order to be able to afford daycare. Work initiatives may promote child well-being as Duncan, Huston, and Weisner’s (2007) research on New Hope, a three-year experimental program to combat poverty in the U.S., demonstrates. Drawing on evidence from surveys, public records of employment and earnings, in-depth interviews, and ethnographic observation, the authors explored how the program affected both the participants and their children. New Hope was considered a social contract and not a welfare program and participants were required to work a minimum of thirty hours a week to be eligible for 1) earnings supplements, (2) health insurance, (3) child-care subsidies, and (4) if needed, a temporary community service job. The project’s goal was to address certain barriers to working, not to fix all structural and institutional causes of poverty. Duncan et al. (2007) reported both short-term and longterm positive effects of the program, including a decline in poverty, fewer unmet medical and dental needs, and improvements in adult mental and physical health. Improvement in adult mental health is particularly important for child well-being, as studies have shown that parent’s mental health promotes positive parent-child relationships and home environments

Monica Bixby Radu, Erin Fluegge, Sheldondra Brown, and Lisa McManus Rodriguez


(Landsverk 2017). The authors also found that children benefited from the program. For example, children performed better in school and exhibited fewer behavioral problems than the control group. Gains were particularly dramatic for boys, who are at the greatest risk for poor academic performance and behavioral disorders. The program’s beneficial effects on children may have in part been due to formal childcare and afterschool programs, both which offered structured activities. New Hope also increased participation in out-of-school activities, which has been associated with later positive outcomes in adolescence and early adulthood (Lareau 2011). Work initiatives may be helpful in promoting child well-being in three ways, the first being that children may benefit from their parents’ increased financial capital. Second, workplace initiatives may increase marriage for low-income couples because unemployment and economic instability are reasons that couples may refrain from marrying (Edin and Kefalas 2011). Third, workplace initiatives may increase fathers’ involvement, as low-income fathers may limit their contact with their children for failure to live up to cultural expectations surrounding male breadwinning (Randles 2018). This suggests that workplace initiatives and increasing employment opportunities for both men and women may be beneficial for child well-being.

Promoting Father Involvement Positive, engaged fathering may contribute to more favorable child outcomes, as studies have consistently found that fatherhood is important for children’s socialization and development (Cabrera et al. 2018; Lamb and Lewis 2013). Using data from the Fragile Families Study, Carlson, McLanahan and Brooks-Gunn (2008) found that many biological fathers fade from their children’s lives overtime. Unfortunately, this is the case for Mickey Milkovich and son, Yevgency. Yevgency’s mother, Svetlana, pressures Mickey to become more involved in his son’s life during Season 4. Mickey is reluctant, but by Season 5, viewers see Mickey and boyfriend, Ian Gallagher, both involved in providing financial and physical support for Yevgency. However, after Mickey’s incarceration (Season 6), Svetlana becomes Yevgency’s primary caretaker and sole provider. Although Mickey is released from prison in Season 10, there has been no mention of Yevgency to date (i.e., the first 8 episodes of the season). Shameless viewers can only assume that at this point, Mickey is no longer involved in his son’s life. Because of the significance of a father’s participation in their children’s lives, in the following section we argue that social programs should focus


Shameless, Single Parenthood, Low-Wage Work, and Initiatives to Help Families in Need

on the involvement of fathers in order to promote child well-being. One example of a program that did just that was the Supporting Father Involvement Project. The Supporting Father Involvement Project was launched in 2004 and recruited both mothers and fathers who had at least one child between birth and seven years of age to participate in the program. The study consisted of 289 couples from primarily low-income Mexican American and White families, and couples randomly assigned to one of three conditions and followed for eighteen months: (1) a 16-week group for fathers only, (2) a 16-week group for both mothers and fathers, (3) a onetime informational meeting (Cowan et al. 2009). The program for both the fathers’ only group and the couples’ group consisted of structured curriculum of exercises, discussions, short presentations, and open-ended time in which participants could discuss their issues and concerns. The program was also specifically molded to meet the needs of low-income families (Cowan et al. 2009). Cowan and his colleagues found that participation in the fathers’ or couples’ group was associated with more stable levels of children’s problem-behaviors over eighteen months compared to increases in problems-behaviors among the children of parents in the low-dose comparison group. The authors also found that participants in the couple group were more likely to maintain higher levels of relationship satisfaction over the period of the study, which is important because studies have shown that parents’ relationship satisfaction tends to decrease for parents with children from birth to adolescence (e.g., Twenge et al. 2003). These findings suggest that promoting fathers’ involvement in family life and childrearing is associated with positive child out-comes and better relationships with their child’s mother, which is especially important for low-income families where relationship stress and conflict tends to be high (Neppl et al. 2016). These findings are especially important when applied to the television series, Shameless, because Frank Gallagher’s highly conflictual relationship with Monica and on-again, off-again interest in being a father are central themes explored throughout the series. Consequently, Frank’s absence and inconsistencies as a father have had detrimental consequences for all seven (Sammi, Fiona, Lip, Ian, Debbie, Carl, and Liam) of his children.

Conclusion Throughout this chapter, we have examined several challenges facing contemporary families: the decoupling of marriage and childbearing, the impact of low-wage work on families, and challenges for low-income

Monica Bixby Radu, Erin Fluegge, Sheldondra Brown, and Lisa McManus Rodriguez


fathers. Consistent with research, Shameless offers viewers many examples, both relatable and extreme, of each of these unique and relevant family issues. Struggles faced by the characters on the show highlight the cultural ideals about marriage and childbearing, and the structural realities of the lower-class. In addition, the notion of social capital can be found in various scenarios on the show, when women must make decisions about material employment. Being a “good mother” and a “good father” is also a central theme for characters on Shameless, both exacerbated by the low-income situation in which the family struggles to survive. In reality, various marital and family quality improvement programs and work initiatives can bolster the quality of family relationships and economic well-being. Thus, these programs address genuine problems and provide hope and development for families, providing real outcomes for families similar to those depicted in Shameless.

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McLanahan, Sara, and Wade Jacobsen. 2015 "Diverging Destinies Revisited." Pp. 3-23 in Families in an Era of Increasing Inequality, edited by Paul Amato, Alan Booth, Susan McHale, and Jennifer Van Hook. New York: Springer. McLanahan, Sara, and Christine Percheski. 2008, “Family Structure and the Reproduction of Inequalities.” Annual Review of Sociology 34:257-276. Meadows, Sarah O. 2011. “The Association between Perceptions of Social Support and Maternal Mental Health: A Cumulative Perspective.” Journal of Family Issues 32(2):181-208. Moore, Kristin A., Susan M. Jekielek, and Carol Emig. 2002. Marriage from a Child's Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, And What Can We Do About It? Washington, DC: Child Trends. Retrieved January 4, 2020 ( 05/ChildTrendsMarriage-and-Children.pdf) Morrison, Donna Ruane, and Mary Jo Coiro. 1999. “Parental Conflict and Marital Disruption: Do Children Benefit When High-Conflict Marriages are Dissolved?” Journal of Marriage and the Family 61(3):626-637. Neppl, Tricia K., Jennifer M. Senia, and M. Brent Donnellan. 2016. “Effects of Economic Hardship: Testing the Family Stress Model Over Time.” Journal of Family Psychology 30(1):12-21. Nomaguchi, Kei M. 2006. “Maternal Employment, Nonparental Care, MotherဨChild Interactions, and Child Outcomes During Preschool Years.” Journal of Marriage and Family 68(5):1341-1369. Nyström, Kerstin, and Kerstin Öhrling. 2004. “Parenthood Experiences During the Child's First Year: Literature Review.” Journal of Advanced Nursing 46(3):319-330. PerelliဨHarris, Brienna, and Marta Styrc. 2018. “Mental WellဨBeing Differences in Cohabitation and Marriage: The Role of Childhood Selection.” Journal of Marriage and Family 80(1):239-255. Pilkauskas, Natasha V., Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, and Jane Waldfogel. 2018. “Maternal Employment Stability in Early Childhood: Links with Child Behavior and Cognitive Skills.” Developmental Psychology 54(3):410427. Popenoe, David. 1993. “American Family Decline, 1960-1990: A Review and Appraisal.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 55(3):527-542. Radey, Melissa. 2018. “Informal Support among Low-Income Mothers Post Welfare Reform: A Systematic Review.” Journal of Child and Family Studies 27(12):3782-3805. Randles, Jennifer. 2018. “‘Manning’ up to be a Good Father: Hybrid Fatherhood, Masculinity, and U.S. Responsible Fatherhood Policy.” Gender & Society 32(4):516-539.

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Roy, Kevin M., and Omari Dyson. 2010. “Making Daddies into Fathers: Community-Based Fatherhood Programs and the Construction of Masculinities for Low-Income African American Men.” American Journal of Community Psychology 45(1-2):139-154. Schultz, M. S., and C. P. Cowan. 2001. “Promoting Healthy Beginnings: Marital Quality During the Transition to Parenthood.” Paper presented at the Society for Research on Child Development annual conference, Minneapolis, MN. Shrage, Laurie. 2018. “Decoupling Marriage and Parenting.” Journal of Applied Philosophy 35(3):496-512. Twenge, Jean M., W. Keith Campbell, and Craig A. Foster. 2003. “Parenthood and Marital Satisfaction: A MetaဨAnalytic Review.” Journal of Marriage and Family 65(3):574-583. Waite, Linda J., and Maggie Gallagher. 2001. The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially. New York: Doubleday. White, Lynn, and Stacy J. Rogers. 2000. “Economic Circumstances and Family Outcomes: A Review of the 1990s.” Journal of Marriage and Family 62(4):1035-1051.



Introduction Shameless introduces viewers to a White family who represent the worst of stereotypical White trash behavior. From teenage pregnancy to welfare fraud, the Gallagher family engages in deviant behavior designed to elicit sympathy, shock, but, ultimately, laughter. Even from its opening montage, the Gallagher’s abject rejection of social norms is on display. Fiona kicks her passed-out father, drags him from the bathroom, and proceeds to use the bathroom without wiping or washing her hands. The remaining members in this family urinate in a sink, relieve themselves in front of one another, allow a child to dip his toothbrush in the toilet, and then Fiona returns to have sex on the sink. If the Gallaghers were the Garcías or the Jacksons, their hijinks would invoke a variety of damaging racial stereotypes. They would not be fodder for comedy. Yet, the characters in Shameless can be their worst without generating an overall fear of spreading unflattering or sweeping aspersions upon White people individually or White communities collectively. Why the difference? As I argue in this chapter, stereotypes about White people do not “stick.” In sociological terms, they do not control or threaten because, ultimately, White privilege protects powerfully. There is tremendous sociological, legal, and historical research and theorizing on Whiteness and White privilege. (DiAngelo 2018; Dyer 1997; Frankenberg 1993; Lipsitz 1998; Roediger 1999). However, there is a gap in the scholarly treatment and discussion of White stereotyping. The scant literature that does exist focuses on White trash, redneck, or hillbilly stereotypes. Still, none of these particular stereotypes directly apply to the Gallaghers. White trash, sometimes alternatively used with hillbilly, usually applies to White people who live in severely poor, rural areas, trailer parks, or Appalachia (Newitz and Wray 1997; Pratt 2013). The Gallaghers, on the other hand, own a home in an urban area that becomes transformed in the

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series through gentrification. Most importantly, even those specifically White stereotypes are not controlling images as defined by Patricia Hill Collins (2000), nor do they induce a stereotype threat as described and tested by Claude Steele (2010). Alternatively, however, television shows featuring Black families or Black characters repeatedly feature numerous controlling images, racial tropes, and stereotypes. These shows have spurred entire debates about whether or not having Black representation on television is beneficial, particularly if it continues to reinforce negative messages about Black men, women, children, and families (Castle Bell and Harris 2017; Entman and Rojecki 2000; Riggs 1987, 1991). No such debate exists around the wildly successful eleven-season-run of Shameless and its colorful characters. Ultimately, this chapter asks why the Gallaghers can exhibit the behaviors attributed to Black stereotypes, without necessarily controlling the American imagination or posing a threat to Whites generally.

Literature Review From The Confessions of Edward Isham, A Poor White Life of the South (Bolton and Culclasure 1998) to White Trash and The Boundaries of Whiteness (Wray 2006), literature and research on White stereotypes has a well-studied and reported lineage. However, much it focuses on the imagery of White trash and rednecks, revealing a significant gap in the literature (Dunn 2019; Ferrence 2014; Isenberg 2016; Newitz and Wray 1997; Pratt 2013; Shirley 2010; Wray 2006). Moreover, the literature presents these White stereotypes as both positive and negative, thereby allowing a White audience to embrace and divorce themselves from a particular image. Research on old and modern representations of the redneck shows that “In the same breath, redneck can negatively identify a person as Southern, racist, poor, and degenerate and positively define a person as self-reliant and patriotic” (Ferrence 2014:6, emphasis his). As early as 1950, content analyses of Black fiction written by Black authors identifies and defines the “cracker” stereotype, something akin to White trash, as “ignorant or with very little education, mean, tricky, cowardly, and devilish” (Cothran 1950:255). However, much of those representations apply to one particular character and not necessarily White society as a whole. More recently, TV critic Eric Deggans (2013:1), coined the phrase “Hicksploitation” to describe the contemporary iterations of the redneck such as those in television series like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty. Arguing that this form of entertainment is also a form of exploitation, he reports, “It can be just as easy to stereotype White, working-class folks, and


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just as hard to scrub those stereotypes off our TV screens” (Deggans 2013:2). I argue, however, that there is no need to “scrub” those stereotypes because they do not induce the same effect as stereotypes about people of color. Unlike the deficient scholarship on White stereotypes, there are numerous articles and manuscripts on Black stereotyping, racial tropes, and controlling images. Patricia Hill Collins (2000), who introduced the idea of controlling images, generated a list of the types of images associated with Black womanhood, including, but not limited to, the Mammy, Bad Black Woman, Jezebel, Hoochie, and Welfare Queen. These controlling images (and more) have been identified and discussed at length (Cheers 2017; Golash-Boza 2018; Harris-Perry 2011). Black men and the stereotypes of the Sambo, Zip Coon, Black Buck, Thug, Gangsta, and Uncle Toms, to name a few, have also been the subject of critical research (Bogle 2016; duCille 2018; Rome 2004). From Birth of a Nation to Empire, these racial tropes capture the American imagination through film, television, and other forms of media, even children’s books (Aronson, Callahan, and O’Brien 2018; hooks 1992; Tukachinsky, Mastro, and Yarchi 2015). Their harm is radically different from the White stereotypes of White trash, hillbilly, and redneck. As race scholars Embrick and Henricks (2013:198) explain, "Because groups occupy hierarchal positions within the racial order, neutral power relations cannot be presumed, and different groups’ epithets and stereotypes cannot be judged by the same standard.” The controlling images relevant to this chapter are the Welfare Queen, Jezebel, Thug or Gangsta, Crack Mama, and Baby Mama. The Welfare Queen was introduced publicly and in dramatic fashion by Ronald Regan during his 1976 presidential campaign when he proclaimed that the welfare system was filled people misusing their food stamps and living in luxury while collecting government checks. At several of his campaign stops, he would share the following: In Chicago, they found a woman who holds the record. She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, social security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare (Levin 2019).

What Reagan was describing for his audiences, was a woman who took advantage of “the system” by every measure possible without regard for the “hard-working,” “tax-paying” citizens of the United States. The Welfare Queen was someone savvy enough to cheat the system but too imprudent to stop having kids, get a good-paying job, and contribute to society in any meaningful way (Hancock 2003; Harris-Perry 2011).

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The Jezebel controlling image, and its contemporary iteration the Hoochie, represent the hypersexualized, promiscuous stereotypes featured prominently in many television shows featuring Black women (Adams and Fuller 2006; Cheers 2017). In Good Times, a show about a poor Black family in the South Side of Chicago, the Jezebel was Willona Woods. She was the neighbor and loyal friend of the Evans family. Her character was always out on dates, dressed to the nines, and unabashedly flaunted her sensuality. In an episode called “Stomach Mumps,” Florida tells Willona, “You wore your sweaters so tight you had to lift it up to inhale!” While her dating and sexual exploits were never on display, it was clear that she was the “sassy” character who never lacked company on a Saturday night. The Thug controlling image, representing Black male criminality, is another popular theme in numerous television shows. From The Wire to Law & Order, the Thug and Gangstas, controlling images have appeared on television over time (Entman and Rojecki 2000; Opportunity Agenda 2011; Pfohl 1994). But more than just representations on a screen, these controlling images might potentially induce policies related to policing, prosecution, and incarceration that have deleterious effects in Black communities. Nancey Heitzeg (2015:204) argues that, “Media depictions of White criminality as individual aberration and Black criminality as collective identity provides the ideological framework for justifying differential options for social control.” Finally, the controlling image of Crack Mamas or Baby Mamas make Black motherhood an easy target for various media outlets. With the help of Gunnar Myrdal's book An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy as well as the 1965 Moynihan Report on “The Negro Family,” Americans were plied with distorted images of the Black mother throughout history. Later, the crack epidemic led to the, now debunked, fears of about creating a generation of crack babies. The Crack Mamas of these babies were more often than not shown to be Black mothers (Gomez 1997; Humphries 1999; Springer 2010). Most recently, rap and hip hop have promulgated the Baby Mama controlling image. Baby mamas are Black women who cause drama and stress, are unworthy of marriage, and scheme their way into men’s bank accounts via child support (Tyree 2009). Like the Welfare Queen, these mothers also live off the government, having many children to ensure a steady check. Black motherhood, then, has been criminalized, represented as deviant in the public imagination which inevitably helps to shape public policy (Bezusko 2013).


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Theoretical Background This chapter is framed by the theoretical concepts of controlling images and stereotype threat. Controlling images, 1 stereotypes, 2 and racial tropes 3 are used interchangeably throughout the text, but they do have their particular meanings and definitions (see footnotes). While each definition is different, they ultimately identify the repeated, public, and socially constructed misrepresentations of people of color. This chapter focuses largely on the stereotypes, controlling images, and racial tropes most associated with African Americans. Stereotype threat, Steele (2010:5) explains, “springs from our human powers of intersubjectivity—the fact that as members of society we have a pretty good idea of what other members of our society think about…major groups and identities in society.” The threat comes when one group is concerned that a stereotype about their group is confirmed in one way or another and will thereby trigger judgment or ill-treatment. Having to be concerned about these judgments are “identity contingencies—the things you have to deal with in a situation because you have a given social identity Steele (2010:3).” Steele vividly describes stereotype threat as something “floating in the air like a cloud gathering the nation’s history” (2010:7). This cloud, however, Steele and his colleagues found, has genuine consequences. Steele, along with Joshua Aronson and Steven Spencer, identified stereotype threats through a series of psychosocial experiments where they tested a "majority group" (i.e., White students) and a "minority group" (i.e., Black students) under two conditions (2002). In the first condition, the researchers introduced the stereotype threat by telling the students that the test diagnosed intellectual ability (i.e., the stereotype threat condition). In the non-stereotype threat condition, the researchers told the students that the test was a problem-solving task that had nothing to do with ability. Under the stereotype threat condition, Black students performed worse than White students (Steele, Aronson, and Spencer 2002). However, under the nonstereotype threat condition, Black students performed equally to White 1

Controlling images are, “Raced, gendered, and classed depictions in the media that shape people’s ideas of what African Americans are and are not” (Golash-Boza 2018:476). 2 “A stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a type of person or thing" (Golash-Boza 2018:81). 3 A trope is, according to Merriam-Webster, a common or overused theme or device. Therefore, racial tropes are common or overused themes or devices about people or communities of color.

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students. In other experiments, the researchers found that even merely identifying one’s race on the test is enough to trigger a stereotype threat. Scholars have repeated the experiment testing stereotypes threats related to gender, age, socioeconomic status, and other social variables, resulting in over 300 journal articles. That is the power of “the cloud”—it affects several groups and appears in various social settings. According to Steele (2010), Whites experience stereotype threat as well. However, the threats are based on athletic ability, being perceived as racist, and poorer study habits in comparison to Asian and Black students. There have been no experiments to test the effect of negative White stereotypes on individuals. Therefore, the Whiteness, as represented by the Gallaghers, does not develop into a cloud, does not follow White people, and most importantly, does not trigger fear of judgment or mistreatment. Another sociological term for stereotyping that considers the role of power and recognizes the systemic and intersectional nature of oppression is controlling images. “Controlling images,” Patricia Hill Collins (2000:77) explains, “are designed to make racism, sexism, poverty, and other forms of social injustice appear to be natural, normal, and inevitable parts of everyday life.” These controlling images are promulgated mainly through social institutions such as schools, the news media, and the government. Controlling images, therefore, are more potent than stereotyping. They can and have shaped policy and closed opportunities by providing a limited, caricatured view of people of color (Golash-Boza 2018; Levin 2019; Morris 2016).

Shameless Character Case Study I conducted a character case study of the individual members of the Gallagher family by watching the first nine seasons of Shameless for a total of 110 hour-long episodes. Similar to a case study, a character case study is “an empirical inquiry that investigates contemporary phenomenon in depth and within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident” (Yin 2009:18). While the Gallaghers are not “real-life” people, their fictional representations have very real implications in the study of race and popular culture. Therefore, when watching the episodes, I noted whenever a character engaged in violent, sexual, criminal, fraudulent, and deceptive conduct as well as acts which resulted in physical or psychological harm to self and others. Viewing all nine seasons allowed me to follow the development of each character to ensure that their behavior was consistent throughout the


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series and was not just an anomalous instance of a questionable deed. For this chapter, I focused solely on the Gallagher family members (rather than peripheral characters like Kev, Vee, and Mickey), namely Frank, Fiona, Carl, Debbie, Lip, and Ian, as well as their mother, Monica, and, sister, Sammi. Because I was focusing on the White members of the family, I did not include Liam, the youngest Gallagher child, who is Black. I treated each character as a case study noting their acts, the season, and episode when the act occurred. To help me sort the characters behaviors into controlling images, I asked, “If any of these characters were Black, how would their behaviors be stereotyped?” Guided by this question, I sorted the behaviors into one of following controlling images: Welfare Queen, Jezebel, Thug/Gangster, and Crack Mama/Baby Mama. This form of qualitative data collection and analysis invites criticism as being less rigorous, biased, and ungeneralizable. This chapter, however, is more a theoretical contribution to the discussion of racial stereotyping in popular culture. The goal is not to numerically count and sort the individual acts and calculate inter-coder reliability. It is an attempt to capture “the products of multiple creators who work to produce messages” and consider if those messages are equally relayed and received (Tyree 2009: 401).

People Not Stereotypes: Analysis and Discussion What this sorting demonstrates is that even the worst stereotypes of White people and their perceived, deleterious behavior, does not threaten Whiteness or control the collective imagination. As Richard Dyer (1997:2) explains there exists the "…assumption that White people are just people, which is not far off saying that Whites are people whereas other colours are something else.” Ultimately, the Gallaghers are people with names, storylines, depth, and complexity, not broad, shallow, and dangerous representations of an entire racial community. Therefore, the Gallagher clan can exhibit stereotypical behaviors typically attributed to African Americans without reflecting poorly on White people individually and collectively. If the Gallaghers’ behavior outlined below was performed by the Garcías or the Jacksons, then the controlling images and stereotype threats of laziness, hypersexuality, criminality, and the like would be triggered (Collins 2000, Golash-Boza 2018). Instead, the Gallaghers are described in the New York Times (2017) as, “The charmingly dishonest Gallagher clan.” In its first episode after the 2016 election, Reece Peck, Professor of Media Culture at College of Staten Island, CUNY, observes:

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One is hard-pressed to cite another series besides Shameless about a family living in dire poverty. Good Times…is the closest precedent. Then Fox’s South Central and The PJs, but they were abruptly canceled. All of these, however, featured nonwhite families, conforming to the racialized, stereotypical image of the American poor (Wilson Hunt 2017).

While this is an important observation, Shameless is not only about poverty. Because if it were solely a commentary on class, its impaired representation of Whiteness becomes invisible. Instead, the Welfare Queens, Thugs, Jezebels, Crack Mamas, and Baby Mamas of Shameless are perceived as troubled souls, victims of gentrification, and working-class, White folk just trying to make it in a harsh world. They are not stereotypical spectacles. They are fully realized individuals with a history, a purpose, and, most importantly, a name.

Frank, No Welfare King In terms of laziness, nearly every character in Shameless cut corners, hustles, schemes, and cheats “the system” in ways that avoid hard work and industry. Even though Fiona is usually the only Gallagher with a job, she still engages in schemes to benefit her family. For example, in Season 3, she finds an older adult to pose as her deceased Aunt Ginger and forges a will that leaves the house to her. When that plan does not work because a distant cousin named Patrick already has a falsified, prior claim, Carl slips Patrick rat poison, and Debbie falsely accuses him of sexual molestation. Lip makes money by taking people’s SATs for them, consistently threatens and ultimately loses his college opportunity, and engages in a hacking scam. Ian steals Lip's identity to enroll in the military at the age of 17, steals luggage from the airport, and moves from one job to another. Carl steals neighborhood dogs and holds them for ransom, explodes a meth lab in the basement, sells drugs, and conveniently asserts a Native American identity to gain admission to military school. Debbie takes advantage of a woman with cancer to secure housing, steals luxury baby items and sells them online, regularly shoplifts, and takes advantage of a man who suffers from a traumatic brain injury. The biggest offender, by far, however, is Frank Gallagher. Nevertheless, he is no Welfare King. While his escapades are too numerous to list in full, a brief sampling of his deceptions, scams, and attempts to avoid work include:


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x Taking advantage of an agoraphobic Sheila in order to have relatively secure housing; x Securing credit cards in all of his children’s names and using them for liquor, strip clubs, drugs, and penthouse subscriptions; x Doing a line of cocaine off of the toilet seat of The Alibi Room (local bar); x Intentionally hurting himself on the job to obtain worker’s compensation; x Panhandling with Liam for sympathy and allowing a bar patron to take Liam as collateral; x Regularly taking the children to his local dive bar without having to explain where he gets his money; x Attempting to claim the benefits of a dead man; x “Sponsoring” a fellow “alcoholic” through AA so he can have a place to live; x Killing a sick woman with a heart condition by intercepting a message letting her know a donor’s heart is available; x Regularly and irresponsibly spending money including the family’s “squirrel fund,” six-figure insurance, and campaign money; x Filing a false report with child welfare services against Fiona; x Using Hymie’s (Karen’s illegitimate baby) disability status to scam a children’s foundation for an autographed basketball. Once he finds out it is a foundation for children with cancer, he convinces Carl that he has cancer; x Burying a recently deceased Aunt Ginger in the backyard to collect her social security; x Pretending to be in a same-sex relationship to obtain “domestic partnership” and when denied becomes an activist and also works with an anti-gay group to “cure” him, scamming both organizations; x Asking Carl to break his leg in order to secure a hefty insurance payout to pay for his liver transplant; x Using Sheila’s basement to create a brewery after receiving a liver transplant and causes an explosion; x Receiving a settlement check and wasting over $280,000 in one evening; x Manipulating his donor’s family when he is, once again, penniless; x Sending his new family from the homeless shelter out to panhandle; x Stealing from a bus full of senior citizens; x Smuggling people and drugs over the Canadian border; and

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x Encouraging Debbie to keep the baby and “learn the grand Gallagher art of living off the American government” Nevertheless, William H. Macy’s over-the-top performance of Frank does not garner him public disdain or the moniker of Welfare King. Instead of rejection, Macy gains a loyal audience and professional recognition. He was awarded a Screen Actors Guild every year between 2015-2018, nominated for two Golden Globes, and five Emmys. When Macy received a nomination for an Emmy, David Crow (2014), writer for a fan-focused website, wrote, "Frank is the most vile, repugnant, reprehensible, and all-around irredeemable low-life who has ever had the nasty fortune to scurry across the TV screen…and we love him for it." On another site, Fansided, a contributor writes, "In his own f---ed up way, he undoubtedly does love his kids. He's just too broken to express it like an actual Father of the Year contender" (Gaudens 2016). Frank, as played by Macy, is truly the character that audiences love to hate. As one TV writer put it, “Watching him is like craning your neck to look at a car wreck; even though it’s bad, viewers can’t turn away, wondering if the whole thing will eventually burst into flames” (Irwin 2019). Still, it is challenging finding a person of color playing a character equivalent to Frank on television who has won the affection and sympathy of so many.

Fiona, Not Jezebel or Hoochie Fiona's sexual escapades do not invite the same scrutiny as those of a Jezebel. From the very first episode, the audience finds out that Fiona's nickname in high school was “first date Fiona." In her quest for love and companionship, she only develops storylines with men (Jimmy/Steve, Tony, Sean, Mike, Robbie, Gus, and Ford). In the grand scheme of things, a sexual history of seven men is not necessarily shocking. They were indeed more than "hookups." The writers of the show, however, made sure that Fiona was depicted as a sexually loose and morally dubious partner by having her regularly cheat on her partners, sleep with married men, and even carry on an inappropriate relationship with her bosses. At her wedding to Sean, even Frank says to her, “You’ve let so many men drive up the freeway between your legs, you’re going to have to put an exit sign on your vagina.” She also goes on a mad “Tinder tear” in Season 7 after a co-worker introduces her to the online dating app. Yet, the Fiona character is not written as a hypersexualized woman who only has her wiles to activate. Instead, writers characterize her sexual choices as the actions of a liberated,


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sex-positive woman in control of her own body (Stuever 2016). Fiona is not a Jezebel or a Hoochie. She is a sad soul who is simply unlucky in love.

Carl, Not Thug The most blatant criminal in Shameless, Carl, can tout his “homicidal mojo” unapologetically with little to no consequence. “Race is never discussed as a key signifier when crimes are committed by White [people]” (Heitzeg 2015:201). From the very beginning of the show, the writers frame Carl as a disturbed little boy. In Season 1, when Steve asks Fiona the whereabouts of the children, she casually mentions, "Carl is looking for small, defenseless pets to torture." In that same season, there exists an entire episode, where "Killer Carl" tortures a Barbie Doll with an electrical device because "they have to pay for their sins." He also gets in trouble because he physically abuses his classmates, urinates on a classroom plant, and makes "a papermâché pile of shit," for an art project. When Fiona is unable to produce Frank for a school meeting, the principal declares, "I am not a religious man, but every now and then, a child comes along who makes me believe in the existence of Satan. Now something drastic must be done, or he's going to slip down through the cracks, right up into a clock tower with a sniper rifle.” As Carl ages, he refuses to "flip" on a local drug dealer and goes to a juvenile detention center for a year. His appropriated "gangsta" persona fully develops after his stint in juvenile detention (a.k.a., “juvie”), complete with box braids, and comical performance of a confident swagger. He receives a full-fledged endorsement from the Black inmates in the form of the chant "White Boy Carl." With his Black credibility reinforced by Nick, a tall Black teen whom he met in juvie and his "brother from another mother," he returns to his old ways of engaging in a variety of criminal activities. The writers use Vee to tell him to stop the "minstrel act" and "wigger bullshit," or she will "reverse George Zimmerman [his] ass," but not even that stops him. Eventually, in an ultimate act of White privilege, he returns to his White boy roots after seeing a dead body and deciding to get out of "the life." What is fascinating, however, is how the Carl character has developed a loving fandom. In an article titled, “The Evolution of Carl on Shameless,” Nat Berman (2017:1), a TV critic, writes, “[Carl] is a smart kid who has a lot of potential, but no chance given the way his family lives” (emphasis mine). Considering all of the chances Carl receives and wastes, smart and full of potential are not precise descriptors of Carl Gallagher. Perhaps it is Carl himself who offers a genuinely sober assessment of his

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life chances. "I'm a loser!" he yells to Debbie. "A West Point reject with a shitty education and family history of alcoholism and drug abuse that’s bound to catch up with me sooner or later. Fast food is the best it’s going to get for me. I’ve accepted who I am, why can’t you?” In recapping the episode, Entertainment Weekly (Lawrence 2019:1) writes, “Having watched Carl/actor Ethan Cutkosky grow up on screen, that broke my heart. I’ll admit that it got a little dusty over here.” Instead of eliciting fear, disgust, and shock, this thuggish character inspires sympathy, excuses, and even admiration. This sympathy cannot, however, simply be attributed to Cutkosky's excellent acting because had he been Black or Latino, he may not have received the same regard.

Monica, Debbie, Sammi, and Fiona, Not Crack Mamas or Baby Mamas The White mothers of Shameless receive radically different treatment than most Black mothers on television. Monica, Debbie, Sammi, and Fiona are only bad mothers (not bad White mothers). Monica left her six children when Liam was two months old only to return and wreak all sorts of havoc. When Debbie asks her, "Why didn't you take us with you?" she answers, "Because I knew you'd be fine with Fiona," abdicating her responsibilities to a teenage girl. Self-described as "emotionally crippled," Monica barges in and out of their lives erratically following the ups and downs of her bipolar disorder. She steals from her children's squirrel fund to go on a shopping spree for drugs and drives high with Liam sitting on the floor of the car, picks Debbie up from school, tries to enlist Ian in the service, and ends up in jail for driving under the influence. When she wants to make another baby with Frank in Season 2, she "reasons" that they have "never made a little rug rat on GHB." 4 When she comes down from her high, Monica ruins the family’s Thanksgiving festivities by slitting her wrists in plain sight. She also engages in all sorts of criminal behaviors, leaves her children behind multiple times, steals money from her children, and leaves stolen meth behind for her children to sell after her death. In the show recaps, she is described, appropriately, as, “a Mommie Dearest of incompetence and neglect" (Peers 2011). While this judgment is void of sympathy, the press celebrates the show's inclusion of Monica's mental health challenges. Etan Frankel, a writer and producer for Shameless, explains that they wanted to portray bipolar disorder that was "as real as possible" noting, "There are 4

GHB is a depressant popularly known as the “date rape drug.”


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parts of Monica that want to change" (Lacob 2017). It is her mental health that invites compassion but not her mothering, even though it is a product of her struggle with bipolar disorder. Nevertheless, Monica is a sick woman, not a sick White woman. Debbie, who has exhibited "mothering" traits since the time she dressed a bag of potatoes like a baby and kidnapped a child from a birthday party in the first season. Debbie also, through every season, becomes increasingly desperate for male attention and affection. When she finally secures a boyfriend in Derek, she intentionally gets pregnant to force a connection with him. Once she is an actual mother, however, her earlier mothering traits seem to disappear. She regularly leaves her child with strangers, steals high-end baby supplies, advertises herself on a sugar daddy website, and is reported to Child and Family Services after being recorded fighting with a homeless woman with her child strapped to her chest. Yet, in a Vulture recap of an episode in which a pregnant Debbie decides to keep her baby, Leslie Pariseau writes, "I can also appreciate poor Debbie's fervent desire to create a world of her own, however irrational that desire may be" (Pariseau 2016a). Once again, Debbie’s immaturity receives sympathy and understanding, not censure. In yet another recap of her pregnancy season, Hollis Andrews (2016), identifies her as, "Debbie. Poor, sweet, lost Debbie.” Young Black and Latina teen mother characters, on the other hand, generally do not receive similar sympathy. Instead, they are cast as sexually irresponsible girls who are “always getting pregnant” (López and ChesneyLind 2014; Katz and McKinney 2018). Sammi, the stepsister of the main Gallagher children and who Frank almost slept with for a liver transplant, generates equal amounts of chaos as her newly discovered family, if not more, in Season 5. She dives at Frank with a knife when she realizes that he reneged on his promise to buy her a new motorhome. Sammi also almost kills Frank by withholding his anti-rejection medications prescribed after his corrective liver transplant. At one point, she shoots Frank, literally pours salt on his wound, and screams, "I want you to tell me you need me." Once he complies under duress, she immediately transforms into a loving daughter and caregiver. When her son, Chuckie gets sentenced to juvie, she carves a swastika on his forehead for his "protection." Her run on the show ends with her chasing Ian’s main love interest Mickey with a gun. Yet her antics are not characterized as the raving madness of a White woman. Instead, she is, "…an undeniably annoying character with little complexity” (Pariseau 2016b:1, emphasis mine). Finally, Fiona, as the figurative mother, has consistently been cast as a martyr putting her life on hold for her family. However, she possesses

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a coldness that manifests in harmful interactions with children. In Season 3, she informs Molly, Mandy Milkovich’s half-sibling, a little boy who believes he is a girl, "You're not a girl, honey. You're a boy who was raised by a jacked-up meth head of a mom who made you think you were a girl because she hates men." After dropping that bit of information, she leaves it to Lip to clean up her mess as she and her the younger kids go and dig up a body in the yard. In Season 4, she can endanger Liam by leaving cocaine on the kitchen table, get charged, go to jail, and engage in various alcohol and drug-induced binges without these acts casting imputations upon all White women. The Fiona character, as played by Emmy Rossum, is not condemned or shunned. Instead, Emmy Rossum receives accolades for her performance. In addition to scoring several award nominations, including the People's Choice Awards, Emmy Rossum’s characterization of Fiona is revered in reviews. For example, her performance of Fiona is called "feisty…strong, and sexy" (Sepinwall 2011). In Emmy Rossum’s final season, Fiona listens to her attorney, who advises, "Time to leave this South Side, hood rat crap and get on with being an adult." As Fiona leaves, it is ironic that she is now doing to Debbie what Monica did to her. She is leaving Debbie with the responsibility of caring for the family. While Debbie is closer to adulthood than Fiona was when their mother left, and while Fiona does leave $50,0000 for the remaining kids, time has not reduced the family's challenges.

What of Lip and Ian? The characters of Lip and Ian present a troubling challenge in identifying their Black controlling image counterpart. Both are high school dropouts, engage in numerous sexual relationships, miss opportunities for personal growth, and commit their slew of petty and felonious crimes. However, writers characterize Lip as “a troubled genius” and “masochistic heartthrob” (Greco 2012), and Ian is a called a “beloved character” (Lawrence 2019). It is difficult to find their Black counterpart in film or television. The sexual activities of Black men in television and film are often criminalized as Black Brutes or The Black Buck but never “masochistic heartthrobs.” When a Black man is, on the rare occasion, portrayed as an intelligent character or genius, it seems he is a nerd like Urkel in Family Matters or a professional like Heathcliff Huxtable of the Cosby Show. Even Will Smith’s character in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is from a Philadelphia “hood,” but he is essentially rescued to live with wealthy relatives in California. His character, however, is not necessarily a “troubled genius.”


The Shameless (and Race-less) Gallaghers

Comparing these shows and characters begs the question: Are smart Black men in television and film allowed to fail spectacularly in the same way smart White boys like Lip are allowed? Are they either saint or sinner but not both and never allowed, as actors, to explore the complexity of being both? This may be an instance when not only does White privilege protect, but so does patriarchy. According to the literature, it seems that Black gay men are mostly portrayed in one of three ways: 1) as especially effeminate, as represented by David Alan Grier and Damon Wayans on In Living Color’s segment called “Men on Film” or most men in RuPaul’s Drag Race; 2) on the “down-low” as portrayed in several of Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls or Omar Little in The Wire; or 3) overly masculine or passing for straight such as Carter Heywood in Spin City or Captain Ray Holt in Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Cobb and Means Coleman 2010; Edwards 2013; Han 2015). It is a struggle to find an equivalent to Ian in Black television and film. In the series, Ian is an out, proud gay man who explores his sexuality, engages in romantic relationships, struggles with bipolar, and is deeply loved by his family. The inability to find a “Black Ian” may be the result of how the lived experiences of White individuals who identity as LGBTQ+ and Black individuals identifying as such are represented in film and television (Moylan 2015; Park 2011). Perhaps no controlling images and stereotype threats can exist when the silence of Whiteness meets the silence of queerness in Black communities.

Conclusion The fact that the Whiteness of the Gallaghers remains an “unremarked racial category” provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the power of White privilege in pop culture. After outlining the criminal, deviant, and dysfunctional behavior of the Gallaghers, this chapter reveals a valuable lesson about race in the United States: White privilege protects powerfully. Much of the literature on Whiteness discusses the social, legal, and historical consequences of White supremacy and constructs Whiteness as something with which to measure otherness. Whiteness, in much of the scholarship on race, is an impossible goal, an unrealistic standard, and a choking reminder that equality is unrealizable. In this chapter, I explored what happens when Whiteness is “othered” with little to no consequence. It would be ideal to continue this same conversation with other shows that feature White characters engaging in problematic behavior. Are the Sons of Anarchy a family or a gang of thugs? Is Walter White a chemistry teacher who is trying to care for his family or a murderous drug kingpin?

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A review of the worst stereotypes, as represented in the characters of Shameless, reveals that there seems to be no threat that White people are perceived as criminal, hypersexual, and lazy people who live off the government. An actress like Emmy Rossum can take on a seemingly multidimensional and complex character like Fiona without worrying that she, as an actress, will be typecast as a Jezebel or White trash in her next project. William H. Macy can be nominated for an Emmy and Golden Globe or rewarded with a Screen Actors Guild Award for playing a selfish, thieving addict with no redeeming moral qualities whose race is never considered. The Gallaghers’ Whiteness does not have the power to control the way society perceives White people in general. In other words, they are not controlling images that help to construct and perpetuate racial inequality in the United States or pose a threat to the White community, writ large. The Gallaghers, in all their deviant glory, do not make a White person’s heart stop for fear that Frank, Fiona, Debbie, or Carl are reflecting the worst of their racial community. Even with the popularity of Shameless, these White characters do not threaten the reputation of White people, individually or collectively. The Gallaghers have enjoyed a long run on television with 11 seasons, despite their dysfunction. They even beat the saintly, formerly beloved Cosby Show (8 seasons). Despite being riddled with their stereotypes, not even the licentious Lyons of Empire (6 seasons), the earnest Evans’ of Good Times (6 seasons), the laugh-a-minute Lopez’s of The George Lopez Show (6 seasons), or the hilarious Huang’s of Fresh off The Boat (6 seasons) could beat the ghastly Gallagher’s of Shameless.

References Adams, Terri M. and Douglas B. Fuller. 2006. “The Words Have Changed but the Ideology Remains the Same: Misogynistic Lyrics in Rap Music.” Journal of Black Studies 36(6):938-957. Andrews, Hollis. 2016. “Shameless Season 6 Premiere Recap: The Gallaghers Awaken.” Observer, January 10. Retrieved May 2019 ( Aronson, Krista Maywalt, Brenna D. Callahan, and Anne Sibley O’Brien. 2018. “Messages Matter: Investigating the Thematic Content of Picture Books Portraying Underrepresented Racial and Cultural Groups.” Sociological Forum 33(1):165-185. Berman, Nat. 2017. “The Evolution of Carl on Shameless.” TVOvermind, June 12. Retrieved June 2019 (


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Bezusko, Adriane. 2013. “Criminalizing Black Motherhood: How the War on Welfare Was Won.” Souls: A Critical Journal on Black Politics, Culture, and Society 15(1-2):39-55. Bogle, Donald. 2016. Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic. Bolton, Charles C. and Scott P. Culclasure (Eds). 1998. The Confessions of Edward Isham: A Poor White Life of the Old South. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press. Castle Bell, Gina and Tina M. Harris. 2017. “Exploring Representations of Black Masculinity and Emasculation in NBC’s Parenthood.” Journal of International and Intercultural Communication 10(2):135-152. Cheers, Imani M. 2017. The Evolution of Black Women in Television: Mammies, Matriarchs, and Mistresses. New York, NY: Routledge. Cobbs, Jasmine and Robin Means Coleman. 2010. “Two Snaps and a Twist: Controlling Images of Black Male Homosexuality on Television.” African American Research Perspectives 13(1):82-98. Collins, Patricia Hill. 2000. Black Feminist Thought. New York, NY: Routledge. Cothran, Tilman C. 1950. “White Stereotypes in Fiction by Negros.” Phylon (1940-1956) 11(3):252-256. Crow, David. 2014. “Why Shameless’ Frank Gallagher is the Nastiest Protagonist on TV…and Possibly the Best.” Den of Geek, July 10. Retrieved January 2020 ( Deggans, Eric. 2013. “On ‘Hicksploitation’ and Other White Stereotypes Seen on TV.” National Public Radio, May 1. Retrieved April 14 2019 ( DiAngelo, Robin J. 2018. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. duCille, Ann. 2018. Technicolored: Reflections on Race in the Time of TV. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Dunn, Tasha R. 2019. Talking White Trash: Mediated Representations and Lived Experiences of White Working-Class People. New York, NY: Routledge Dyer, Richard. 1997. White: Essays on Race and Culture. New York, NY: Routledge.

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Edwards, Timothy. 2013. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Examining Attitudes about Black Homosexuality and the Media in an Online Forum.” Social Identities 19(2):173-187. Embrick, David G. and Kasey Henricks. 2013. “Discursive Colorlines at Work: How Epithets and Stereotypes are Racially Unequal.” Symbolic Interaction 36(2):197-215. Entman, Robert M. and Andrew Rojecki. 2000. The Black Image in the White Mind: Media and Race in America. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. Ferrence, Matthew J. 2014. All American Redneck: Variations of an Icon, From James Fenimore Cooper to Dixie Chicks. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press Frankenberg, Ruth. 1993. White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness. Minneapolis, MN: The University of Minnesota Press. Gaudens, Reed. 2016. “Here’s the One and Only Way Shameless Can Redeem Frank Gallagher.” Hidden Remote. Fansided, October 26. Retrieved October 2019 ( Golash-Boza, Tanya Maria. 2018. Race and Racism: A Critical Approach, Second Edition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Gomez, Laura E. 1997. Misconceiving Mothers: Legislators, Prosecutors, and the Politics of Prenatal Drug Exposure. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. Greco, Patti. 2012. “Shameless’ Jeremy Allen White on Turning 21, Smoking Camel Lights, and Playing a Masochistic Heartthrob.” Vulture, March 2. Retrieved April 2019 ( Han, Chong-suk. 2015. “No Brokeback for Black Men: Pathologizing Black Male (Homo)sexuality Through Down Low Discourse.” Social Identities 21(3):228-243. Hancock, Ange-Marie. 2003. “Contemporary Welfare Reform and the Public Identity of the ‘Welfare Queen’.” Race, Gender, and Class in American Politics 10(1):31-59. Harris-Perry, Melissa V. 2011. Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Heitzeg, Nancy A. 2015. “‘Whiteness,’ Criminality, and the Double Standards of Deviance/Social Control.” Contemporary Justice Review 18(2):197-214.


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hooks, bell. 1992. Black Looks: Race and Representation. New York, NY: Routledge. Humphries, Drew. 1999. Crack Mother: Pregnancy, Drugs, and the Media. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press. Irwin, Corey. 2019. “The Worst Things Shameless’ Frank Gallagher Has Ever Done.” Looper, March 29. Retrieved February 2019 ( Isenberg, Nancy. 2016. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. New York, NY: Penguin Books. Katz, Jennifer and Miranda McKinney. 2018. “White Female Undergraduates’ Perceptions of Black Pregnant Adolescents: Does Control Over Pregnancy Matter.” Stigma and Health 3(1):69-76. Lacob, Jace. 2017. “Homeland and Shameless: Television Tackles Bipolar Disorder with Realism.” The Daily Beast, July 13. Retrieved April 25, 2020 ( Lawrence, Derek. 2019. “Shameless Season Finale Recap: A Beloved Character Returns to Help Say Goodbye to Fiona.” Entertainment Weekly, March 10. Retrieved April 25, 2020 ( Levin, Josh. 2019. The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind the American Myth. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group. Lipsitz, George. 1998. The Possessive Investment of Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. López, Vera and Meda Chesney-Lind. 2014. “Latina Girls Speak Out: Stereotypes, Gender, and Relationship Dynamics.” Latino Studies 12(4):527-549. Morris, Monique. 2016. Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools. New York, NY: The New Press. Moylan, Brian. 2015. “Most LGBT Characters on US TV are White and Male, Study Finds.” The Guardian. October 27. Retrieved January 2020 ( Newitz, Annalee and Matt Wray. 1997. White Trash: Race and Class in America. New York, NY: Routledge. The Opportunity Agenda. 2011. “A Social Science Literature Review: Media Representations and Impact on The Lives of Black Men and Boys.” Retrieved March 2020

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( Pariseau, Leslie. 2016a. “Shameless Recap: Everybody’s Done.” Vulture, January 25. Retrieved February 2020 ( Pariseau, Leslie. 2016b. “Shameless Recap: The Gallagher Contagion.” Vulture, February 21. Retrieved February 2020 ( Park, Samuel. 2011. “All the Sad Young Men: Whiteness as Melancholic Haunting in Black Queer Independent Film.” Black Camera 2(2):63-79. Peers, Alexandra. 2011. “Shameless Recap: Brother from Another Father.” Vulture. March 14. Retrieved February 2020 ( Pfohl, Steven. 1994. Images of Deviance and Social Control: A Sociological History. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill. Pratt, David. 2013. “Squidbillies and White Trash Stereotypes in the Corporate Postmodern South.” Appalachian Journal 40(1-2):94-110. Riggs, Marlon. 1987. Ethnic Notions [video recording]. Los Angeles, CA: California Newsreel. Riggs, Marlon. 1991. Color Adjustment [video recording]. Los Angeles, CA: California Newsreel. Roediger, David R. 1999. The Wages of Whiteness: Race and The Making of the American Working Class. London, UK: Verso. Rome, Dennis. 2004. Black Demons: Media’s Depiction of the African American Male Criminal Stereotype. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. Sepinwall, Alan. 2011. “Review: Showtime’s Shameless Offers Messy, Engaging, Family Antics.” Uproxx, January 9. Retrieved August 2019 ( Shirley, Carla D. 2010. “‘You Might Be a Redneck If…’: Boundary Work among Rural, Southern Whites.” Social Forces 89(1):35-61. Springer, Kristen W. 2010. “The Race and Class Privilege of Motherhood: The New York Times Presentations of Pregnant Drug-Using Women.” Sociological Forum 25(3):476-499. Steele, Claude M. 2010. Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company. Steele, Claude M., Steven J. Spencer, and Joshua Aronson. 2002. “Contending with Group Image: The Psychology of Stereotype and


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Social Identity Threat.” Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 34:379-440. Stuever, Hank. 2016. “What’s the Best Show about Poverty, Crime, and Crazy Sex? It’s Shameless.” The Washington Post, January 7. Retrieved January 2020 ( caaaacf8-b1c9-11e5-9ab0-884d1cc4b33e_story.html) The New York Times. 1976. “‘Welfare Queen’ Becomes Issue in Reagan Campaign.” The New York Times, February 15. Retrieved February 2020 ( Tukachinsky, Riva, Dana Mastro, and Moran Yarchi. 2015. “Documenting Portrayals of Race/Ethnicity on Primetime Television over a 20-Year Span and Their Association with National-Level Racial/Ethnic Attitudes.” Journal of Social Issues 71(1):17-38. Tyree, Tia C.M. 2009. “Lovin’ Momma and Hatin’ on Baby Mama: A Comparison of Misogynistic and Stereotypical Representations in Songs about Rappers’ Mothers and Baby Mamas.” Women & Language 32(2):50-58. Wilson Hunt, Stacey. 2017. “The Gallaghers Are Back for Shameless’ First Post-Trump Season.” Vulture, November 2. Retrieved February 2020 ( Wray, Matt. 2006. White Trash and The Boundaries of Whiteness. Durham, NC: Duke University Press Yin, Robert K. 2009. Case Study Research: Design and Methods. 4th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc


Shameless, set on the South Side of Chicago, illuminates a bevy of social issues that people who inhabit the area regularly contend with: gentrification, drug use and abuse, failing education, abject poverty, homophobia, and patriarchy, to name a few. In tackling these issues, the show centers a poor working-class White family and their herculean efforts to not only survive their environment but to rise above it. The writers of the show work to humanize these individuals in an era where the struggles of poor Whites are beginning to gain more national attention. However, they often do so to the detriment of individuals from other racial-ethnic groups, particularly Black Americans. Over the last few years, White Americans have experienced dramatic increases in opiate and opioid overdoses (Quinones 2014), a declining life expectancy with rising suicide rates (Stein et al. 2017), and stagnating wages (Schmitt et al. 2018) amidst a shrinking of the welfare state that would typically function to offset these losses. Thus, the show provides a fictional illustration of a non-fictional reality for many poor White Americans across various parts of the Midwest—a region which, in 2016, rejected the message of Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton and instead delivered their support and electoral votes to then-Republican candidate Donald Trump. Public intellectual Cornel West (2016) framed the results of the election as a pseudo-populist rejection of neoliberal policies that have weakened the life chances of all working-class Americans. West argues that then-candidate Trump capitalized on this sociopolitical climate by blaming its effects on the actions of various non-White marginalized groups. Other political pundits termed the election as a “Whitelash” (Blake 2016), in which White working-class voters, displeased by their current economic and social standing, viewed the progress of minorities, embodied by the first Black President Barack Obama, as threatening to their material stability. Both arguments fall in line with scholarship on Whiteness in how


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they craft their discussion on some White Americans’ tendency to identify themselves by using other racial-ethnic groups as a reference point. Quantitative averages for socioeconomic indicators such as income and wealth, educational attainment, and housing often obscure the fact that many White people in the country struggle financially. Both the 2016 election and Shameless place this oft unseen group into our purview, generating arguments which undergird extant scholarship on Whiteness that explores how White Americans identify themselves in opposition to other racial-ethnic groups. Consequently, the show, much like the election, often humanizes poor White Americans by dehumanizing Americans of different racial ethnicities. For instance, anti-Black racism and the perpetuation of systematic inequality is fostered through stereotypical representations of the magical negro trope, hyper-sexualization of Black boys and girls, hyperviolence, and the lack of vulnerability of Black boys. I argue that the use of these tropes serves the purpose of presenting Black characters as a low standard to measure the humanity of White characters. To better understand how popular media is conveying contemporary stereotypes of Black people, I conduct a comparative analysis of the shows Shameless and The Chi.

Methodology I watched and carefully analyzed each season of both shows, nine seasons for Shameless and one at the time of writing this chapter for The Chi. Each episode for both shows runs just under one hour. Three major themes emerged while watching Shameless that were particularly salient during specific episodes and seasons. Those themes centered on (1) the overemphasis on violence involving Black boys, (2) the exoticism and hypersexuality of Black women and girls and (3) the lack of vulnerability for Black boys. Because the sample size for Shameless is significantly larger than that of The Chi, it occupies a substantial portion of the body of the text in comparison with The Chi. Thus, all the themes discovered while watching Shameless were not present in The Chi. The discussion of The Chi appears toward the end of the chapter and analyzes how that show’s writers engage the violence of Black boys and how they handle it emotionally (i.e., themes 1 and 3), in comparison to how these concepts are addressed in Shameless.

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Findings Super-Predators as Magical Negroes A consistent theme borne out in Shameless is the hyperviolence of Black men and boys. Given that Chicago’s South Side has often been noted in popular media and scholarly research as one of the most dangerous areas in the United States, this fact alone is not surprising. South Chicago is an area that experiences high frequencies of shootings and homicides, with young Black men as both predominant perpetrators and victims of these crimes. Thus, for viewers of the show, it makes sense that given its setting, some violent displays are present. However, these acts perpetrated by Black men and boys occupy a proportion of space incommensurate with their overall role in the show. Moreover, the display of violence in the show by Black men and boys and the acting out of other problematic racial tropes have no significant place in the show other than the reaction that they engender in the central White protagonists. Said differently, the placement of these events in the show only serve the ultimate purpose of triggering the maturation and development of the leading White characters. The "magic negro" is a caricature in film and popular media that refers to a Black character whose only existence is to help a main White character reach some transcendence (Hughey 2009). Filmmaker Spike Lee has described Michael Clarke Duncan’s John Coffey in The Green Mile and Will Smith’s Bagger Vance as examples of such characters. The primary critique of the placement of these characters in media is that the only real purpose they serve is for the character development of the White protagonist. Several Black characters that appear in Shameless, while not magical, can be argued to fulfill similar roles. Ethan Cutkosky’s character Carl Gallagher often finds himself in the company of Black people; as classmates, as employers in the underground economy, as friends, mentors, and love interests. Carl first appears as a kid engaged in various mischievous and sometimes criminal acts; therefore, it is not surprising that he lands himself in a juvenile detention center. Here he meets his best friend and short time bodyguard Nick—a large Black young man much older than Carl. Nick's presence at first allows Carl the opportunity to reap substantial profits by embodying the typical stereotype of Black men as mindless, hyper-aggressive brutes. He uses words sparingly, is menacing, large, dark-skinned, and all too willing to use brutality to achieve the goals that Carl envisions. As a child, his crack-addicted father betrayed him by selling his bike to purchase drugs. Nick took vicious vengeance out on his father, landing him in a juvenile correctional facility. So much of Nick’s story deserves further elaboration—from the consequences of the crack


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cocaine epidemic as it pertains to Black families (Alexander 2010), to the lasting effects of trauma and the failures of the penile system to provide rehabilitation for youth offenders (Bernstein 2011; Rios 2011). Yet, none of these issues are explored with the gravitas they deserve. Even his backstory, as summarized above, is discussed between the Gallagher family almost passingly and never revisited. He is portrayed as a Frankenstein like figure; his body the locus of exploitation for the maniacal mind of Carl. When he does make his own decision, it ends terribly for everyone involved. Nick becomes obsessed when he sees a much younger Black boy riding a bike that strongly resembles the one his father once sold to feed his addiction. He makes up his mind that there must be some form of retribution for him to retrieve his "respect" (Season 6, Episode 6). Ultimately, he recovers that respect by way of a hammer to the body of the young boy and waits calmly on the steps of the boy’s home for the police to arrive. Explanations of Black violence carried out “in search of respect” (Bourgois 2003) or to adhere to some esoteric “code of the street” (Anderson 1999) have been well developed within the sociological literature. What these scholars have concluded is that these acts are often not as simple as society would assume or are led to believe, and often are layered with different levels of complex street politics. Bourgois (2003) asserted that a history of US colonization and deindustrialization had alienated young Puerto Rican and Black men from the rest of mainstream society. This alienation excluded them from opportunities to adopt middle-class norms needed to function in a changing economy more focused on industries of service than manufacturing. This process generated engagement with the underground drug economy where violence acts as a reasonable social control for an illicit business trade (Bourgois 2003). Nick assuredly exhibits antisocial traits and even says to Carl that he “ain’t good with people” while announcing plans to own and work a farm in the future to achieve peace in true solitary fashion (Season 6, Episode 6). The show writers neglect to fully engage the origin of these traits and provide viewers more insight into what exactly may have led him to such a violent act for such a seemingly small offense. As a result, this portrayal reproduces beliefs held by many that young Black men, who have been victims of structural racism and mass incarceration, are inherently temperamental and prone to act without serious reflection. Moreover, the horror that Nick’s action engendered in Carl, a character who had repeatedly shown a lack of moral reflection himself up until this point, has a magnifying effect. The scene showing Carl’s failure at being the voice of reason presents troubled White boys as people who are flawed but still redeemable while portraying similarly placed Black boys as

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people who cannot escape their pathology. While Carl feels sincere regret and sorrow for the boy and his family, he anguishes at the loss of a bond and friendship with Nick. Viewers begin to see a more human side of Carl that starts with financial sacrifice for the wellbeing of his family. Threatened with the loss and sale of their home, he liquidates his entire savings to purchase the house. Despite this sacrifice, his attempts to cope with trauma prove unsuccessful until a discussion with his sister Fiona’s boyfriend Sean leads him to finally embrace the gravity of the event concerning Nick. Carl embarks on a journey for a bond to replace the one he lost and more importantly, to find purpose in life.

Black Exoticism and Failed Interracial Love Carl’s journey leads him to a brief intimate relationship with Dominique Winslow, a young Black girl who exposes his humanity even further for viewers. Carl falls in unrequited love with Dominique as he affectionately tries to win over the affections of her and her overprotective father. This endeavor proves to be a success masked in failure as he finds Dominique to be promiscuous and shamelessly unfaithful. The cumulative heartbreak from experiences with Nick and Dominique lead Carl on a mission for self-actualization. Dominique’s father provides much-needed mentorship for this mission that culminates with Carl’s entry into military school where he finds discipline and purpose. Lewis Gordon might describe Carl’s escapades with Nick and Dominique as Black exoticism (Gordon 1995). This exoticism is a form of anti-Blackness that masks itself as a love of Black people to evade the scorn of Whiteness. Of this Gordon writes: There is a sense in which the immersion into Blackness is the desire to be protected from human beings [italics original]. For Black eyes represent a form of absence of human presence in anti-black situations. The eyes that are evaded are the eyes that matter, the eyes that judge; like Freud’s notion of the patriarchal beard, white flesh becomes the point of view that determines authority and reality. Whoever desires to be protected from those eyes accepts the core assumption of anti-blackness—the supremacy of whiteness (118).

Carl and his family have been denied many of the material benefits of Whiteness, which leads them to reject the affirmation of the larger, middleclass White world. However, this rejection is false and Carl’s actions after his concluding encounters with Nick, Dominique, and Black drug dealers


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he worked for, demonstrate that he still seeks recognition and belonging in that world. After Carl finds his purpose and with it, greater recognition from the world that shunned him, viewers see nor hear anything more of Dominique or Nick. Presumably, they have served their purpose in his development and are no longer of use to the show. Interracial relationships like Carl and Dominique’s are a dominant focus of the show. Here viewers get to explore not only the dynamics of interracial relationships in traditional cisgender pairings, but the writers also show more nuance by examining the dynamics of these relationships as they intersect with race, class, sex, and sexuality. They explore a multitude of pairings that include relationships between Black men and White women, White men and Black women, Black men and White men, and Black women and White women. Initially, the inclusion of these pairings appears progressive. However, just as there have been documented charges of racism and anti-Blackness within the Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer plus (LGBTQ+) community, the nature of these relationships in the show likewise displays anti-Black depictions of Black partners in each of the pairings. Black hyper-violence and hypersexuality are consistent themes throughout the display of interracial couples. Moreover, traditional ethnoracial understandings of Blackness and gender (see Curry 2017) are borne out in these relationships that negate the progress gained through such multilayered partnerships. The most observed interracial relationship in the show is that between Shanola Hampton’s character Veronica (hereafter referred to as Vee) and Kevin. Vee is the only Black person with a recurring role throughout the show’s existence. 1 In many ways, their union is a picture of the potential of full integration and fairness in US American society among Blacks and Whites and men and women. Madly in love, they share a business establishment and work together, while also sharing in the reproductive labor of rearing children, with Kevin at times bearing most of the responsibility. Thus, for viewers, this relationship confirms the sociologist Milton Gordon’s (1964) theory that the highest form of assimilation is interracial marriage. Although Kevin and Vee are not legally married, their union may be considered a "common law marriage." Kevin’s legal betrothal to a White woman he dated before meeting Vee acts as a roadblock to

1 Other Black characters are cast, but Shanola Hampton's character has a role in each season and nearly every episode of the show's nine seasons. Liam Gallagher is a Black character who is played by two different actors throughout the show's existence and only begins to play a prominent role in later seasons as his character gets older.

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legitimate nuptials for the couple. Upon seeing a picture of this woman, Vee remarks “She’s beautiful” in awe (Season 1, Episode 5). While beautiful at times, Vee and Kevin’s relationship at other times resembles a depiction of Fanon’s ([1952] 2008) critique of Mayotte Capecia’s I Am a Martinican Woman and her second book The White Negress. The first book was an autobiographical novel and the winner of the 1949 Grand Prix Litteraire des Antilles (Gordon 2015). The second book was a follow-up novel to the first and largely engaged the same themes as the first. In these books, Capecia expresses her undying love for a White man and her desire to be recognized by him. In his critique, Fanon actively engages the pursuit, by Blacks, of White love for Whiteness' sake (Gordon 2015). Fanon writes, "Mayotte loves a White man unconditionally. He is her lord. She asks for nothing, demands nothing, except for a little Whiteness in her life ([1952] 2008:25).” Citing her words, he writes, “I would have liked to marry, but with a White man. Only, a colored woman is never quite respectable in the eyes of a White man—even if he loves her (Capecia as cited by Fanon [1952] 2008:25).” Though Kevin loves Vee dearly, his situation with his legal White wife inhibits him from making a “respectable” woman out of Vee 2. In many ways, Vee and Kevin are much like Mayotte and her White lover. Vee feels certain insecurity about her position in Kevin's life that materializes in multiple events. Vee subordinates her plans to marry by settling for a faux marriage celebration at The Alibi Room, the bar she and Kevin own and operate. Interracial marriage between White men and Black women has been sparse throughout history 3. While interracial relations between the groups have occurred consistently, these relations have not often ended in legal unions with material implications. 4 Vee’s failure at this juncture to legally wed Kevin is reflective of a much longer history of White men engaging in sexual relationships with Black women while denying them a more concrete commitment (Caldwell 2007). Caldwell, in her study of 2 Here I play on the adage that suggests that men can make “respectable” women out of their mates by marrying them. The saying is intensified when one considers race, class, and gender. Vee's mother, when discussing her late father's wish for her to one day be married, tells that he left money for this occasion because “he thought it might keep you from being somebody’s baby mama” (a term often associated with poor Black mothers). 3 Pew (2015) reports that among minorities, Black women, at 12% of newlyweds, are the least likely to intermarry. 4 These material implications that I speak of consist of power of attorney and the ability to make decisions if a loved one falls ill and inheritance of property if one’s partner is deceased, among other benefits.


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Brazilian women, discusses the psychological effects and depressed feelings of self-worth that become imbued and internalized by Black women. The birth of Kevin and Vee’s twin daughters enhance frustrations within their relationship. The portrayal of this strain, quite distinctively, improves Kevin’s image to the detriment of Vee’s. She is displayed in heated competition with her Black infant daughters for the affection of her White lover. Contrarily, Kevin is portrayed as loving, compassionate, and willing to shoulder the burden of bringing up high functioning young girls. While Kevin promotes positive images of successful Black women like Serena and Venus Williams, Vee is depicted lamenting the newfound struggles in their sex lives. After a scene where Vee fails to please the twins, she forces the children into Kevin’s arms and charges out their home aggressively. To Vee’s dismay, Kevin thrives as a primary caretaker. Frustrated because he is more focused on parenting than attending to her sexual desires, she angrily asserts, "You're more into the babies than you are me…Bet you if they were here sucking your dick, you'd be more into it (Season 5, Episode 1)." Although this remark is incredibly troubling, on the surface, it is indicative of struggles new parents face when vying for each other’s attention while balancing new responsibilities (Hochschild 2012). However, at its core, Vee’s sexualization of her children in reference to their father reflects insecurity and jealousy with anti-Black underpinnings. Her anxiety concerning the stability of her hold on her White mate is exacerbated by the fear of losing him to an ever-lighter, more beautiful woman. Reminiscent of her expression while viewing Kevin’s wife that caused her to remark, "She's beautiful," her bi-racial children similarly threaten her union, injure her self-esteem and make her question her self-worth. Vee’s experiences are reflective of contemporary racial realities. For example, in her examination of the hierarchy of desire concerning racialized women in Brazil, Caldwell (2007) finds that White women or Blanco women are represented as the pinnacle of womanhood and are most desired. Next follows mixed race or colored women, leaving Black women with darker skin shades as the least desired among all. Applying this framework to Shameless, Vee risks being the least desirable among the ladies in Kevin's life, and since her identity is tied to her relationship with Kevin, in losing him, she risks losing herself. The struggles in Kevin and Vee’s relationship lead the audience to see the best of Kevin while simultaneously portraying the worst of Vee. At one point, Vee strikes their daughters Gemma and Amy because they bite her while breastfeeding. Contrarily, Kevin researches a solution to make the babies more receptive to breastfeeding. This sequence of events begins his quest of taking a far greater interest in realizing the humanity of women, in

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turn revealing his maturation and humanity. The culmination of this journey for Kevin is his refusal to speak at a "Me Too" rally, where he was asked to speak. He eventually refuses because he believes that this would take away from the depth of the hardships the women endured, again placing men at the center of women’s issues. 5

Me Too: Unless You’re a Black Boy The inclusion of “Me Too” is a high point in the series especially given the political climate under which the season that contained the episode aired. The “Me Too” and “Times Up” moment saw many high-level men, including Harvey Weinstein, former Minnesota senator Al Frankel, and comedian Bill Cosby, forced to account for their sexual indiscretions against women. The “Me Too” movement, however, has not been without critique, with the most piercing coming from its founder Tarana Burke (Riley 2018). Media focus on sexual harassment and sexual misconduct among celebrities, according to Burke, had mostly obscured the intersectional framework upon which Burke had initially built her critique of western patriarchy. Almost echoing Angela Davis’ (1981) analysis in Women, Race and Class, Burke has located poverty among women from marginalized communities as a source of powerlessness that leads to vulnerability to sexual assault. Thus, women of color, who are probably the most impoverished demographic in US society, are consequently most susceptible to sexual violence and impropriety. This perspective is not missed amongst the show’s writers. Their portrayal of “Me Too” appears to be thoroughly inclusive with accounts from women of all backgrounds. Vee even gives an account to Kevin of her battles with sexual harassment that underscore the ubiquitous reality of sexual harassment that many, if not most, women experience. All these factors make it ironic that, in the same season that gives such appropriate high-level focus to the issue of sexual violence, they handle the sexual victimization of someone in the show so carelessly. Liam Gallagher is the youngest in the family and is unique from the rest in the fact that he is mixed race and identifies as Black. After being expelled from a private school that he could attend due to tokenism, he is forced back into the failing Chicago public school system. It is here that he is accosted by Sissy, an older White girl and student at his new school and forced to have sex in a janitor’s closet. This experience is confusing and 5

Kevin had been invited to speak at this event after taking an active role in eliminating sexual harassment of women in his bar. He initially was delighted to speak at this event and put a lot of effort into crafting his speech.

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potentially traumatic for Liam. He rushes home and barges into the bathroom with his older brother Phillip (hereafter referred to as Lip). The conversation they engage in reveals the perplexing nature that early entry into sexual relations has among young boys and Black boys specifically. Liam: Lip: Liam: Lip: Liam:

How long are you going to be in here? I need to wash my junk. I think I had sex with a trashy girl. What do you mean you think? It was pretty dark. I couldn’t tell. How trashy we talking? Pretty trashy (Season 9 Episode 5).

Liam’s insistence to Lip that he thinks he had sex is telling. Research demonstrates that adolescent boys experience inter-partner violence (IPV), abuse, and sexual assault at rates similar to young girls. 6 A significant difference, however, is that many boys often do not recognize these events as abuse or sexual assault (Orenstein 2018; Curry 2017). Not identifying these events as such, however, does not preclude the boys from the trauma and psychological consequences often associated with them. Liam, like many young boys in society, was not a willing participant in the sexual act he was engaged in, yet he and his family never approach anything remotely close to describing this event as rape (which the evidence seems to suggest it was). The more immediate concern is the misogynistic "trashiness" of the girl and the pregnancy that she attempts to impose on Liam. Liam, despite being distraught and overwhelmed, is never afforded the protections of a victim or survivor. His concerns are instead treated superficially as merely an attempt to avoid the entanglements of early fatherhood. This point becomes more evident when his sister Debbie instructs Carl to "keep an eye on them. Make sure they don't bone anymore" as if any of the behavior Liam has exhibited since the incident suggests that he's interested in that endeavor. Curry (2017) might argue that the situation surrounding Liam reflects what he calls anti-Black misandry. For Curry, anti-Black misandry is characterized by the widespread perception of Black males as hyperviolent, hypermasculine, and hypersexual while downplaying their 6 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience sexual violence in physical contact, while 1 in 14 men have been forced to penetrate (the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s expanded definition of rape to include men) in their lifetimes. Women still bear the brunt of sexual victimization, but this data suggests that men have been and are also victims of sex crimes. Data is available at

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humanity and vulnerability. Importantly, these views do not differentiate adult Black men from adolescent boys. Both are seen as equally susceptible to such characteristics. Curry argues that Black boys are not afforded victimhood status beyond their death and dying despite evidence that demonstrates that they suffer from sexual abuse and its psychological consequences at levels far higher than is given attention to in mainstream society. Even in the instance of rape, Black boys are viewed as implicitly consenting (Orenstein 2018; Curry 2017; McGuire 2011; Davis 1981). 7 This assertion is found in Debbie’s warning to Carl to prevent Liam and Sissy from “boning again” even when it’s clear that Liam did not welcome the first encounter. While some may argue that the portrayal of Liam's sexual assault is not an example of anti-Black misandry but a more general form of misandry that young men and boys overall face, other depictions of potential sexual impropriety involving women victimizing men are markedly distinct. Both Frank Gallagher, the father of the family, and Lip experience circumstances of victimization by women. However, both Frank and Lip are at least afforded the possibility of victimhood status that Liam is not granted. Frank was taken advantage of early in the series by his once girlfriend, Sheila's daughter Karen. Karen did this to get back her religious father, who had previously embarrassed her about her sexual activity. However, what's most important about this situation is the reaction that Frank receives from Sheila upon learning about this ordeal during an investigation of pedophilia in the case of Frank and Karen. When Frank goes to discuss matters with Sheila, he finds her sobbing, saying to him: Sheila: Frank: Sheila:

Taking advantage of somebody so vulnerable. You poor thing [sobbing]. Karen told the authorities everything. Define everything. You came home from a work-related injury, barely conscious from the pain pills that the doctors prescribed, in need of kindness and care. And instead, Karen lured you into the basement and did what she did to you [crying profusely] (Season 2, Episode 5).

7 See Angela Davis’s (1981) Women, Race & Class for a review of scholarly discussions by White feminist on Emmet Till’s implicit misogyny and predation despite being a victim to racialized terror. Also, see Danielle McGuire's (2011) analysis of Black men charged with rape for engaging in sexual relationships that they were coerced into. It was believed that these men could not have been forced because they must have wanted to sleep with these women.


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Sheila further confirms that Frank was a victim by pleading, "I'm sorry my daughter raped you." The fact that Frank faced much confusion about the event of assault and even admitted to enjoying it is beside the point. The words rape or potential sexual assault was never a part of the lexicon used by any of the characters who knew Liam's experience with Sissy. Lip’s experience was far more complicated than Liam and Frank’s. He engaged in a sexual relationship with one of his college professors. While this relationship would be consensual in most cases, there is always some consternation about the ability of people to consent to someone who has authority over them. Nevertheless, this relationship gets Lip and Helene (the professor) in trouble with the university, for which they must appear before a review board. Though Lip’s status as a student remains in doubt throughout the hearing, it is clear that he is seen as a victim by everyone involved, save for himself. When questioned about the logistics of his relationship with Helene, he offers, "She wasn't taking advantage of me. If that's what you're getting at. I'm not a victim. It was consensual." The board responded, "We're not the enemy Mr. Gallagher" and later added, "we would like to provide you with mental health services to help you cope with this ordeal” (Season 6, Episode 6). While the family worked to help Liam escape a pregnancy he was not responsible for, no one thought of what he may have needed to cope. His mental health was taken for granted. Curry (2017) argues that the sexual abuse afflicted on Black boys and men by women is not taken seriously due to ideas of anti-Black racism that purport that Black males cannot resist vaginal intercourse. These ideas are undergirded by a propensity to view Black males as hypersexualized and in Liam's case, willing participants even if others take advantage of them. While White males, like the fictional Frank and Lip, may deal with some of the assumptions of a patriarchal system that harms both men and women, their status as human beings, by virtue of being White, afford them some comfort when they experience trauma. Blacks, not seen as human beings, are viewed as being incapable of suffering.

White South Side and Black South Side Black culture and even Black violence are displayed markedly different in The Chi from how it appears in Shameless. Whereas characters such as Nick are out in search of respect, which leads to him brutally murdering a young boy, the violence in The Chi is at times complex, multilayered, and even incidental. The first season centers around the murder of a promising high school basketball star named Jason. The death puzzles the neighborhood due to the unwritten politics governing the ghetto

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that suggest that athletes not engaged in street activities such as "gang banging" and drug dealing, are to be protected. This idea alone is progress from what is seen, or not seen, in Shameless. That idea highlights the ability of Black people to develop positive methods for dealing with, not only other people, but themselves. As Jason lay dead on a corner of a known drug dealing outpost, Coogie, a likable, curly afro-haired young boy takes his phone and necklace. One might reasonably question an individual’s decision to steal from a slain person, but one only need to consider the socioeconomic desperation of South Side Chicagoans to find an answer 8. That is not to say that this behavior is desirable or appropriate, but it provides a better understanding of cultural patterns that develop amid overall destitution. At any rate, Coogie is swiftly arrested and questioned about the murder. The arrest provides an opportunity for the character Ronnie, a former love interest of Jason’s mother and a surrogate father to Jason, to get information on Coogie from the arresting officer Detective Cruz. Ronnie tracks down Coogie, shooting him in confused rage. This event becomes the catalyst for several other events that follow. Coogie’s older brother Brandon, a skilled Chef who seemingly takes two steps backward for every step forward, personally investigates his brother’s murder. He is subsequently led to Ronnie by Kevin, who initially withheld that he witnessed Ronnie kill Coogie. Kevin is a highly intelligent middle school aged boy with compassion for others but a keen understanding of the street politics that govern. The story takes a sad turn when the promising Kevin mistakenly shoots and wounds Ronnie after witnessing a fight between him and Brandon. The murder of young, often male children in Chicago is highly publicized. 9 The events discussed up to this point in The Chi, if nothing else, underscore something that is not always picked up on in the media: that these murders have an underplayed political and humanistic element to them. Gang violence is a real concern in society as well as The Chi. However, the proliferation of violence is generated and reproduced through institutional failures in public education, the criminal justice system, and strategies blocking Black people from participating in the economy. Violence is further fostered through perceptions that devalue Black bodies. As a result, not only does law enforcement fail to protect Black communities, 8 See Asante-Muhammed (2017) for an empirical presentation of racial socioeconomic inequality in the city of Chicago. 9 See Madhani (2015) for a story that became popular due to the victim of a particular homicide being nine years of age. His father was a gang member, and the boy was killed viciously by rival gang members.


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anti-Black messaging systematically maintains the oppressive environments that Black people are often confined to. Moreover, the Black individuals who sometimes commit heinous acts are, in many cases, responding to environments which are created via institutional circumstances discussed heretofore. Jill Leovy’s (2015) study of violence in South Central, California produced similar findings. She found that the police employed to service the community abdicated their responsibility to enforce the law or investigate murders of Black youth seriously. Interviews with officers revealed that law officials devalued Black life and understood homicides in the ghetto as instances of murderers killing other murderers. She argues that officers fail to realize that the conditions that exist in urban dwellings are reflective of decades of ambivalence towards Black communities by police departments. This tentativeness of law enforcement created a vacuum of legitimate protection to be filled by vigilantism of community members, often Black men who were cast as protectors (Leovy 2015). Contradicting the officers’ depiction, often individuals not engaged in lawlessness or depravity are killed. Jason and Coogie are fictional versions of Leovy’s nonfictional Bryant Tennelle, who was slain for being mistakenly taken as a gang member. The irony is that both Coogie and Jason’s murders are indicative of the failure of law enforcement. It's later discovered that Jason was murdered after witnessing an illegal gun deal between a crooked Detective and a local gang leader named Trice. Detective Wallace orders Trice to kill Jason to hide the business of him supplying Trice’s gang with weapons to sell and use against their rivals. Coogie's murder is less direct insofar as the well-meaning Detective Cruz regretfully provided Ronnie with confidential information that led him to deduce Coogie’s identity. The Chi gives the audience something that Shameless does not: the context for which the culture of Black violence develops. Moreover, the show's creator Lena Waite, while providing space for structural analysis, also maintains the humanity of the Black characters without depicting any other racial groups as fundamentally inferior. Shameless offers much space for critical structural analysis, but it is this second part of humanizing all races of people involved in the show that this paper argues that the show and its creators John Wells and Paul Abbot lack. This argument is consistent with research on Whiteness and the matriculation of groups such as Italians (Roediger 2005), Jews (Brodkin 1998), and coincidentally Irish folk (Ignatiev 1995; Roediger 2007), from an off-White status to recognition as essentially White people.

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Discussion: Shamelessly White Research on Whiteness in the United States can offer much to the discussion of Shameless. Gallagher is an Irish surname, a name of a people that have a complicated history as new migrants in this country who were not always seen as White but were sometimes pejoratively likened to Blacks (Roediger 2007). The Gallagher family resembles a significant portion of Black families in the hardships they face, including but not limited to intergenerational poverty, experiences with incarceration, teen pregnancy, and single parenthood. Nineteenth-century Irish immigrants were the victims of capitalist exploitation, employed at some of the worst jobs for the lowest of wages (Ignatiev 1995; Roediger 2007). Their employment prospects were so debilitating that they were often compared to those of African slaves with one caveat; they were White. Whiteness and Blackness had been developed concomitantly to denote beauty and ugliness, plentitude and poverty, and in short freedom and slavery (Du Bois 1996; Fanon [1952] 2008). Those deemed Black were property while all those deemed White owned property in the sense that Whiteness itself was a property (Harris 1995). Thus, the inclusion of migrants from the ostracized southern and eastern regions of Europe, such as the Irish, into the paradigm of White provided psychological advantages to ease the pain of economic exploitation and alienation. For some Irish, proximity to Whites in color obscured proximity to Blacks in material stability (Du Bois 1935; Roediger 2007). Whiteness offers a "public and psychological wage," where real wages are absent (Du Bois 1935:700). So, while the Gallagher family is poor—like a disproportionate percentage of Blacks—and exhibit some negative behaviors in response to that poverty—again like some Blacks— they are presented altogether differently from the Black characters they share the screen with. The audience can view the family's imperfections and still come away with an understanding that despite those faults, these people are human beings. The Black characters, in contrast, too often appear inherently pathological. This practice suggests that the White poor are fundamentally different from the Black poor because they are more moral, hardworking individuals, and are victims of their circumstances. On the other hand, the Black poor are shown as their circumstances. The great W.E.B. Du Bois’ entire early career as a sociologist was focused on undermining the biologically determinist myths attached to Blackness (Morris 2015). In his now famous study Philadelphia Negro, he emphasized the impact of sociological factors such as migration, poverty, family structure, and drug and alcohol use and abuse on the substandard


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living conditions of African Americans (Du Bois 1996). He argued that the outcomes of African Americans living under such conditions were not much different from those of Whites living in similar circumstances. Like Du Bois in Philadelphia, Sampson’s (2012) study of Chicago finds that neighborhoods in the city with the highest levels of concentrated poverty also have the highest concentrations of violence and social failure. However, he finds that poverty and underdevelopment are related everywhere on the planet; be it the Blackest neighborhoods of Chicago or the Whitest European cities. The danger in the representation of a show like Shameless is that the audience does not get to see these contexts examined in the studies above, only consuming the outcomes, which lead to the reproduction of perverse and false conclusions.

Conclusion: Political Significance of Media Representations The presentation of White and Black humanity in Shameless should not be viewed as pure fictitious entertainment. The pervasiveness of mass media in our everyday lives has myriad implications. The images we consume spill over into our private discussions, our spending habits, and possibly even our political views. Shameless helps to generate a muchneeded debate about the effects of globalization and urbanization on poor, working-class Americans. It also exposes a contradiction in mainstream political media and scholarly research. That contradiction is that for all the focus on White Americans, a segment of Whites has been undervalued, obscured, and underrepresented. The experiences and viewpoints of middleclass White Americans are given disproportionate space while the White poor are often an afterthought. This reality is part of the reason for the shock that the nation experienced upon learning of increasing suicides and drug overdoses by what we have all been led to believe is the most privileged demographic in Western society. It may also be a contributing factor for why this demographic seemingly gravitated to then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election. Trump confirmed their existence, which many before denied. Thus, Shameless makes a significant contribution. However, this contribution comes amidst the dehumanization of a demographic that has been historically mischaracterized and misrepresented in popular media. Portrayals of Black people as hyperviolent and hypersexual, without providing room for nuance even if those things are true, removes agency from them and the potential for growth. As Lewis Gordon offers:

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In ordinary encounters, we admit limited knowledge of individuals who may occupy these roles or social identities. The encounters become skewed, however, when we presume complete knowledge by virtue of individuals who exemplify an identity. The schism between identity and being is destroyed, and the result is a necessary being, an overdetermined, “ontological” reality. To see someone this way is to close off possibilities (2015:49).

The display of Black people in Shameless is consistent with observations made by critical Whiteness scholars and scholars of anti-Blackness. These people are portrayed in a negative light, compatible with anti-Black tropes, as a means to measure the humanity of Whites. Whites are measured by their distance from Blacks, even when they exhibit similar traits. Consequently, when viewers see hyperviolent and hypersexual White characters like Carl and Fiona Gallagher, their issues are displayed with a particular nuance that indicates to viewers that they have the potential to transcend past these limitations. To the extent that media may play a role in shaping the perceptions of the citizenry, this potential must be challenged and critiqued. Research has demonstrated that perceptions regarding marginalized populations are related to political attitudes concerning various policy preferences. Specifically, negative perceptions of Black Americans are associated with opposition to several race-based and anti-poverty programs such as affirmative action (Kinder and Sanders 1996), busing for school integration (Bobo 1983) and welfare (Gilens 1999). This association remains even when controlling for social class and political ideology. Lopez (2014) argues that the demonization and scapegoating of marginalized populations like Black and Latinx Americans often leads poor Whites to endorse political preferences that work against their own class interests. Up against the seemingly infinite resources of the elite, the best strategy for marginalized populations is building strong coalitions based on shared interests. Efforts must be made to merge the best of what is offered by Shameless and The Chi to guide our understanding of one another. These efforts lead us to the conclusion that despite important racial distinctions, we are far more similar than we know.


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References Alexander, Michelle. 2010. The New Jim Crow. New York: The New Press. Anderson, Elijah. 1999. Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City. New York: W.W. Norton. Asante-Muhammed, Dedrick. 2017. “Racial Wealth Divide in Chicago.” Prosperity Now, formerly CFED (Corporation for Enterprise Development), January. Retrieved January 2, 2020 ( Bernstein, Nell. 2014. Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison. New York: The New Press. Blake, John. 2016. “This is What 'Whitelash' Looks Like.” CNN, November 11. Retrieved January 2, 2020 ( Bobo, Lawrence. 1983. “Whites’ Opposition to Busing: Symbolic Racism or Realistic Group Conflict?” Journal of Personal Responsibility and Social Psychology 45:1196-1210. Bourgois, Phillipe. 2003. In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. New York: Cambridge University Press. Brodkin, Karen. 1998. How Jews Became White Folks & What that says about Race in America. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Caldwell, Kia Lilly. 2007. Negras in Brazil: Re-envisioning Black Women, Citizenship, and the Politics of Identity. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Curry, Tommy J. 2017. The Man-Not: Race, Class, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Davis, Angela. 1981. Women, Race & Class. New York: Vintage Press. Du Bois, W.E.B. 1935. Black Reconstruction in America. New York: The Free Press. —. 1996. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Fanon, Franz. 1952 [2008]. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press. Gilens, Martin. 1999. Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Gordon, Lewis R. 1995. Bad Faith and AntiBlack Racism. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books. —. 2015. What Fanon Said. New York: Ford University Press. Gordon, Milton. 1964. Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origin. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Harris, Cheryl I. 1995. “Whiteness as Property.” Pp. 276-291 in Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement, edited by Kimberle Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, Gary Peller, and Kendall Thomas. New York: The New Press. Hochschild, Arlie with Annie Machung. 2012. The Second Shift: Working Families and the Revolution at Home. New York: Penguin Books. Hughey, Matthew. 2009. “Cinethetic Racism: White Redemption and Black Stereotypes in ‘Magical Negro’ Films.” Social Problems 25(3):543-577. Ignatiev, Noel. 1995. How the Irish Became White. United Kingdom: Routledge. Kinder, Donald R. and Lynn M. Sanders. 1996. Divided by Color: Racial Politics and Democratic Ideals. University of Chicago Press: Chicago. Lopez, Ian Haney. 2014. Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class. New York: Oxford University Press. Leovy, Jill. 2015. Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America. New York: Spiegel and Grau. Madhani, Aamer. 2015. “Chicago lays to rest boy, 9, killed for his father’s alleged gang ties.” November 10. Retrieved January 3, 2020 ( McGuire, Danielle L. 2011. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. New York: Vintage Books. Morris, Aldon. 2015. The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology. Oakland, CA: University of California Press. Orenstein, Peggy. 2018. “Boys Often Don’t Recognize When They’ve Been Sexually Assaulted.” March 8. Retrieved January 2, 2020 ( Quinones, Sam. 2014. Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. Riley, Rochelle. 2018. “#MeToo Founder Tarana Burke Blasts the Movement for Ignoring Poor Women.” The Detroit Free Press, November 15. Retrieved November 2, 2019 ( Rios, Victor M. 2011. Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys. New York: New York University Press. Roediger, David. 2005. Working Towards Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White. New York: Basic Books.


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Roediger, David. 2007. The Wages of Whiteness. London: Verso. Sampson, Robert J. 2012. Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Schmitt, John, Elise Gould, and Josh Bivens. 2018 “America’s SlowMotion Wage Crisis: Four Decades of Slow and Unequal Growth.” Economic Policy Institute, September 13. Retrieved November 3, 2019 ( Stein, Elizabeth M., Keith P. Ganuso, Donna C. Ugboaja, and Patrick L. Remington. 2017. “The Epidemic of Despair among White Americans: Trends in the Leading Causes of Premature Death, 1999-2015.” American Journal of Public Health, 107(10):1541-1547. Wang, Wendy. 2015. “Interracial Marriage: Who is ‘Marrying Out’?” Pew Research Center, June 12. Retrieved November 3, 2019 ( West, Cornel. 2016. “Goodbye, American Neoliberalism. A New Era is Here.” The Guardian, November 17. Retrieved November 3, 2019 (



On the pilot of Shameless, in 2011, one of the primary characters, Phillip (“Lip”) Gallagher, finds a magazine full of naked men behind his brother, Ian’s, dresser. What follows is a brief period of resistance from Lip, who is not ready to accept that his brother is gay. By the end of the episode, however, Lip has accepted his brother’s sexuality. The rest of the family follows suit. In fact, Ian’s sexuality is portrayed as a non-issue with his siblings and most every other character in the Shameless universe. This does not mean, however, that representations of gayness in Shameless, nor being a gay character in the show, is without issue. Representations of queer 1 people in popular television and film often align with what sexualities scholars refer to as a “post-gay” narrative (see Coleman-Fountain 2014; Russell, Clarket, and Clary 2009). Here, social, political, and legal advances over the last decade are used as evidence that homophobia is a thing of the past, and that the United States has achieved what Gay Liberationists set out to accomplish decades earlier: equality. Television shows are rife with such examples. Here, queer television characters are fully integrated into their workplace, families, and schools, with little—aside from the occasional homophobic bully—conflict. The post-gay narrative obscures an important dimension of contemporary queer politics: acceptance is often conditional, situational, and contingent on race, class, and gender privilege (Fields 2001; Martin et al. 2010; Meyer 2015). Acceptance is also tied to an ability to be a “good gay citizen” who lives a middle-class lifestyle, is gender normative, and is non-threatening to heterosexuality (Duggan 2002; Richardson 2009). To 1 In this paper we use “queer” as an umbrella term to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

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this end, the progress of queer people in the contemporary United States is “incomplete” as their acceptance is tied to gender normativity, a commitment to marriage, and a disdain for that which makes queer people stand apart from heterosexuals (Fetner 2016; Seidman 2002). Other dimensions of incompleteness include continued stereotypical and degrading images of queer people in popular culture, and the persistence of subtle and/or invisible forms of homophobia and heterosexism (Gross 2001; Poole 2014). To date, sexualities researchers have considered evidence of this “incompleteness” in the lives of LGBs and their parents. Fields (2001) provides an example of the latter. She suggests that parents “accept” their lesbian, gay, and bisexual children to the extent that they are gender normative and committed to heteronormative ritual (e.g., marriage). Queer people, by contrast, often feel the need to do identity work (Orne 2011, 2013) and emotion work (Flockhart 2019) to preserve relationships with family. There has been less research on the ways in which incompleteness is present in popular television and film. In this chapter we argue that the television show Shameless reflects and reinforces the incompleteness of contemporary LGBTQ+ Acceptance.

Organization In what follows, we first position Shameless within the larger culture of LGBTQ+ representation on television and film. Next, we show how Shameless’ depiction of Ian, and the men with whom he forms romantic relationships, exemplifies the incompleteness of contemporary queer acceptance. To do so, we focus on an important dimension of incompleteness: showing a disdain for gender non-normativity, especially effeminacy (Connell 1995). Showing contempt for effeminacy in the Shameless universe, we argue, is illustrated through the social psychological process of “distancing” (Kusenbach 2009; Siegel, Lune, and Meyer 1998). More specifically, Ian, Mickey, Trevor, and Caleb (Ian’s romantic interests) use violence (threats of violence and actual violence) and sex to distance themselves from effeminacy. Next, we turn to the use of humor, an overlooked component of incomplete acceptance. Characters in Shameless use humor in three ways: (1) to distance themselves from effeminacy, (2) to quell discomfort with non-heterosexuality, (3) and finally, when used by heterosexual characters, to demonstrate acceptance of queer characters. Ultimately, distancing from effeminacy and using humor reflect another important dimension of incompleteness in the contemporary LGBTQ+ Movement: it is often subtle or invisible—something we explore more fully in the conclusion.


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In the conclusion we highlight the ways that Shameless at once reinforces homophobia while also providing audiences with a more diverse depiction and understanding of the contemporary queer experience. In this sense, Shameless succeeds and fails. Its failure comes in the form of “subtle homophobia.” We suggest that, like racism, the dominant form of homophobia in television has become less overt. The shift from overt to covert forms of homophobia has two important consequences. First, it blinds people to the ways that homophobia persists in the United States. Second, and related, the subtlety of homophobia in television contributes to a larger narrative of “post-gay” equality—the belief that homophobia is, for the most part, a thing of the past. While Shameless does at times reinforce this post-gay narrative, it also provides a more diverse depiction of the contemporary queer experience—a feature that is lacking in many other popular television shows.

The Framing of Queer Characters in American Television During the mid-1900s, mainstream American media was practically devoid of gay and lesbian representations. But, a significantly new sense of community and empowerment among gays and lesbians formed with the lesbian and gay liberation movement of the 1960s-1980s. In response, there was an increased presence of gays in the media (Gross 2001). Although queer people are more frequently included in American television compared to the past, they are still underrepresented, and when represented, portrayals often rely on stereotypes that do not capture the complexity of their experiences (Gross 2001). Instead, portrayals of gay characters in popular television tend to be middle- or upper-middle-class, gender normative, and heteronormative (Poole 2014). Many of the lesbians portrayed in television are attractive, at least middle-class, and relatively stable in their relationships. Additionally, they are often portrayed as objects for the male gaze. For example, Nancy on Roseanne, who dated models, was consistently the subject of sexual jokes by male characters. Similarly, Brittany and Santana, both attractive cheerleaders on Glee, were often the targets of chauvinistic comments. So, while the media offers more depictions of queer characters, and the visibility of queerness is ever-increasing in television and film, the representations are limited and lack complexity for the actual lived experiences of queer characters (Gross 2001). Said another way, contemporary illustrations of queer characters reflect the incompleteness of queer acceptance in its failure to provide a diverse and complex view of queerness.

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Another cornerstone of incompleteness—in addition to the lack of diverse queer representation—is the normalizing of queer people and samesex relationships (Fields 2001). Same-sex couples in American television often purport values and family structure similar to heterosexuals; Bersani (1995) calls this a “heterosexualising of homosexuality.” Here, gay couples who fulfill roles consistent with heteronormative standards of gender expression and family structure, including being monogamous, arguing over typical couple issues (e.g., domestic work), adopting children, getting married, and fulfilling traditional gender roles, are happy and more visible in television (Poole 2014). Examples of this “heterosexualising” of samesex relationships and characters can be seen in Cam and Mitchell of Modern Family, who are married and adopt a child; Stef and Lena of The Fosters, who are married and adopt, foster, and raise several children; Patrick and Chad of American Horror Story, who are married and establish a relationship with very gendered norms; and Bob and Lee of Desperate Housewives, who squabble like a stereotypical old married (heterosexual) couple. In contrast, same-sex couples who do not meet these standards, or who “queer” their relationships, are often portrayed as unhappy and unfulfilled (Poole 2014). For example, on Will and Grace, Will is constantly dating and/or longingly and often desperately looking for a long-term partner—something that is used as comedic relief for audiences. Similarly, Connor from How to Get Away with Murder, is frequently portrayed as unfulfilled by one-night-stands. Popular television, then, makes room for queer identities and relationships in a way that is comfortable for viewers, and that does not threaten traditional views of masculinity, the gendered power structure, or the patriarchy. These “unhappy” gay characters leave viewers with the idea that if homosexuality mirrors prototypical heterosexuality, if the relationship is not “queered,” then the queer characters are happy. In sum, while there has been an increase in the presence of queer characters, this presence is not without problems. Queer characters are often portrayed as middle-class, gender normative, and heteronormative. Moreover, those characters whom—and relationships that—emphasize difference from heterosexuals are shown as unhappy or used as comedic relief. This, however, reflects an important feature of the incomplete LGBTQ+ Acceptance: Increasingly, acceptance is tied to an ability to demonstrate sameness to heterosexuals while minimizing difference. In the next section, we discuss how this plays out among gay characters in Shameless.


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Disdain for Effeminacy and “Distancing” The dominant narrative of the contemporary LGBTQ+ Movement promises acceptance to the extent that queer people demonstrate sameness to heterosexuals and downplay their difference (Hennen 2008; Kimport 2013). This is not without consequences. If acceptance is dependent on exhibiting sameness to heterosexuals, then queer people will have a vested interest in accentuating sameness to heterosexuals while minimizing those characteristics that make them stand apart. This process is visible among the gay men of Shameless and involves “distancing” oneself from behaviors and identities that could be construed as effeminate.

Distancing For social psychologists (symbolic interactionists, especially), distancing is the work a person does to create a barrier between themselves and those who are stigmatized (Kusenbach 2009). For gay men, especially, this involves demeaning or distancing themselves from femininity (see Connell 1995). In doing so, gay men convey to others that they are “one of the guys” while simultaneously shedding some of the stigma that is associated with being a gay man in the United States (e.g., that gay men are effeminate) (Fields 2001). Two ways gay characters in Shameless distance themselves from effeminacy is through violence and sexual activity. By using these two strategies Ian, and the men he forms relationships with, distance themselves from the stigma associated with being a gay man, and especially, the association between gay men and effeminacy. These two forms of distancing, we argue, reflect a larger culture of incomplete LGBTQ+ acceptance in the U.S.

Distancing through Violence In Season 1 of Shameless Ian begins a relationship with Mickey. The relationship starts out sexual and slowly progresses to something romantic. This progression is fraught with tension and violence—something that becomes clear in the first sexual encounter the two have. In this scene, Ian breaks into Mickey’s house to confront him about harassing Ian’s then lover and boss, Kash. The altercation turns sexual following a quick violent struggle. After having sex, both appear unsure about how to proceed. Ian goes in for a kiss. Mickey quickly turns away, saying, “Kiss me and I’ll cut your fucking tongue out.” This type of reaction to emotional intimacy

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between men is repeated quite frequently early on in Mickey and Ian’s relationship. In another scene, Ian admits to Mickey, who is in a juvenile detention center, that he misses him. Mickey responds to this admission by stating, “Say that again and I’ll rip your tongue out of your head.” For Mickey, violence is not only limited to threats. In a subsequent scene Ian demands that Mickey admit he has feelings for Ian. Mickey responds to this request by hitting Ian. Distancing reflects what Schrock and Schwalbe (2009) describe as compensatory manhood acts—the work that marginalized men do to shed stigma and reclaim privilege associated with manhood. An important type of compensatory manhood act for gay men is emphasizing their distance from anything that could be construed as feminine. This is meant to neutralize the stereotype that gay men are like women (Hennen 2008). Though gay men have adopted many strategies to distance themselves from effeminacy, and thereby neutralize the threat that effeminacy poses to their masculinity, violence is one of the most prevalent (see Connell 1995; Mosher and Sirkin 1984). Using threats of violence—and in some cases using actual violence—also serves a psychological function. Perhaps more than any other character in the series, Mickey has the most internalized homophobia. Early in the series Mickey is willing to have a sexual relationship with Ian, but any display of romantic affection (e.g., kissing) or verbal admission of feeling (e.g., Ian saying “I miss you”) is too closely connected with women, and by extension, effeminacy. Using violence, then, is an equalizer for Mickey; it distances him from the association of gay men with effeminacy. Distancing oneself from effeminacy through violence reflects the incompleteness of LGBTQ+ Acceptance. This incompleteness, however, is not the message that is often portrayed by the contemporary LGBTQ+ Rights Movement. As Seidman (2002) notes, there is a tendency for popular culture to give the message that Queer Rights have been achieved and that hardships pertaining to sexuality no longer exist. Shameless’ portrayal of Mickey complicates this narrative as Mickey clearly struggles with his sexuality and is willing to go to extreme lengths (e.g., violence) to distance himself from cultural notions of femininity.

Distancing through Sex Sex is also used as a way for gay characters in Shameless to distance themselves from effeminacy. One way this is accomplished is by distancing oneself from sexual acts that are deemed effeminate. This is apparent in the relationships Ian has with Mickey and Trevor. Mickey, for


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example, is usually the receptive partner during sex with Ian. In one scene between Ian and Mickey, Ian highlights this in a way that is supposed to call into question Mickey’s masculinity. Mickey responds by saying, “Liking what I like [sexually] don’t make me a bitch.” This statement, for Mickey, is meant to separate (i.e., distance) him from the stigma of “bottoming”— when a man is a receptive partner during sex with another man. Distancing oneself from sexual acts considered feminine (e.g., bottoming) is also apparent in Ian’s relationship with Trevor—a trans-man who Ian starts dating in Season 7. In a scene where the two are deciding who will be the “top” or “bottom” during sex both characters simultaneously say, “I’m a top!” Trevor then goes on to say, “I am not getting fucked in the ass!” This is a feeling that Ian shares (for himself). This scene, like the scene with Mickey, highlight an important feature of incompleteness: it may be ok to be gay, but not all gay men, and not all sexual acts, are created equal. Gay men who identify as “bottoms” are seen as inferior to “tops.” Calling attention to a person being a “bottom” is a way to criticize or “police” gay men who have “feminine” qualities (Reilly 2016). Policing masculinity has been documented among heterosexual men and boys. Pascoe (2007), for example, found that high school boys police each other’s masculinity through use of the word “fag.” By calling each other “fags,” boys rebuke one another for non-normative gender expression, or more broadly, anything that they feel is not masculine. One form of policing for gay men is distinguishing between “tops” and “bottoms”—with association to the latter being seen as bad. Policing for gay men, then, is not just about accountability to gender expression, but sexual identity (e.g., being a “top” or a “bottom”) and sexual acts (“topping” or “bottoming” during sex) as well. Such policing reinforces a hierarchy among gay men and also bolsters a larger message: it is ok to be gay so long as you are a “top” or “dominant” partner in the relationship. When one is a bottom, then, compensation may be necessary. Mickey distances himself from the stigma of being a bottom by making it purely a sexual act that does not, as he notes, make him a “bitch.” In contrast, Trevor’s need to distance himself from the effeminacy associated with bottoming is related, in part, to his identity as a trans-man. In a scene where he and Ian are having breakfast, Trevor admits that he would be alright with bottoming if there was not the assumption that he should be the bottom just because he is trans. For Trevor, then, bottoming is not just a sexual act he tries to distance himself from, but also, a threat to his identity as a man. Because there is an expectation that trans-men are more likely to be “bottoms,” and being a receptive partner during sex is associated with women and effeminacy, Trevor distances himself from two

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issues: the effeminacy associated with bottoming, and the expectation that trans-men are more effeminate—and therefore more likely to bottom—than other gay men. The portrayal of Trevor’s and Mickey’s experiences, then, further highlights the incompleteness of queer acceptance by attending to the ways gender identity shapes experience. While gay men (Mickey) and trans-men (Trevor) similarly distance themselves from sexual acts deemed effeminate, Trevor confronts additional barriers related to his gender identity. Just as the use of violence conveys to audiences the way gay men continue to struggle with sexuality in a culture that has a narrow definition of masculinity (thus fostering the need to distance themselves from effeminacy), the reliance on sex shows audiences the complex ways sexual acts are tied to gender and sexual identity. This is particularly true with Trevor. By highlighting the personal struggle Trevor has “bottoming” the writers of Shameless simultaneously give viewers a glimpse into the very real struggle some trans-men go through (see Schilt and Westbrook 2009). This struggle is captured when Trevor vocalizes his concern about bottoming to Ian, stating, “If you weren’t just assuming that because I was the trans-guy I am getting fucked I would consider it (bottoming for Ian).” By accentuating these struggles Shameless gives the audience a more comprehensive view of the way queer characters experience their sexuality in the contemporary United States.

Humor: Distancing, Anxiety-Reduction, and Appeals to Acceptance Like violence and sex, humor allows gay characters to distance themselves from effeminacy. However, humor also works as an anxietyreducing strategy (see Flockhart 2019; Francis 1994). Through humor, gay characters alleviate discomfort they have about sexuality. Heterosexual characters use humor to a similar end; that is, to deal with their own discomfort regarding their gay friends’/family members’ sexuality. For heterosexual characters, though, humor serves another function: it is a way to convey their acceptance of gay friends and family members. In this section, we discuss these uses of humor and also address how using humor in these ways reflects and contributes to the larger culture of incomplete LGBTQ+ Acceptance.


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Humor to Diminish Discomfort Shameless characters use humor to diminish their discomfort surrounding queerness. Ian provides an example of this in one of his first interactions with Caleb, a firefighter he starts to date in Season 6. In this scene, Caleb and Ian had just finished participating in a recreational baseball game. Ian suggests that they go somewhere and have sex. Caleb is put off by this suggestion and starts to walk away from Ian. Ian is shocked by Caleb’s response. He then admits to Caleb that he likes him and wants to understand why he is being rejected. Caleb says that he likes Ian too, but that he is not interested in casual sex. Instead, Caleb says that he wants a relationship and would like to take Ian out on a date. Ian appears taken off guard by this comment. Perhaps because of this, he responds with humor, stating, “What? Like fucking flowers and all of that?” In a similar scene, Caleb kisses Ian. In response, Ian jokes to Caleb that he thought kissing was what men did after they had sex a bunch of times. Humor, like violence and sex, serves a psychological function: it allows Ian to diminish some of the discomfort he has about two men showing affection and going out on dates with each other—a quality of same-gender relationships that, up until Ian’s relationship with Caleb, he had not experienced. Waskul and Van der Reit (2002) report a similar strategy of anxiety reduction among people who, due to medical conditions, lose control of their body. By turning their diagnosis into something humorous they lessen some of the discomfort their loss of bodily control causes them. For Ian, the anxiety he is reducing is not about the body, but the meanings attached to certain romantic behaviors in the United States. Through humor Ian lessens some of the discomfort he has about two men showing intimacy (beyond sex) or going on dates with each other— behaviors that are associated with more established same-sex relationships. Mickey uses humor in a similar way. This is especially the case early in his relationship with Ian. In one scene, Mickey is depicted as feeling pressured by Ian to define their relationship. Mickey tells Ian that he has no interest in going shopping and picking out furniture together; behaviors that Mickey associates with committed relationships between men. To alleviate discomfort with the prospect of being in a relationship with another man Mickey turns the mere idea of forming such a relationship into a joke. While the use of humor in the examples above may, in part, be rooted in a disdain for effeminacy—for example, by joking about dating, Ian and Mickey distance themselves from the effeminacy associated with two men dating and the discomfort it causes them—it may also be a product of their social class position. Working-class boys and men possess a working-class habitus. This habitus is characterized by specific styles, talk,

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and ways of interpreting the social world that emphasizes showing toughness and “othering” groups deemed inferior. Especially high on the list of groups to “other” is gay men and women (Bourdieu 1979; Messner and Sabo 1994; Schwalbe et al. 2000). One of the central ways workingclass boys “other” is through humor. To deal with their lack of status and blocked opportunities in other areas of life (e.g., education, wealth, and occupation), working-class boys and men make fun of groups they see as inferior. For Ian and Mickey, then, the use of humor is a paradox. While it may distance them from the stigma associated with being a gay man (e.g., men forming committed relationships with each other, the effeminacy associated with two men going on dates, shopping, or picking out homes together) and diminish discomfort regarding sexuality, it also marginalizes a group they are a part of: gay men. Their use of humor, then, comes at a cost not just to gay men as a group, but to them as well. The fact that this use of humor plays out in such a public way (e.g., on television) is another cost. Humor theorists have argued that disparaging humor, or discriminatory humor, can serve as a gateway to more overt and possibly more dangerous forms of discrimination. More specifically, humor can desensitize people, not only the dominant group, but also members of stigmatized groups, to racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of prejudice and discrimination (Reiter 2016). Humor can also impede or even reverse progress towards social equity. For example, while some groups that have been historically stigmatized are gaining respect and progressing towards equity, hearing disparaging jokes about these groups releases inhibitions in discriminating against them, which can create a climate where discrimination against this group, as with racist jokes, is still acceptable, and where the effects of discrimination are obscured (Ford and Ferguson 2004). Therefore, while the use of humor by Ian, Caleb, and Mickey provide important examples of the progress that still needs to be made in the contemporary LGBTQ+ Movement, the fact that this humor plays out in such a public fashion (in a popular television show) conveys to audiences that using disparaging humor against queer people is acceptable. Humor, then, may not only reflect the incompleteness of LGBTQ+ Acceptance, but contribute to it as well.

Humor as Expression of Acceptance Using humor to alleviate one’s own discomfort is a form of emotion work (Hochschild 1983). Gay men are able to alleviate some of their own qualms about romantic relationships between men, being gay, and more broadly, the association of gay men with effeminacy by joking around


Shameless Sexualities

about gay men who show affection with each other. Humor can also be used as interpersonal emotion work (Chin 2000; Copp 1998). The goal of this type of emotion work is to change someone else's feelings rather than one’s own. Heterosexual characters in Shameless use humor in this way to diminish and transform gay friends’ and family members’ discomfort and to convey acceptance. Like with humor used by gay characters, this is not without consequence. This, in part, is because the humor heterosexual characters use to show acceptance and lessen discomfort is rooted in stereotypes about queer people. Humor, as interpersonal emotion work, then, also reflects and reinforces the incompleteness of queer acceptance. Kevin, who is a neighbor of the Gallagher’s (the family upon which the show is based), and a primary character in the series, provides an example of using humor to show acceptance and diminish discomfort in an interaction with Mickey. In this scene, Mickey is shown having some reservations and discomfort about being in The Alibi Room (the bar Kevin works) after having very publicly come out in the bar in a previous episode. After a brief moment of silent tension Mickey stands up from his barstool and says to the bar patrons, “If anyone has a fucking problem with me, say it!” Nobody offers an immediate response. Finally, Kevin says, “Were any of you [the other bar patrons] surprised [that Mickey is gay]? I wasn’t surprised. Now, Rock Hudson? That was a surprise. That kid from Doogie Howser, MD? Ellen? These surprised me.” At this point Kermit, another man in the bar, contributes to the exchange, stating, “Yeah, no straight woman wears Adidas [referring to Ellen].” After a few more comments by other bar patrons, in which different gay actors and athletes are mentioned in order to make Mickey feel more comfortable, Kevin says, “Mickey, sit down. Nobody gives a shit who you bang. Let me buy you a beer.” After handing Mickey a beer Kevin then pours himself a drink, raises his glass, and makes the following toast: “To butt buddies. Long may they slam and slap.” The rest of the bar follows suit, shouting, “To butt buddies!” Humor is meant to show acceptance and diminish discomfort of gay characters. But, it comes at a cost: it relies on stereotypes about gay people. Flockhart (2019) reports similar findings in his research with parents of LGB children. To alleviate some of their child’s fears about coming out to, and being accepted by, other family members (e.g., siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents), parents use humor. This humor, however, comes from stereotypes about gender expression and ways of living among queer people. One mother in Flockhart’s study, for example, wanted to convey to her child, when he came out, that she had no problem with his sexuality. To show her acceptance and ease his discomfort, she said, “Just don’t be one of those flamboyant gays” (Flockhart 2019:66). Another parent

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used humor for the same reason, saying to his bisexual daughter, “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised [you are bisexual] since you are also a vegetarian” (Flockhart 2019:64). Like in Shameless, the humor is meant to convey acceptance and lessen the discomfort of queer people. In Shameless, however, the humor is not rooted in stereotypes about gender expression or lifestyle choices (e.g., vegetarianism), but stereotypes that sexualize gay men. Frank, the father of Ian, similarly uses humor to lessen discomfort and show his son that being gay is a non-issue. Like the scene in The Alibi Room the humor is rooted in stereotypes that sexualize gay men. After catching Ian and Mickey having sex in the convenience store where Ian works, Frank apologizes to Ian, stating, “Sorry, I had to come in [the store] from behind because the front door was locked. No pun intended!” In a subsequent episode, Frank further emphasizes his acceptance of Ian’s sexuality, but in a way that conflates sexual identity with sexual activity. Frank explains to Ian, “Men have always had other men. Leonardo Da Vinci, Abe Lincoln, that guy from Hogan’s Heroes. Choose a gender and find somebody who wants to fuck! Preferably, for free.” The scene in The Alibi Room, and the scenes with Ian and Frank, share an important feature: acceptance is given to gay characters, but in a way that makes being gay about sexual activity rather than sexual identity. Conflating sexual identity with sexual activity and sexualizing gay men is further evidence of the incompleteness of the contemporary LGBTQ+ Movement. Denissen and Saguy (2014) make a similar point and report similar findings in their research with lesbians working in blue-collar jobs that are often dominated by men. Here, men use humor that sexualizes lesbian women with whom they work. According to the men, this humor is not homophobic, but rather, a way to bond with their lesbian co-workers and make them feel like “one of the guys.” This use of humor has an important consequence: it transforms their lesbian co-workers from “subjects” to “objects;” people who exist for men’s entertainment and sexual pleasure. Here, sexual identity is not seen as important. What is important is sexual activity between women because this is something heterosexual men can enjoy. In Shameless, humor works in a similar manner, but the repercussions may be further reaching. Shameless averages approximately 1.3 million viewers per episode (Otterson 2018). While characters like Frank and Kevin mean to show acceptance of Mickey and Ian through humor, their jokes transform gayness into something that is only about sex, and also, something to laugh about. Their acceptance, then, fits well with the larger narrative of incompleteness, and more specifically, “post-gay” acceptance. Being gay, according to this narrative, is such a non-


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issue that not only do queer people make jokes about their sexuality, but heterosexual characters can make the same jokes. Moreover, for heterosexuals, these jokes can actually be seen as an expression of acceptance of queer people rather than homophobia. Showing acceptance in this way obscures the subtle ways homophobia operates in the contemporary United States. One can show acceptance while demeaning and degrading queer people at the same time. In this way, the marginalization of queer people is preserved under the guise of acceptance—an issue we explore further in the conclusion.

Conclusion Popular television often takes the acceptance of queer characters for granted. While there may be a brief period of shock and discomfort from family and friends when a character comes out, these feelings often quickly give way to acceptance. Rather than sexuality being a problem in a relationship (between friends or family members) sexuality is framed as unimportant. This type of message is indicative of the larger “post-gay” narrative that dominates many popular television shows and sitcoms (e.g., Modern Family and The Fosters). What is overlooked is the more “subtle” homophobia that continues to be present in popular television. In the past, it was not uncommon for homophobia to be blatant in television. Sitcoms of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, when they included queer characters at all, frequently used them entirely as comedic relief (Jack from Will and Grace, Mr. Roper’s routine impersonations of gay men in Three’s Company, Damon Wayans’ and Jim Carrey’s characters on In Living Color), accentuated their differences from heterosexuals (Sanford in Sex and the City, Humphries of Are You Being Served?), or highlighted their struggles and hardships (Steven from Dynasty, Matt on Melrose Place, and Clayton from Golden Girls). Today, homophobia in television is not always so blatant. 2 This, as we have shown, is apparent in Shameless. Rather than calling gay men “butt buddies” as an insult, it is meant to be humorous or a sign of acceptance. There are consequences of displaying acceptance through humor. Doing so obscures the stereotypes upon which the humor is based (e.g., that gay men are hypersexual) and may, as humor theorists suggest, desensitize audiences to homophobic remarks, and even make the use of homophobic comments acceptable (Greengross 2011; Reiter 2016). Similarly, the use of humor to diminish one’s own discomfort about being gay (e.g., Ian responding to 2

We are not suggesting that shows never include blatant homophobia. Rather, we are suggesting that there has been a shift towards more subtle homophobia in popular television shows.

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Caleb’s suggestion about going out on a date by saying, “What? Like fucking flowers and all that?”) may be interpreted as comedic relief by audiences. However, this use of humor also masks the reason that humor is necessary in the first place; that is, because Ian and Mickey have qualms about effeminacy and committed romantic relationships between men. The subtlety of homophobia in shows like Shameless does not make it any less dangerous (i.e., compared to the more blatant homophobia of television in the past). The danger in subtle homophobia stems from its lack of visibility. After all, if the belief—as the “post-gay” narrative suggests—is that LGBTQ+ equality has been achieved, then using homophobic humor to convey acceptance may not actually be seen as insulting or discriminatory. Similarly, distancing oneself from displays of emotional intimacy (e.g., dating or kissing between men) may not, to audiences, be seen as a product of internalized homophobia (due to its connection to effeminacy). In a culture where homophobia is seen as a thing of the past, discriminatory practices are sometimes overlooked altogether (Burn, Kadlec, and Rexter 2005). The subtlety and invisibility of homophobia is part of a larger transformation in dominant discriminatory practices in the United States. This is apparent if one considers racism as well (see Smith, Choueti, and Peiper 2016). Racism operates in a more covert ways in a culture that, many believe, is “post-racial” (e.g., due to anti-discriminatory laws and policies being implemented in the workplace and education). The dominant form of racism in this context is referred to as “colorblindness” (Bonilla-Silva 2003; Brooks, Ebert, and Flockhart 2017). In a post-Title VII society, then, underrepresentation of people of color in popular television shows can be chalked up to who had the most talent rather than lingering institutional racism in casting. The subtlety of homophobia and racism, then, cannot be divorced from the context that produced it. In a culture that purports to being “post-racial” or “post-gay,” racism and homophobia can operate in more covert and invisible ways. While Shameless does, at times, reflect and reinforce the subtlety of homophobia, at other times, it attunes viewers to the continued struggles of queer people in the United States—something that is not always visible in other shows and sitcoms. This is clear in the use of violence and sex by gay characters. For example, Mickey’s threats of violence early in the series (“Kiss me and I’ll cut your fucking tongue out” or “Say that again and I’ll rip your tongue out of your head”) represent a discomfort with being gay, and more specifically, its association with effeminacy. By threatening violence Mickey is able to distance himself from what sex and emotional intimacy with another man might mean (i.e., that he is gay). Including


Shameless Sexualities

scenes like this is a reminder to viewers that not everyone seamlessly embraces their sexual identity; for some there continues to be a struggle. Shameless also conveys to audiences that the queer experience is not monolithic. There is a tendency for popular television to highlight the stories of middle-class and upper-middle-class queer people (Smith et al. 2016). This is evident in shows like The Fosters, Modern Family, Schitt’s Creek, and Grace and Frankie. By depicting poor and working-class gay people, as is done in Shameless, audiences are shown how social class can shape sexual identity. The series Shameless also educates audiences on the experiences of trans people in the United States. This is apparent in scenes between Ian and Trevor. In one such scene Trevor refuses to go to a bar that asks for identification. This leads to a brief fight between Ian and Trevor—as Ian doesn’t understand why Trevor is so adamant about not going to the bar. The fight is then used as an opportunity to highlight, for the audience, issues trans people have with identification cards when their biological sex does not match their gender identity. In another scene, Ian meets Trevor’s friends. As they introduce themselves, gender pronouns and sexual identity labels are given. Ian appears confused by some of their sexual and gender identities, but this confusion is used as an opportunity for Trevor’s friends to educate Ian—and by extension viewers of the show—on the meaning and significance of these labels. Shameless, then, at times reflects and reinforces the incompleteness of LGBTQ+ Acceptance. While the homophobia can be subtle, we argue that this can be just as dangerous as the more overt forms of homophobia that were more common in television shows of the past. This, in part, is because subtle homophobia is less visible and therefore easier to overlook. A consequence is that homophobia is excused as degrading humor directed towards queer people is not interpreted as homophobia at all, and may, in some ways, be seen as an expression of acceptance. At other times, though, Shameless highlights the continued struggle gay men go through in a culture of incomplete LGBTQ+ Acceptance. Much of this has to do with expectations surrounding masculinity among men in the United States and, more specifically, an association of effeminacy with gay men. Shameless also highlights the ways social class, gender, and sexual identity shape experience. By including dialogue where characters discuss issues that reflect their social class, gender, and sexual identity, writers of Shameless simultaneously educate audiences on the diversity of queer experiences.

Tyler Flockhart and Abby Reiter


References Bersani, Leo. 1996. Homos. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. 2003. Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism & Racial Inequality in Contemporary America. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1979. Distinction. New York: Routledge. Brooks, Erin, Kim Ebert, and Tyler Flockhart. 2017. “Examining the Reach of Color Blindness: Ideological Flexibility, Frame Alignment, and Legitimacy among Racially Conservative and Extremist Organizations.” The Sociological Quarterly 58(2):254-276. Burn, Shawn, Kelly Kadlec, and Ryan Rexer. 2005. “Effects of Subtle Heterosexism on Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals.” Journal of Homosexuality 49(2):23-38. Chin, Tiffani. 2000. “Sixth Grade Madness: Parental Emotion Work in the Private High School Application Process.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 29(2):124-163. Copp, Martha. 1998. “When Emotion Work is Doomed to Fail: Ideological and Structural Constraints on Emotion Management.” Symbolic Interaction 21(3):299-328. Coleman-Fountain, Edmund. 2014. “Lesbian and Gay Youth and the Question of Labels.” Sexualities 17(7):802-817. Connell, Raewyn. 1995. Masculinities. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Denissen, Amy and Abigail Saguy. 2014. “Gendered Homophobia and the Contradictions of Workplace Discrimination for Women in the Building Trades.” Gender and Society 28(3):381-403. Duggan, Lisa. 2002. “The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism.” Pp. 175-194 in Materializing Democracy: Toward a Revitalized Cultural Politics, edited by Russ Castronovo and Dana D. Nelson. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Fetner, Tina. 2016. “U.S. Attitudes toward Lesbian and Gay People are Better than Ever.” Contexts 15(2):20-27. Fields, Jessica. 2001. “Normal Queers: Straight Parents Respond to Their Children’s ‘Coming Out.’” Symbolic Interaction 24(2):165-187. Flockhart, Tyler. 2019. “Emotion Work in an Age of ‘Incomplete Acceptance’: How Parents and LGBs Manage and Maintain Familial Relationships.” PhD dissertation. Department of Sociology, North Carolina State University. Raleigh, NC.


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Ford, Thomas E. and Mark A. Ferguson. 2004. “Social Consequences of Disparagement Humor: A Prejudiced Norm Theory.” Personality and Social Psychology Review 8(1):79-94. Francis, Linda. 1994. “Laughter, the Best Mediation: Humor as Emotion Management in Interaction.” Symbolic Interaction 17(2):147-163. Greengross, Gil. 2011. “Does Racist Humor Promote Racism?” Psychology Today, July 18. Retrieved August 12, 2019 ( Gross, Larry. 2001. Up from Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America. Columbia University Press. Hennen, Peter. 2008. Faeries, Bears, and Leathermen: Men in Community Queering the Masculine. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Hochschild, Arlie. 1983. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Kimport, Katrina. 2013. Queering Marriage: Challenging Family Formation in the United States. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Kusenbach, Margarette. 2009. “Salvaging Decency: Mobile Home Residents’ Strategies of Managing the Stigma of ‘Trailer’ Living.” Qualitative Sociology 32(4):399-428. Martin, Karin, David Hutson, Emily Kazyak, and Kristin Scherrer. 2010. “Advice When Children Come Out: The Cultural ‘Tool Kits’ of Parents.” Journal of Family Issues 31:960-991. Messner, Michael and Donald Sabo. 1994. Sex, Violence and Power in Sports: Rethinking Masculinity. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press. Meyer, Doug. 2015. Violence Against Queer People: Race, Class, Gender, and the Persistence of Anti-LGBT Discrimination. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Mosher, D. L. and M. Sirkin. 1984. “Measuring a Macho Personality Constellation.” Journal of Research in Personality 18(2):150-163. Orne, Jason. 2011. “You Will Always Have to Out Yourself: Reconsidering Coming Out Through Strategic Outness.” Sexualities 14(6):681-703. —. 2013. “Queers in the Line of Fire: Goffman’s Stigma Revisited.” The Sociological Quarterly 54(2):229-253. Otterson, Joe. 2018. “Shameless’ Ratings Slip in Season 9 Premiere, ‘Kidding’ Gets Solid Start in Showtime Debut,” Variety, September 11. Retrieved August 2, 2019 ( Pascoe, C.J. 2007. Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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Poole. Jay. 2014. “Queer Representations of Gay Males and Masculinities in the Media.” Sexuality & Culture 18(2):279-290. Reilly, Andrew. 2016. “Top or Bottom: A Position Paper.” Psychology & Sexuality 7(3):167-176. Reiter, Abby. 2016. Racialized Microaggressions, Internalized and Intersecting Oppressions, and Identity Negotiations Among Student of Color at a Predominantly White University in the US Southeast. PhD dissertation. Department of Sociology, George Mason University. Fairfax, Virginia. Richardson, Niall. 2009. “Effeminophobia, Misogyny and Queer Friendship: The Cultural Themes of Channel 4’s Playing It Straight.” Sexualities 12(4):525-544. Russell, Stephen, Thomas Clarket, and Justin Clary. 2009. “Are Teens ‘Post-Gay’? Contemporary Adolescents’ Sexual Identity Labels.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 38(7):884-890. Schilt, Kristen, and Lauren Westbrook. 2009. “Doing Gender, Doing Heteronormativity: ‘Gender Normals,’ Transgender People, and the Social Maintenance of Heterosexuality.” Gender and Society 23(4):440464. Schrock, Doug and Michael Schwalbe. 2009. “Men, Masculinity, and Manhood Acts.” Annual Review of Sociology 35:277-295. Schwalbe, Michael, Sandra Godwin, Daphne Holden, Douglas Schrock, Shealy Thompson, and Michele Wolkomir. 2000. “Generic Processes in the Reproduction of Inequality: An Interactionist Analysis.” Social Forces 79 (2):419-452. Seidman, Steven. 2002. Beyond the Closet: The Transformation of Gay and Lesbian Life. New York: Routledge. Siegel, Karolynn, Howard Lune, and Ian Meyer. 1998. “Stigma Management among Gay/Bisexual Men with HIV/AIDS.” Qualitative Sociology 21(1):3-24. Smith, Stacy, Marc Choueiti, and Katherine Pieper. 2016. “Inclusion of Invisibility? Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment.” Report from the Media, Diversity, and Social Change Initiative at the Institute for Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg, University of Southern California. Waskul, Dennis and Pamela Van der Riet. 2002. “The Abject Embodiment of Cancer Patients: Dignity, Selfhood, and the Grotesque Body.” Symbolic Interaction 25(4):487-513.


Introduction Numerous blogs and articles have heralded Shameless for its modern representation of sexuality and empowerment—for women, LGBTQ+ populations, and youth, generally (Everett, n.d.; Martin 2014; McNutt 2016; Taryn 2015). A piece posted on a college student blog argued that Fiona’s “strong and powerful” representation “breaks boundaries for women,” in part because she challenges traditional gender roles, isn’t afraid to say what she thinks, doesn’t (always) wear makeup, and has a lot of sex with multiple partners (Everett, n.d.). Indeed, at first glance, Fiona and many of the other female characters on Shameless unabashedly flaunt their sexuality, appearing unencumbered and in control. But, as we illustrate below, reducing sexual empowerment to merely having sex freely and unapologetically minimizes the complexities inherent in the world of Shameless’ South Side. Fiona’s sexuality, for example, cannot be isolated from her poverty, from being a “hood girl.” The sexuality that Fiona and the other women of Shameless exhibit reveals the ways in which social class and gender collide for women and young girls. Traditional notions of female sexuality have typically rested on the virgin-whore dichotomy—they are either chaste and virtuous or promiscuous and immoral (Bay-Cheng 2015). There have been some improvements, especially since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, resulting in broader cultural recognition of women as agentic sexual actors. Indeed, women’s sexuality is now also measured in ways related to individual agency and personal responsibility, but this evaluative method is additive and does not replace the “good girl” vs. slut dichotomy (Bay-Cheng 2015:279-280). As such, contemporary representations of women as overtly sexual, and

Jennifer Beggs Weber and Tiffany A. Parsons


conceivably hypersexualized, are omnipresent, raising questions about the difference between sexual objectification and sexual empowerment. Ultimately, women are still trying to negotiate a respectable sexual identity that requires them to be sexy/sex-positive without being too promiscuous (Farbid et al. 2017; Hunter College 2005; Tannenbaum 2015). This tightrope of respectability, however, is also complicated by notions of social class. Class-based, gendered expectations were established during the British imperial project and became firmly entrenched in the American imagination during colonial times. While upper-class masculinity was characterized by sexual self-restraint and lack of emotional display, the middle-class English woman was constructed as sexually/morally pure, fragile, precious, and the reproducer of an imperial race. Women who traversed the border between the public and private spheres (e.g. women who worked) were labelled deviant and sexually/morally impure (Rattansi 2007:46). In Eastern Europe too, anxieties about class lines were linked to sexual deviance (Stauter-Halsted & Wingfield 2011:220). The colonial governments and immigrants from Europe brought their class-based notions of sexuality with them; these beliefs are still entrenched in modern American society. That is, assumptions that middle-/upper-class women are “more” pure or virtuous, while poor and working-class women are promiscuous and sexually available to all men, are still relevant and widespread. The stereotype of the working-class slut is employed regularly in discourses surrounding sexual assault, “unwed” motherhood, and concerns over those who receive welfare. These class-based sexual stereotypes are maintained and reified through a myriad of contemporary institutions, including media and shows like Shameless. Hence, while many claim that Shameless offers displays of sexual empowerment for women, we argue otherwise. As we demonstrate below, the behaviors of the women on Shameless—their unapologetic and brazen sexual availability—actually work to reaffirm the working-class slut stereotype. In the chapter that follows, we explore the contradictions that women like Fiona, Karen, Mandy, and Veronica face. First, we explore the assumed sexual availability of poor and working-class women, focusing on the stereotypes that the women of Shameless must navigate. Second, we analyze the ways in which sexuality is commodified on the South Side—by the women themselves, as well as the men that come in and out of their lives. Finally, we consider how assumptions of women’s sexuality vary across class lines, and how these variations work to reaffirm historical stereotypes of the working-class slut.


“Another Skanky ‘Hood Girl’”

The Sexual Availability of Working-Class Women When we first meet Fiona, she is rousing her siblings for school, watering down milk for their cereal, and trying to pull together enough money to pay the electric bill. She’s picked up a shift that day working concessions at a hockey game. “Would you tap that,” a patron asks his friend after handing Fiona the money for his hotdog and pretzel. “Once, if I doublebagged it,” the friend replies. “Project girls don’t abort.” Later that evening, Fiona hooks up with Steve—a man she meets at the dance club. “So, uh…who’s the little guy?” Steve asks. “Liam’s my brother,” Fiona responds with a chuckle, recognizing immediately that the man she just met is already assuming that the one-year-old boy upstairs must be her son. Steve returns the next day, in an attempt to persuade Fiona into going out with him again. “You’re not that desperate…You can get laid anywhere,” she says (Season 1, Episode 1). From the beginning, Fiona’s story is a representation of the ways in which gender, sexuality, and social class intersect for many women in contemporary America. The assumptions that Fiona encounters are rooted in stereotypes of poor women as not only promiscuous, but also irresponsible. Indeed, low-income women’s sexuality and childbearing have long been stigmatized within lay culture, including the media, as well as within the broader policy arena (Downing et al. 2007; Edin & Kefalas 2011). Shameless, in many ways throughout the series, makes these stereotypes visible often challenging viewers to acknowledge them. As the description above demonstrates, within the first episode, Fiona’s character is nestled within stereotypes that she is a promiscuous “project girl,” one that would likely trap men into fatherhood. But, the reality of life stories for women like Fiona are much more complicated. On the one hand, unintended pregnancy rates are much higher for poor women. According to the Guttmacher Institute (2019), unintended pregnancy rates are more than five times higher among women with incomes less than 100% of the poverty level (112 per 1,000, compared to 20 per 1,000 for women with incomes of at least 200% of the poverty level). However, contrary to the conventional wisdom portrayed by the patron at the hockey game, “project girls” like Fiona are much more likely to abort. In fact, women with incomes below the poverty level have the highest abortion rates (36.6 per 1,000), while women whose incomes hover just above the poverty level (100-200%) have the second highest rate (19.1 per 1,000) (Jones and Jerman 2017). Conventional wisdom also fails to consider how poor and workingclass women’s rights to control their own reproduction have long been severely restricted, with the brunt of legal restrictions on abortions and

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barriers to accessing birth control falling unevenly on young, low-income women (Fried 2008). For example, state laws and policies that require mandatory waiting periods or in-person counseling prior to accessing an abortion place uneven and unnecessary burdens on poor women, requiring multiple clinic visits. This is especially problematic for women in states where there is only one clinic in the entire state that provides abortion services (Fuentes and Jerman 2019). Policy battles over access to birth control are just as contentious. Many contraceptives require significant upfront and long-term costs for the drug/device itself, as well as the necessary visit to a provider for services. For women who must rely on public and charitable health centers, finding a provider that offers a full range of contraceptive methods can be a challenge (Power to Decide 2020). In turn, these costs and limited access often place effective birth control out of reach for many low-income women, forcing them to use less expensive and less effective methods (Sonfield, 2020) resulting in a disproportionately high rate of unintended pregnancy (ACOG 2015). Consequently, those determining public policy and funding related to abortion and contraception often have more control over poor and working-class women’s reproduction than the women do. These efforts to control women’s lives—their sexuality, in particular—are rooted in stereotypes of promiscuity and recklessness, in assumptions of poor women’s sexual availability. Fiona’s promiscuity (past and present) is a key theme throughout the series. Indeed, her reputation as “first-date Fiona” (Season 4, Episode 1), or just another “skanky ‘hood girl” (Season 1, Episode 11), is central to her character. These labels are located in historic notions of class and gender. Dominant groups in American culture have consistently and systematically stereotyped the sexuality of subordinate groups based on differences in class, race, and gender (Espiritu 2008:144). Dating back to the industrial revolution, America witnessed the emergence of a new class of workers—a group characterized as a “breed” and “race” apart from the middle- and upper-classes. Working-class men and women were constructed as immoral and in need of policing and social control (Rattansi 2007). According to Rattansi (2007), the “respectable” classes projected their own sexual anxieties onto working-class women, viewing them as sexually available (and therefore deviant), laying the groundwork for the notions of poor and working-class women as hypersexual. However, more than just drawing on stereotypes of promiscuity and recklessness, cultural attempts to control low-income women’s sexuality also work to maintain these stereotypes. An often taken-forgranted aspect of this stereotype is the assumption of agency. Because of this, the working-class slut stereotype defines behaviors and expressions

“Another Skanky ‘Hood Girl’”


that are appropriate for women of varying classes, not just the poor (Kesselman et al. 2008). That is, working-class women choose to be sexually available and deviant; they choose to be “sluts” while middle- and upperclass women choose modesty and “respectability.” The presumption of agency is even more troubling when it’s framed in feminist logics. A key tenet of modern feminism is choice, or at least the rhetoric of it. To be sure, this notion of choice is at the heart of the contemporary articles and blog posts praising Fiona for her feminist display of unabashed sexuality. However, framing women’s actions as purely matters of choice makes the structural constraints and cultural consequences that women like Fiona face invisible (see Stone 2007). And, as many sociologists have argued, rendering the structure—within which we act as agents—invisible ignores the constraints and expectations that lead an individual actor to make particular choices. The result: we can effectively blame the poor for their plight(s) without impunity. As noted above, Fiona’s sexuality is central to her identity and role on Shameless. The fact that she has sex in various public places throughout the series—the train, a public bathroom, Tony’s police car, the Wendy’s drive-thru—only serve as evidence of her sexual availability. However, just because she has sex with multiple partners (in multiple, risky locations), seemingly unblushed and in control, doesn’t mean she is free from policing, labeling, and other repercussions. After a particularly adventurous summer in Season 2, (which includes a sexual encounter with Craig Heisner, a nowmarried man she had a crush on in high school) Kevin admonishes Fiona for “behaving like a dude.” Fiona: Kevin:

Oh, so it’s okay for guys to play the field, but not me? It’s okay if you want guys to start running their dick through the dishwasher after they bone you. (Season 2, Episode 4)

Throughout the same episode we watch as Fiona attempts to run from Lucy Jo Heisner, Craig’s wife. After a brick with the word “homewrecker” scrawled on it is thrown through the front window of the Gallagher house, Fiona is hit with a flying milkshake while Lucy Jo screams “slut” from the window of a passing car. This series of events occurs amidst Fiona’s growing friendship with Jasmine, another woman from their South Side neighborhood. Although married with kids, we learn that Jasmine also works as an escort, dating mostly wealthy men. During Episode 5 of Season 2, Fiona attends a wedding with a man she met through Jasmine. Her attempts to fit in with the wealthy guests fail when she is called out as an escort by a friend of her date. On the ride home, we watch as Fiona struggles

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with the reality of her inability to maneuver class boundaries, the presumption is that her sexuality is her only entree into upper-class circles. Taken together, these examples demonstrate the classed and gendered constraints and consequences that Fiona must navigate. To be sure, women of varying social classes are subject to gendered double standards surrounding sexuality. However, for women like Fiona, this double standard is complicated by assumptions of the sexual availability of poor and working-class women. Claims that Fiona embodies feminist empowerment via her sexual activity also presume that her choices are always her own, that she is in control of sexual encounters. Throughout the series, however, viewers catch glimpses of the fact that this is not always the case. For example, in Episode 1 of Season 4, Fiona, Veronica, and Kevin are chatting about Fiona’s new relationship with her boss, Mike. Kevin and Veronica (“Vee”) are surprised by the fact that Fiona and Mike haven’t had sex yet. Vee: Fiona: Kevin: Fiona:

So nothing at all with you and Mike? A little dry-humping. A couple-a hand jobs. But…no, he’s my boss, so we’re going slow. Maybe they don’t fuck right away in the middle-class. It’s definitely weird. He doesn’t, like, force himself onto me where I gotta decide if I’m gonna taser him or go along like I do with the guys from around here.

This excerpt demonstrates two important points. First, Kevin’s comment speaks to the presumed class differences about sexual availability and sexual restraint (a topic we address in greater detail below). Second, Fiona’s comment, stated as a matter of fact and normalcy, points to the ways in which Fiona often lacks control in her sexual encounters. This lack of control not only points to the cultural assumptions that poor and workingclass women are always and at once sexually available; it also works to challenge contemporary notions of feminist choice and empowerment. In Episode 3 (Season 4) Fiona enters into a conflicted relationship with Robbie, Mike’s brother. Fiona and Mike have sex on the kitchen counter while Mike is passed out in the next room. After the encounter, Fiona returns to Mike’s bed to sleep for the night. She is visibly ashamed of her behavior. Despite Fiona’s resistance, demands that he leave her alone, and repeatedly saying “no,” Robbie continues to pursue her. In Episode 4, she engages in a sexual encounter with him on the train. Viewers watch Fiona struggle with Robbie’s advances, ultimately indicating that these encounters are not about choice and empowerment, but a pattern of sexual behavior based on internalized expectations of sexuality and sexual availability.


“Another Skanky ‘Hood Girl’”

Sex as Currency on the South Side Mandy Milkovich is introduced in Season 1, Episode 3. Kevin is attempting to look up her skirt as she descends the stairs of the train platform. Wearing dark lipstick and thick black eyeliner, a mini-skirt and combat boots, Mandy exudes a sort of street-grunge sexuality. She crosses the street, adjusting her thong to make sure it’s visible above the low-rise of her skirt, and enters the store where Ian Gallagher works. As a greeting, Mandy grabs Ian’s butt while he stands on a ladder stocking shelves. Flirting heavily, Mandy says, “I wanted to thank you for coming to my rescue in history class today.” Mandy develops an interest in Ian after he tripped a teacher who made inappropriate/unwanted advances toward her. Later that night Mandy goes back to the Gallagher house with Ian. Watching TV and drinking beer, Mandy kisses Ian, attempting to have sex with him. She doesn’t realize that Ian is gay, and when her advances go unrequited, she leaves the house crying. For the girls and women on the South Side, sex a veritable commodity. Of course, the notion that sex sells extends beyond the poor and working-classes. Gender socialization instills in both boys and girls, men and women, a basic truth that a woman’s value is in her body (Brumberg 1998; Ochs 2008). For the respectable classes, the woman’s body is so valuable that it must be guarded, protected, and given as a commodified gift to a deserving man within the context of marriage (Brumberg 1998). For the lower classes, the woman’s body is also commodified—but in a very different way. For poor and working-class women, their bodies are valuable in that they can be consumed and re-consumed in exchange for desired outcomes, goods, or money. Or, as is the case with Mandy in the above excerpt, it also serves as a way to express gratitude. Throughout the series, viewers watch as women exchange their bodies for money and other necessities. Veronica irons clothes topless (among other things) on the internet to make money. In Season 1, Episode 2, she utilizes her sexuality to distract the local delivery man while Ian steals milk from the back of his truck. As noted above, Jasmine works as an escort for a wealthy clientele. Svetlana, the “Russian hand whore,” plays an increasingly centralized role throughout the series, first as a prostitute, then as part of a “throuple” with Kevin and Veronica—a situation which emerges from her willingness to perform “all wifely duties” in exchange for a place to live for her and her son. Seemingly out of choice, these South Side women draw on their most valuable asset—their bodies—to get what they need/want. However, these notions of choice are fraught with cultural contradictions. Gendered (and classed) expectations surrounding women’s

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bodies work to objectify these women, thereby controlling the choices they have and the opportunities available to them (Kesselman et al. 2008). As we discussed in the earlier section, poor and working-class women’s sexual availability is assumed, their bodies publicly consumed. For example, in the first episode of Season 3, Fiona considers attending community college with the hopes of finding better-paying employment. As she is reading through the program requirements—none of which she has— she says to Kevin and Veronica: “Club’s gonna open the outdoor patio soon. Maybe Meg will give me a shot at managing. Or at least get my old job back.” Kevin’s response illustrates the value of working-class women’s bodies as currency: “Slinging appletinis?” he says. “You didn’t need to get your GED to shake your titties and collect tips from frat boys.” When Fiona approaches Meg, the club owner/manager, to get her old job back, her instructions to Fiona also demonstrates the value of Fiona’s body in this context. She commands her to “keep the weight off” (Season 3, Episode 1). Sexuality is a “learned and deeply socialized phenomenon” (Hunter College 2005:259; see also Tiefer 2004). Lessons about the value of women's bodies and sexuality are learned early—as we see in Season 4, Episode 1. Hanging out in Holly’s bedroom, Debbie, Holly, and Elly are talking about their attempts to sell their virginity on the internet. “Anybody bid on mine yet?” Debbie asks. Holly:

Um, no. But, not surprising with the minimum bid you set. Elly: A million dollars? Debbie: You can only sell it once. It’s an extremely rare commodity. Scarcity equals value. Basic economics.

Despite the fact that Debbie is a smart, successful student, her ultimate goal throughout Season 4 is to lose her virginity. Her comments explicitly and powerfully demonstrate the commodification of women’s sexuality as the norm. She ultimately ends up pregnant in Season 5, a planned pregnancy she hopes will grant her membership in a new, more functional family. For many of the women on Shameless, their bodies are a resource, one of the few culturally valuable things they can claim as their own. Indeed, viewers notice at varying points throughout the series, that their sexuality is the only valuable resource they have. In Season 5, Episode 3, Ian asks Lip to talk to Mandy, to stop her from moving to Indiana with her abusive boyfriend. “He’s gonna fuckin’ kill her,” Lip says. “Why’s she goin’?” With a somber face, Ian responds: “She’s a hood girl. She thinks she’s a piece of shit.” During Season 4, Lip tries to convince Karen not to marry Jody. “You’re better than this guy,” Lip tells her. “The thing is, Lip,” Karen


“Another Skanky ‘Hood Girl’”

counters, “I’m not” (Episode 4). Cultural wisdom often locates exchanges like these within assumptions of girls’ low self-esteem. But, the realities these South Side girls face are more complex than that. Girls like Mandy learn early that sex is currency—the only real currency they have access to. Mandy returns in Season 6 as an escort. In defending her new occupation to Ian, Mandy points to health insurance, disposable income, an apartment, a car, and extravagant trips paid for by men (Episode 9). “Just because we were born here doesn’t mean we end up here,” she says. Indeed, she is using the single resource society taught her she has to make a better life for herself. For Mandy, sex is her way out of poverty. In some instances, the women of Shameless draw on the commodification of their bodies and sexuality in an agentic fashion to survive or get ahead. Nestled in notions of choice, this allows viewers to see women like Mandy as empowered. However, it is also clear throughout the series that these resources are not always their own. Others can demand and use those resources, as well. In Season 3, Episode 3, Fiona applies for a job at a local grocery store. The manager makes his demands clear: she can have the job in exchange for oral sex. As the situation unfolds, viewers learn that all of the women working at the grocery store are performing oral sex for the manager on special “breaks.” When Fiona tries to rally the women into fighting against the harassment, the majority of the female workers agree the situation is a “not-so-bad” price to pay for having secure jobs that allow them the flexibility to take off work or come in late when their family obligations require it. Ideas about women’s bodies as commodities and their sexuality as currency are learned by boys too and later in life, men may draw upon them for their own benefit. For example, in Season 7, Episode 5 we see all four brothers, including 7-year-old Liam, in the kitchen discussing the broken washing machine with Fiona. Lip casually comments to Fiona that she’ll have to “date another shithead con artist to replace it for us, huh?” On many occasions throughout the series, men exploit this commodification for their own gains. In his attempts to get Karen back, Lip convinces Mandy to seduce Karen’s fiancé, Jody (Season 2, Episode 4). Later in the series, Ian and Mickey convince Mandy to seduce an anti-gay preacher in order to publicly humiliate him on the internet—a punishment for his protesting at the funeral of a gay soldier that Ian knew from his time in the service. In Season 5, Episode 3, Frank barters his daughter, Sammi, in exchange for brewery equipment from the owner of a local junkyard. In order to combat income losses at The Alibi Room, due to city construction going outside the front entrance, Kevin and Mickey (with the approval of Veronica) set up the

Jennifer Beggs Weber and Tiffany A. Parsons


“Rub and Tug” —a prostitution ring—in the empty apartment above the bar (Season 4, Episode 5). The exchange of women’s bodies—by themselves and others—is central to many of the episode plots. Importantly, notions of agency are fundamental to these themes. At first glance, these women are effectively making choices that benefit them, exhibiting a sort of empowerment that is rooted in their ability to unabashedly claim and flaunt their sexuality. However, poor and working-class women’s decisions are not made in a vacuum. They are made within the classed and gendered context of survival. Women are actors within a structure that shapes their options and opportunities. And, to be sure, poverty is characterized by inadequacy— inadequate education, inadequate housing, inadequate healthcare, inadequate employment opportunities, inadequate access to basic resources necessary for human survival. Hence, “choosing” an avenue of survival—physical and/or emotional—may not really be a choice at all (Hunter College 2005:264).

Middle-Class Sensibilities? We meet Karen Jackson in the first episode (Season 1). Karen is one of Lip’s tutoring students, but she spends most of their session under the dining room table performing oral sex on Lip. Karen’s list of sexual partners and adventures is long. We later learn that Sheila, her quirky, agoraphobic mother, also takes pleasure in a variety of deviant sexual exploits—specifically those that allow her some modicum of control. Although Karen and Sheila live near the Gallaghers, Eddie’s job with the Chicago Transit Authority combined with Sheila’s disability income, place them solidly in the middle-class. Their clean, well-manicured row house provides all the comfortable necessities. And, Sheila spends most of her time cooking and catering to her family and guests in a typical 1950shousewife fashion. While class status is certainly related to income and wealth, it is much more than money. Class is also exemplified by, and embedded within, the broader culture. Social class shapes how individuals understand the world and where s/he fits into it; it’s a complex web of ideas, values, language, as well as offering definitions of proper and improper behavior. Social class determines the whens, whos, and hows of romantic partnerships and procreation (Langston 2008) —a reality that plays out over and over again throughout the seasons of Shameless. Indeed, many episodes and storylines take on the barriers and challenges of crossing class lines, romantically and otherwise. Lip’s college girlfriend, the daughter of a


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wealthy Miami engineer, introduces him to the fluidity of money and wealth (Season 4). Fiona crosses class boundaries (albeit unsuccessfully), first in her relationship with her boss, Mike, and later with her spontaneous marriage to Gus Pfender (Season 4 and Season 5, respectively). As noted above, the working-class slut stereotype defines behaviors and expressions that are appropriate for women of varying classes, not just the poor (Kesselman et al. 2008). That is, the presumed sexual availability of poor and working-class women works to identify and maintain boundaries of appropriate sexual behavior. Specifically, respectable, middle-/upper-class women are expected to be chaste before marriage and faithful once married while the working-class woman is often portrayed as a “fallen” woman who has not protected her virtue but rather given it freely (Griffin 2008:502). This presumption of purity is most blatantly visible during Episodes 9 and 10 of Season 1. After having caught his daughter performing oral sex on Ian Gallagher in their dining room, Karen’s father, Eddie, develops a deep concern over his daughter’s sexual promiscuities. In Season 1, Episode 9, Eddie convinces Karen to attend a purity ball being held at his church (in exchange for a car). Karen and her father attend the event in Episode 10. At first, Karen and her father enjoy each other’s company, seemingly on the verge of reconciling their long list of battles and disagreements. However, the second portion of the purity ball requires each girl to detail her list of sexual exploits, her “transgressions.” At first, Karen tries to avoid providing too many particulars. “My actions have been un-ladylike and based in nature. And for that I’m truly sorry,” she says. But, after insistence and cajoling from her father and the group leader, she goes on to describe a variety sexual encounters that include oral sex at the age of 13 with boys from the neighborhood, intercourse in 8th grade, orgies, bisexual encounters, and generally too many partners to count. It’s at that point when her dad, whose embarrassment has been visibly building throughout Karen’s detailed description, puts a halt to her recounting: “You whore!” he screams. “Whores don’t get cars!” The next we see of Karen she is bursting into her house. Her mother, shocked out of watching TV, asks Karen why she is home early from the ball and why she is so upset. “He humiliated me. He made me think he loved me,” Karen yells. When Eddie arrives home later, Sheila confronts him about calling their daughter a whore. Eddie responds: “How about what she did to me? Did she mention what she did to me?” The purity ball sets off a chain of events. Karen starts to break down, her anger growing more palpable. After dramatically altering her appearance, she tattoos the word “whore” on her arm, and begins a video

Jennifer Beggs Weber and Tiffany A. Parsons


blog as a means to confront her dad. She posts a video of her having sex with Frank, which is shared widely with Eddie’s coworkers. Shortly thereafter, Eddie secures a cement block to his body and jumps into the water near his ice-fishing shack (Season 1, Episode 11). Although cultural emphasis on girl’s/women’s virginity is not new, purity balls are just one example of a contemporary re-emergence of evangelical chastity movements. Building on the welfare reform act of 1996, which promoted abstinence-only education as an effective route to reducing teen pregnancy (and promoting marriage) to trim the welfare rolls, a variety of programs emphasizing abstinence until marriage have materialized (Fahs 2010). While these political movements were originally directed more at low-income women and/or women of color, the weddinglike celebrations are rooted in gendered, class-based assumptions of purity and patriarchal control (Fahs 2010; Haskins and Bevan 1997). The story of the purity ball, and the aftermath, demonstrates several important points. First, that Karen’s father offers her a car in exchange for her commitment to purity, serves as another example of the commodification of women’s bodies/their sexuality. While this commodification operates differently for Karen than it does for low-income women like Mandy or Fiona, all of their experiences are still rooted in gendered and class-based assumptions that women’s bodies are objects to be managed and exchanged. For middle-class girls, their bodies are to be guarded and preserved, which can be accomplished through force or coercion. In Karen’s case, paternal coercion: the exchange of a car for purity. Second, purity balls like the one portrayed on Shameless, stem from historical beliefs in the familial ownership of girls’ bodies. More specifically, it demonstrates the link between a daughter’s sexuality and her father’s reputation. The protection of a “good” girl’s chastity is a father’s responsibility until he hands it over to another man, the husband (Brumberg 1998). From that point forward, it is the husband who will manage and control her body. Karen’s promiscuity, then, is her father’s burden. The weight of this was exacerbated when Karen’s behavior was made public. Indeed, Eddie’s suicide is ultimately the result of his patriarchal failure to control his daughter. Third, Karen’s experience at the ball demonstrates the purity expected from middle-class women. The history of class and gender-based sexual expectations are deeply rooted, having emerged from a variety of social institutions, including religion, education, and medicine. For example, by the mid-1800s, physicians posited that women who had (what we would now call) a healthy sex drive, were either members of the lower


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classes, women of color, or severely ill (Hunter College 2015). Karen’s description of her actions as “un-ladylike” speaks to these traditional, classbased assumptions, while simultaneously standing in direct contrast to the presumed sexual availability of poor and working-class women. That is, middle-class girls like Karen should not have sexual urges and their purity (read: virtue) should be guarded and protected, while girls like Mandy are expected to be lascivious with little/no honor to protect. Karen’s use of language in her explanation demonstrates her awareness of her social class position, as well as the societal expectations that accompany it. Labeling Karen “a whore”—highlighting her failure to adhere to middle-class sensibilities—works to normalize the sexual availability of working-class women like Mandy, Fiona, and Veronica. In short: it reinforces the workingclass slut stereotype (see also Armstrong et al. 2014).

Conclusion In many ways, Shameless challenges viewers to see the realities of poor and working-class individuals. It highlights the struggles that families, like the fictitious Gallagher’s, must face on an everyday basis: maintaining safe shelter, providing enough food, and finishing school, just to name a few. The often-comical and “shameless” ways that they work to survive is entertaining and serves to humanize a population that often remains invisible—and this is certainly laudable. However, while making the lives of low-income and working-class individuals visible, in portraying the ways working-class folks cope with challenges, Shameless frequently relies on and reaffirms class and genderbased stereotypes. For example, employing the contemporary and omnipresent narrative of female empowerment, Fiona “has a lot of sex with multiple partners” (Everett, n.d.), and is misleadingly presented as empowered and in control. However, a careful analysis of Fiona’s character and her experiences reveals that she is neither empowered nor in control. Societal expectations, combined with her familial burdens, severely restrict Fiona's ability to make free choices for and about her own life. Suggesting that Fiona—or Mandy, or Karen, or any of the other Shameless women— have control over their sexuality ignores the classed and gendered structures that shape their opportunities and avenues for survival. The presentation of working-class women through fictional characters like Fiona only serves to reiterate the classed and gendered expectations that first appeared in the Americas during colonial times. The representations of working-class women as consistently sexually available, using sex as currency, and being unable to traverse class boundaries except

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occasionally through sex are not new. Neither are the auspices of agency and individual choice that frame these representations. Despite their modern appearance and present-day relevance, the stories of the women of Shameless’ South Side are just contemporary retellings of the same old stories. The stereotype of the working-class-slut is alive and well.

References American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). 2015. “Access to Contraception.” Clinical Guidance (615). Retrieved June 10, 2020 ( Armstrong, Elizabeth A., Laura T. Hamilton, Elizabeth M. Armstrong, and J. Lotus Seeley. 2014. "“Good Girls” Gender, Social Class, and Slut Discourse on Campus." Social Psychology Quarterly 77(2): 100-122. Bay-Cheng, Laina Y. 2015. The Agency Line: A Neoliberal Metric for Appraising Young Women’s Sexuality Sex Roles 73:279-291. Brumberg, Joan Jacobs. 1998. The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls. New York: Random House Publishing. Downing, Roberta A., Thomas A. LaVeist, and Heather E. Bullock. 2007. “Intersections of Ethnicity and Social Class in Provider Advice Regarding Reproductive Health.” American Journal of Public Health 97(10): 1803-1807. Edin, Kathryn and Maria Kefalas. 2011. Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. Berkeley: University of California Press. Espiritu, Yen Le. 2008. “‘We Don’t Sleep Around Like White Girls Do’: Family, Culture, and Gender in Filipina-American Lives.” Pp 144-152 in Women, Images and Realities: A Multicultural Anthology 4th ed., edited by Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind, with Suzanne Kelly. NY: McGraw Hill. Everett, Shelby Nicole. “How Fiona Gallagher’s Character in Shameless Empowers Women.” n.d. Fahs, Breanne. 2010. "Daddy’s Little Girls: On the Perils of Chastity Clubs, Purity Balls, and Ritualized Abstinence." Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 31(3):116-142. Fried, Marlene G. 2008. “Abortion in the U.S.: Barriers to Access” Pp 367374 in Women, Images and Realities: A Multicultural Anthology 4th ed., edited by Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind, with Suzanne Kelly. NY: McGraw Hill.


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Fuentes, Liz and Jenna Jerman. 2019. “Distance Traveled to Obtain Clinical Abortion Care in the United States and Reasons for Clinic Choice.” Journal of Women’s Health 28(12):1623-1631. Griffin, Susan. 2008. “Rape: The All-American Crime.” Pp 499-507 in Women, Images and Realities: A Multicultural Anthology 4th ed., edited by Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind, with Suzanne Kelly. NY: McGraw Hill. Guttmacher Institute. 2019. “Fact Sheet: Unintended Pregnancy in the United States.” Haskins, Ron and Carol Statuto Bevan. 1997. "Abstinence Education under Welfare Reform," Children and Youth Services Review 19(5-6):465-84. Hunter College Women’s and Gender Studies Collective. 2005. “The ‘Sexual Revolution’ and its Legacies.” Pp 28-30 in Women’s Realities, Women’s Choices. 4th ed. NY: Oxford University Press. Jones Rachel K. and Jenna Jerman. 2017. “Population Group Abortion Rates and Lifetime Incidence of Abortion: United States, 2008-2014.” American Journal of Public Health. 107:1904-1909. Kesselman, Amy, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind. 2008. Women, Images and Realities: A Multicultural Anthology. 4th ed. NY: McgrawHill. Langston, Donna. 2008. “Tired of Playing Monopoly.” Pp 394-398 in Women, Images and Realities: A Multicultural Anthology 4th ed., edited by Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind, with Suzanne Kelly. NY: McGraw Hill. Martin, Lauren. 2014. “10 Lessons Every Twenty-Something Girl Can Learn from Fiona Gallagher.” Elite Daily, January 13. Retrieved June 9, 2020 ( McNutt, Myles. 2016. “Shameless Embraces the Sexual Awakening of the Young Gallaghers.” The A.V. Club, March 13. Retrieved June 9, 2020 ( Ochs, Robyn. 2008. “Bisexuality, Feminism, Men and Me.” Pp 165-167 in Women, Images and Realities: A Multicultural Anthology 4th ed., edited by Amy Kesselman, Lily D. McNair, and Nancy Schniedewind, with Suzanne Kelly. NY: McGraw Hill. Pantea, Farvid, Virginia Braun, and Casey Rowney. 2017. “No Girl Wants to be Called a Slut!: Women, Heteroseuxal Casual Sex and the Sexual Double Standard.” Journal of Gender Studies 26(5):544-560.

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Power to Decide. 2020. Birth Control Access. Power to Decide, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Washington, DC. Retrieved June 9, 2020 ( Qureshi, Yasmeen. 2017. “West Virginia Schools Rethink Sex Ed.” PBS NewsHour, May 21. Washington, DC: Public Broadcasting Systems. Retrieved June 9, 2020 ( Rattansi, Ali. 2007. Racism. New York: Oxford University Press. Sonfield, Adam. 2020. “Policy Analysis: The ACA’s Birth Control Benefit Is Back Before the Supreme Court.” Guttmacher Institute. Sex, etc. n.d. “Sex in the States” Sex, etc. Zine New Brunswick: Rutgers Answers. Retrieved from and Stauter-Halsted, Keely and Nancy M. Wingfield. 2011. “Introduction: The Construction of Sexual Deviance in Later Imperial Eastern Europe.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 20(2):215-224. Stone, Pamela. 2007. Opting Out?: Why Women Quit Careers and Head Home. Berkeley: University of California Press. Tannenbaum, Leora. 2015. I Am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. Taryn. 2015. “Hood Girls and Homos: Sex and Class in Shameless.” Feministing, April 6. Retrieved March 25, 2020 ( Taylor, English. 2012. “How Shameless Reinvented the Working-Class Family TV Show.” The Atlantic, February 10. Retrieved June 9, 2020 ( Tiefer, Leonore. 2004. Sex is Not a Natural Act & Other Essays. NY: Westview Press.


Fiona and Debbie Gallagher are sisters born and raised (although “raised” in this context is questionable, as Fiona raised herself and her siblings the majority of the time) in the problem-ridden South Side of Chicago with outlaws for parents. In Seasons 5 and 6, Fiona is a budding entrepreneur and engaged to a man she believes to be a promising suitor. Her life is looking hopeful for the first time in a long time. She can finally start to imagine a future that is her own, free from her family members and their ever-present problems. Debbie, Fiona’s younger sister, also has a reason to smile: she has found what she believes to be love, along with a newfound sex life. As a plus, her boyfriend’s family seems nice and functional, which is a pleasant change from her routine. Emotional intimacy, although superficial at best, is new and promising to her, and she imagines a future free from her hard-knock life. For Fiona, it comes as a surprise, but for Debbie, it is a dream come true: a positive pregnancy test for both of them sets the stage for a dynamic and contentious exchange between these very different sisters. During the fifth and sixth seasons of Shameless, Fiona and Debbie Gallagher both become pregnant—Fiona by accident and Debbie intentionally. As they discuss, or rather argue, about their futures, viewers are given a chance to explore personal, political, and cultural positions on motherhood and abortion while also considering the characters’ socioeconomic status and family background. As the episodes unfold, we increasingly understand how important financial stability and positive familial experiences, or lack thereof, become when making decisions regarding motherhood. Although the sisters take oppositional stances on what they think is best for their futures, we argue they both have the same goal in mind: to rise above the adversity they have endured throughout their lives, both personally and financially. Their experiences, although fictional, present a very real scenario we imagine could happen in any home with

Leslie Welch and Kimberly Murray


anyone in a similar position. How do individuals make choices regarding parenthood? In what ways do “pro-choice” and “pro-life” labels become too prescriptive without understanding the complex nature of an individual’s life course and how their experiences and social milieu shape their decisions? We discuss common debates within American culture regarding women’s rights, motherhood, abortion, and family values using a fresh perspective, through the eyes of the Gallagher sisters.

Methods For this project, we use qualitative content analysis to explore sociological understandings of motherhood and abortion within relevant episodes of the show, Shameless. Employing a grounded approach (Charmaz 2006), we first reviewed the show’s content with the intention to find material that related to these themes. Upon initial review of the episode transcripts, we elected for purposive sampling, as Seasons 5 and 6 allowed us to focus our attention on the content with the most connections to these themes. Fiona and Debbie became our primary focus; however, we also considered other Gallagher family members’ reactions and recommendations regarding their pregnancies, as well as the sisters’ male suitors and how they influenced decision-making. We used “HyperRESEARCH” software to systematically identify initial codes that applied to our themes of motherhood, pregnancy, and abortion. After initial coding, we synthesized codes to reflect more sophisticated connections with the sociological literature. These codes helped us identify socio-political viewpoints (i.e. pro-life and pro-choice) and framing strategies (Benford and Snow 2000; Goffman 1974; Snow and Benford 1988) that justified why one would adopt one stance over the other (i.e., previous familial challenges, societal pressures, and financial freedom). The software helped us easily compare and contrast viewpoints, as well as find meaningful dialogue from the show to highlight connections to the literature.

Motherhood Over a period of five years, Edin and Kefalas (2005) explored the complexities of motherhood, family, and marriage within eight poor Philadelphia neighborhoods in their research, Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. Their intention was to understand why young, disadvantaged women so often have children outside of marriage. They also explored the influence women’s socioeconomic status (SES) has on their views of motherhood and marriage. While women


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within a higher SES delayed marriage and childbirth until they were educated, financially stable, and older, women within a lower SES did not. Their research led to unexpected results: contrary to public opinion, they found that women in disadvantaged positions still highly regarded marriage as a status they desired. Similar to their more advantaged counterparts, they still valued marriage. However, unlike their upper-/middle-class counterparts, the women Edin and Kafalas (2005) studied did not view pregnancy and motherhood as a burden, disadvantage, or barrier. Rather, they saw motherhood as an inevitable part of life; a desirable status symbol that gave meaning, stability, hope, and unconditional love to an otherwise tumultuous environment. Their children provided them with reason and purpose to create a more positive life for themselves and their children. With no other feasible paths towards better circumstances, these women viewed having children as a tangible way to improve their lives. Motherhood was an expected part of femininity and womanhood, one that many planned and dreamt for. While many pregnancies within the study were unplanned, some were planned and carefully thought out additions to women’s lives. Women within the study prided themselves on being able to provide for their children despite the forces against them, although their views on what constituted “providing” for their children differed from women in higher socioeconomic statuses. Poor mothers defined some of these simple measures as being able to give their children emotional support, consistent physical presence, basic needs, and protection. Through this research, Edin and Kefalas (2005) created an open dialogue into the previously underresearched lives of poor women, exploring the complicated intersections of poverty, gender, motherhood, and family. Shameless created a fictional yet realistic representation of these complexities of motherhood, as shown by Fiona and Debbie’s experiences.

Debbie: Motherhood as a Positive Instrument for Change “But you had a baby, and they loved you.” Debbie

In Season 4, Debbie becomes obsessed with the idea of becoming a woman. The ultimate symbol of womanhood for her is losing her virginity. The actual process of losing her virginity, however, was appalling instead of romantic. In Season 5, Episode 3, Debbie loses her virginity by raping her intoxicated older friend, Matty, while he’s asleep. After this episode, Debbie begins a fast-track launch into what she thinks is adulthood. She quickly pursues a new teenage crush, Derek Delgado, and they begin dating.

Leslie Welch and Kimberly Murray


In Season 5, Episode 10, they decide to have sex, and Debbie asks Fiona to take her to Planned Parenthood to get on birth control. When she receives the pills, the doctor warns her to use condoms for a few days until the pills become effective. After her appointment, she joins Derek and his family for dinner. There, she meets Derek’s sister-in-law, Tanya. The conversation she has with Tanya is critical to Debbie’s storyline. Tanya mentions that she had to drop out of school because of her son, Miles, who Derek’s brother, Jake, fathered. Debbie: Ever wish you could go back? Tanya: Nah. That little munchkin is the light of my life. And this family. When Jake went into the army, they took me in and loved me like their own. Debbie: But you're not Derek's sister? Derek: I call her that 'cause she's like a sister. But Jake's my actual bro. Tanya: I don't get along with my family. My dad's in prison. My mom's a drunk. I wanted so bad to belong to something warm and whole, like these guys. Nine months later, bam. I was in. Debbie: So, you chose your own family. Tanya: Kind of. Though I like to think that Miles chose all of us.

This conversation brings a new prospect: indeed, Debbie believes that having a baby with Derek will solve all her problems. According to Tanya, having a baby immediately made her a part of the loving and healthy Delgado family, a status symbol she’s never had. Before she had Miles, Tanya was stuck in a dysfunctional, addicted family—a situation Debbie closely relates to. Desperately wanting to improve her life, and with very few alternatives, Debbie makes the decision to become a mother almost immediately. When she and Derek have sex later that night, Derek attempts to use a condom. Debbie lies to him and says that she’s on the pill, and they continue without any protection. In the Season 5 finale, Debbie angrily tells Fiona that she’s pregnant after she catches Debbie and Derek in bed together. They argue, and Debbie insists that she loves Derek and that they’re going to get married: Debbie: Derek's mom got pregnant when she was six months older than me, and they've been together 20 years. Fiona: What are you talking about?


Pregnancy and Paths to Financial Freedom Debbie: I love him, and we're gonna get married, and we're gonna have a lot of babies, and we're gonna be happy! Fiona: Oh, for fuck's sake, Deb.

Lacking a clear plan for her life, Debbie truly believes that once she becomes pregnant, her life will improve. In a way, she is similar to the women in Promises I Can Keep (Edin and Kafalas 2005), who “rely on their children to bring validation, purpose, companionship, and order to their often-chaotic lives—things they find hard to come by in other ways” (2005:171). However, Debbie differs from the mothers in Edin and Kafalas’ study in one critical way. Whereas the women in the study prioritized children over marriage due to a lack of “marriageable” men and a more realistic understanding of the limits due to their circumstances, Debbie believes that she and Derek will live “happily ever after” once she becomes pregnant. Her naivety rests in her understanding of marriage from a middleclass perspective, where it is more attainable and secure, rather than her current reality. Debbie desperately craves the status and identity that motherhood will bring her, but she also incorrectly assumes Derek wants the “package deal” (Townsend 2002), which refers to a job, home, and family, which Derek is either unable and/or unwilling to provide. Unfortunately, Debbie’s fantasy of motherhood and marriage ends when Derek finds out he’s going to become a father. Similar to many of the couples Edin and Kefalas (2005) describe in their research, Debbie and Derek’s relationship crumbles under pressure. Many of the couples Edin and Kefalas (2005) studied were separated by the time their children were of pre-school age due to factors that plague many individuals living in low SES communities, such as less than favorable educational and employment opportunities. Couples in their study became sexually active very quickly, similar to Derek and Debbie. However, the couples in their study differed from Debbie and Derek. For example, some of the fathers suggested to their girlfriends to have a child together. Others were initially hopeful and excited about the idea of fatherhood. Whereas Derek seemed comfortable “hooking up,” he never wanted to have a child with Debbie (Sassler 2010). When he learns of Debbie’s pregnancy, he leaves to live with his grandparents in Florida without bothering to tell Debbie goodbye. Debbie refuses to accept that Derek made the choice voluntarily until she confronts Tanya in Season 6, Episode 2. Tanya tells Debbie that Derek’s parents were protecting her from the truth, and that Derek was the one who wanted to move to Florida. Ready or not, Debbie now has a new challenge to face: motherhood.

Leslie Welch and Kimberly Murray


Fiona: Motherhood as Entrapment “She’s gonna ruin her life.” Fiona

From its pilot episode, Shameless shows Fiona as the primary caretaker of her five siblings. With an absent, drug addicted and mentally ill mother, and an alcoholic, unstable father, the Gallagher siblings rely on each other to survive. Being the eldest sibling, Fiona drops out of high school in her junior year to become the family’s main provider. Daughters, as opposed to sons, are more likely to spend more time helping their parents, so Fiona’s experience likely resembles other familial arrangements (Sarkisian and Gerstel 2004). She is then forced to balance the intersection between two familial roles: sibling and mother. This provides Fiona with an intimate experience of untraditional motherhood—while she did not give birth to her siblings, she is expected to fulfill several traditional gender roles of mothering. Being forced to raise her siblings, Fiona intimately understands the demands raising more children will impose on her and her family. She has been a mother in the sense that she prepared meals, did laundry, made sure her siblings went to school, provided financial and emotional support for them, and bailed them out of trouble on a daily basis—which is similar to how Bianchi et al. (2006) describe the daily activities of women in families. She understands that women perform more domestic labor than men (Brennan et al. 2001; Lachance-Grzela and Bouchard 2010). In many ways, she is comparable to the wives and mothers featured in The Second Shift (Hochschild 1989; Milkie et al. 2009), only instead she argues and negotiates with her father, Frank, about their distribution (or lack thereof) of responsibility for household chores, childcare, and financial support. She views the addition of more children as an unnecessary burden and hindrance that will only serve to push her further into poverty and hold her hostage within her dysfunctional family. Throughout the fifth and sixth seasons, Fiona believes both Debbie’s pregnancy and her own will entrap them within their povertystricken environment and force them to remain in low socioeconomic standing. When Debbie angrily tells Fiona she’s pregnant during the Season 5 finale, Fiona attempts to convince Debbie to get an abortion. “You're just a kid if you’re willing to make a decision that could ruin the rest of your life with a boy you barely know,” she says. Fiona goes on to tell Debbie that having a baby is a mistake; however, Debbie defiantly claims that she knows what she wants. When talking to Sean about Debbie’s pregnancy in Season 6, Episode 2, Fiona makes a pivotal statement that sheds insight into how she views pregnancy and motherhood: “I should have made her go on the


Pregnancy and Paths to Financial Freedom

pill...If she has this baby, she’s gonna be like every sad ass girl in this fucking neighb—.” Although Fiona is speaking from personal experience, she speaks to the sociological literature on cohabitation, union development and dissolution; Fiona recognizes that the chances of Debbie and Derek staying together and getting married are extremely small (Edin and Kefalas 2005; Lichter et al. 2006). This episode also features a continuance of Fiona and Debbie’s debate: Fiona: Why are you doing this to me? Debbie: To you? Why does everything always have to be about you? Fiona: Because I’m finally almost free from raising you kids, and I don’t intend to do it again. Debbie: “Nobody’s asking you to. Fiona: Of course you are! There’s absolutely no way in hell that you’re going to be able to raise a baby, and I’m going to get stuck doing it!”

Fiona then employs their brother, Lip, to attempt to convince Debbie to abort her pregnancy, “Yeah, I had a whole speech,” he says. “You know, about not wanting you to be the girl at Costco, three kids hanging off your shopping cart, a fistful of food stamps, 50 pounds heavier, you know, desperate just to find somebody to take care of you.” Fiona realizes that a middle-to-upper-class lifestyle is out of reach for the Gallagher family, especially for a pregnant teenager who has not finished high school. She may also realize, unlike Debbie, that individuals in higher SES brackets are much more likely to prioritize marriage before parenthood. Although Debbie is similar to the mothers Edin and Kefalas (2005) study because she sees marriage as a goal to be attained after parenthood, she is much more naïve. The women in the study are more likely to value motherhood before marriage due to a lack of attractive marriage partners and a better understanding of their current reality, whereas Debbie fantasizes about motherhood being her ticket into a stable and loving family. A child, for mothers in the study, is a source of unconditional love and meaning in a harsh world, whereas Debbie attempts to use her child to gain love and affection from Derek and his family.

Abortion The simultaneous pregnancies of the Gallagher sisters allow Shameless to tackle another highly debated topic in America: abortion. As views continue to be increasingly politically polarizing, people in the U.S.

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generally fall (whether they like it or not) into one of two camps regarding opinions about abortion: “pro-choice” or “pro-life.” According to the Pew Research Center (2019), the percentage of Americans who felt abortion should be “illegal in all/most cases” ranged between 38%-44% from 19952019, whereas Americans who felt that abortion should be “legal in all/most cases” ranged between 47%-61%, respectively. In 2009, there was a threepoint difference between stances, with 47% of Americans arguing abortion should be “legal in most/all cases” and 44% arguing it should be “illegal in most/all cases.” In 2019, 61% of Americans argued abortion should be legal in most or all cases, whereas 38% of respondents felt abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. Recently, pro-life advocates have gained momentum in the law—as of June 2019, nine U.S. states have passed bans on early abortion (Gordon and Hurt 2019) with even more proposals making their way through other state legislatures. Pro-life advocates frequently describe abortion as a violation of fetal rights and a moral and ethical wrongdoing. Those who adopt this perspective view abortion as “murder,” against God, and a “sin” (Gelman et al. 2017). More generally, motherhood is revered by many as a highly meaningful and rewarding experience within American culture, regardless of class, despite the fact that women increasingly experience conflicts between familial and financial responsibility (Blair-Loy 2003; Correll et al. 2007; Edin and Kefalas 2005). However, abortions remain a relatively common medical procedure, especially for young women in Western society (Stone and Ingham 2011). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019) report that “the abortion rate for 2016 was 11.6 abortions per 1,000 women, aged 15-44 years, and the abortion ratio was 186 abortions per 1,000 live births,” with the majority of women receiving them being in their twenties. This leaves us to decipher highly contrasting idealistic and realistic expectations society holds for pregnant women and their decision-making processes. Access to abortion, according to pro-choice advocates, is a protected fundamental right that preserves women’s bodily autonomy. Prochoice advocates also acknowledge that women may also be unable or unwilling to support a child due to a variety of reasons. Past and current sociological research on abortion has revealed situational and cultural factors that influence a woman’s perspective and decision-making process regarding abortion (Purcell 2015). Similarly, Purcell (2015) synthesizes previous studies to identify the most commonly reported reasons women choose abortion: “partner or relationship factors; financial concerns; not being ready for parenthood; age; concerns for existing children; a wish to continue with future plans (completing education and establishing a career); a wish to increase spacing between pregnancies; and the stigma of


Pregnancy and Paths to Financial Freedom

pregnancy outside socially sanctioned contexts” (589). Women seeking abortions do acknowledge that cultural ideals of motherhood often conflict with their decisions. The stigma surrounding abortion may also have a substantial negative impact on woman’s experiences—even though abortion remains commonplace and widespread in many communities, women who have had, or are currently seeking an abortion, may even report holding antiabortion sentiments themselves (Gelman et al. 2017). However, research suggests these ideals can quickly become “outweighed by practical concerns relating to the woman's life circumstances and relationships” (Purcell 2015:587). To some, viewing abortion as a one-time occurrence, as something they do only as a last resort when no other option is available, helps to resolve this conflict (Gelman et al. 2017). In the sixth season of Shameless, Debbie, Fiona, and their family members debate about reproductive rights and decisions when both sisters become pregnant. Reading through their decision-making process offers an opportunity to think about how they exemplify pro-choice and pro-life viewpoints.

Debbie: Pro-Life Perspective “Did you kill my unborn niece or nephew yet?” Debbie

Throughout Debbie’s development as a character, she remains adamant on her decision to become a mother. She sees motherhood as a symbol of maturity and adulthood, as well as the ultimate way for her to create the perfect marriage and family—one that is free from hardship and dysfunction. To be sure, Debbie values the status motherhood would bring her. Because she made the decision to become pregnant deliberately, she repeatedly tells Fiona that an abortion is simply not a part of her plan. She draws from larger socio-political sentiments to justify her “pro-life” stance, while also attempting to guilt Fiona into having her child as well. Throughout Season 6, Debbie repeatedly refers to abortion as “killing her baby.” To her, having an abortion would ruin her chances of removing herself from poverty and securing love. In Season 6, Episode 2, Fiona and Debbie debate her pregnancy in the Gallagher’s kitchen: Fiona: Debs, come on. You're 15. Yeah? Debbie: Please, you're always bragging about how you had to raise us when you were 16. Fiona: Bragging? It was forced on me. I didn't have a choice. You have a choice. Debbie: Yeah, and I choose to have a baby.

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Debbie’s plan to convince Fiona to keep her pregnancy stems from a desire to have a companion for herself during her pregnancy and to create a playmate for her own child. This is illustrated in Season 6, Episode 3: in a conversation with a schoolmate Debbie states that Fiona keeping her pregnancy would be easier for her because Fiona could watch her child while she goes to school. Her unrealistic vision of her future highlights how different she is from her sister: whereas Fiona knows what it takes to raise and support a child day in and day out, Debbie has no idea. Fiona acts much like Debbie’s mother throughout many of the episodes, attempting to convince Debbie to have an abortion in order to escape the woes of being a teen mom. In Season 6, Episode 3, during what Debbie calls an “intervortion,” she attempts to convince Fiona to keep her pregnancy. This of course spectacularly backfires, with Fiona only further convincing herself of her decision to terminate. The dialogue during this episode is particularly important, as it brings up several different societal and political attitudes surrounding abortion. The Gallagher patriarch, Frank, adopts a “pro-life” stance regarding his daughters’ pregnancies. He tells Fiona: “We are here to stop you from destroying your soul, this family, and my legacy, which all live in the form of a defenseless fetus in your womb.” Although Frank nearly always responds to situations based on selfish reasons (i.e., to get something or to entertain himself) rather than a sense of moral duty, he quickly taps into pro-life rhetoric while talking with his daughters, overly dramatizing an already intense discussion. To Frank, abortion is “a crime against God,” a recurring sentiment previously discussed within the research done by Gelman et al. (2017). However, he also respects both daughters and their right to choose, although he supports Debbie more: Debbie: She [Fiona] says I'm too young. Frank: She's wrong. Scientifically wrong. Biologically speaking, you're in your prime childbearing years. Actually, a little beyond them. This is your time, Debs. Don't let anyone tell you differently. Debbie: But what about Fiona? Frank: She can't force you to do anything. You have the right to control your own body. But Fiona has that right too.

Women in the Edin and Kefalas (2005) study reported that the optimal time to have children was in their late teens or early twenties, which aligns with Frank’s “biological clock” argument. Other family members offer their own opinions during the “inter-vortion.” Liam overhears the debate and says, “Don’t kill babies, Fiona.” Fiona responds by affirming her


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viewpoint, saying, “I won't kill any babies. I'll just have some cells in my tummy vacuumed out, okay?” This argument goes on, with Debbie telling Fiona that she wants their babies to play together and that they are cousins. Fiona replies, “They are not babies. They are not cousins. They are the size of warts right now, and when you get a wart, you freeze it off.” Fiona takes a much more clinical tone when she discusses her abortion, whereas Debbie is more emotional. The Gallagher brothers Lip and Ian frequently tell Fiona that you cannot control what someone does with their body. Debbie ultimately says: “It's my body, my decision.” In a statement that is typically used to defend the “pro-choice” camp, Debbie flips the script when she uses it to defend her decision to refuse an abortion. Although defiant about aborting her own pregnancy, Debbie finally respects Fiona’s decision to choose, albeit in a selfish, twisted way. During her heated debates with Fiona, Debbie frequently states that she will not “kill her baby,” However, during the “inter-vortion,” Fiona asks Debbie why she told everyone about her pregnancy after she confided in Debbie privately. Debbie responds by saying that she did so because she cares about Fiona. Fiona then asks, “Are you saying I don’t have the right to choose?” Debbie responds, “No. I’m a feminist. I believe you have that right.” Yet, Debbie almost always refers to an abortion as “killing a baby,” which underlines the conflicting messages women receive from society about how they should view this topic.

Fiona: Pro-Choice Perspective “We made mistakes, but it’s not too late to fix them.” Fiona

Throughout all nine seasons of Shameless, Fiona has multiple flings, boyfriends, and hookups. Never shy about owning her sexuality, Fiona remains unapologetic in her decisions. During the fifth season, she impulsively marries Gus Pfender, a bassist in a rock band she’s known for one week. This relationship quickly deteriorates after Fiona cheats on Gus with her ex, Jimmy. Eventually, Fiona and Gus separate while he goes on tour with his band. In Season 6, Fiona forms an intense relationship with her boss, Sean, a recovering drug addict. Fiona’s character reflects a finding in sociological literature: that women are more likely to have multiple shortlived cohabiting relationships if they have experienced childhood abuse. Indeed, the show makes this latter point glaringly clear beginning with the first episode—Fiona was deprived of a healthy, nurturing childhood while being neglected by her parents (see Cherlin 2010).

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Fiona first learns that she's pregnant during a routine drug test. In Episode 3 of Season 6, Fiona informs her sister Debbie of her pregnancy, saying, “...turns out the pill is a big fucking waste of money.” Fiona’s reaction is one of complete shock—she obviously was not expecting to become a mother anytime soon. She approaches her pregnancy using a prochoice perspective, refusing to let anyone else’s opinions cloud her reasoning for seeking an abortion. When Fiona finds out that Debbie is also pregnant, she assumes Debbie feels the same way: And now we can go through it together. We can go to the clinic. We'll make appointments for the same day. It'll be good. It'll be like a family outing. Like Disneyland, only with abortions.

Whereas Debbie reflects a common positive sentiment on pregnancy found among low-income women in the literature, Fiona remains very logical about her pregnancy and her chances of rising out of poverty. When Fiona tells her best friend, Veronica, that she’s pregnant, Veronica asks if she is going to tell Sean (or Gus, or Jimmy) that they might have fathered her child. Fiona responds by saying “no, ‘cause I’m not gonna have it.” Later in the episode, she breaks down to Sean and tells him she’s pregnant. Just before she knew of her pregnancy, Sean informed her that he had relapsed and used heroin. During their conversation, Fiona reminds Sean of her bodily autonomy and her right to choose what comes next: Fiona:

Sean: Fiona:

I'm pregnant and I'm not having it. And you don't get to have an opinion about it 'cause I don't know how long I've been pregnant, and I don't even know if it's yours, which you also don't get to have an opinion about. Just like I'm not allowed to have any opinion about you shooting up, and I'm not allowed to ask you to make any promises. This is like that. [whispering] Like that. You don't get a vote, and you don't get to go shoot up over it either. [sobs] And these tears aren't because I'm sad to have a fucking abortion or because I'm having mixed feelings. They're because I had a shit week and because the hormones that are raging through my body have swollen my tits so much that my fucking bra doesn't fit, and it hurts. [sobbing]

Over the course of six seasons, Fiona’s situational factors have not changed much—she still has a lot of pressure to take care of her family. Adding to this, her fiancé is an unstable drug addict, and their relationship


Pregnancy and Paths to Financial Freedom

is still reeling from his recent relapse. At this moment, she’s also experiencing tiring physical symptoms that keep her from functioning as usual, while she’s also trying to get ahead, making a name for herself as a business woman. In many ways, we are watching Fiona cope with what sociologists call “work-family” conflict, on top of the day-to-day difficulties that come along with living on the South Side (Bianchi and Milkie 2010). Work-family conflict occurs when women feel additional pressure, compared to men, to be both the ideal worker and the ideal wife/mother, even though she is not technically either. Although it may be reasonable to assume her decision to terminate is based on current work-family conflict, it is also reasonable that Fiona envisions a life without children and would make the same decision regardless of the circumstances. Either way, her perspective stands in contrast to what Edin or Kefalas (2005) report for many low SES women in their study, providing an alternative narrative with which to understand women’s decisions regarding motherhood. After reflecting on raising her younger siblings, memories that are both nostalgic and negative, Fiona decides to launch herself fully into the business world, attempting to detach (although not successfully) from her family. In Season 6, Episode 6, Fiona decides to do, what she believes, is best for her. Indeed, she makes her stance clear: this choice is hers and only hers to make and she won’t apologize for it. During the procedure, she is stoic and unemotional. After the procedure, she went about her day like normal. This portrayal of Fiona’s abortion within the framework of a popular television show can be imperative to the public’s perception of controversial topics. As Sisson and Kimport (2014) found, abortion themes in media can alter public understanding by providing a conceptual framework for what pregnancy and abortion are like, “and may play a role in the production of social myths about abortion and abortion stigma, with consequences for the lived experience of women seeking abortions” (414). Fiona’s experience and attitude about her abortion may become more commonplace within society if the stigma of abortion lessons over time, similar to the trend of attitudes about premarital childbearing (Thornton and Young-DeMarco 2004).

Financial Freedom Existing literature on women in the workforce describes the difficult scenarios women must overcome to achieve financial freedom. These impediments to women’s advancement in the workforce are founded upon socially constructed norms of gender, class, and their intersections that form a blueprint for us to navigate our workplaces (Davis and Greenstein

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2009). Gender roles influence nearly every aspect of our lives, including how, when, and why we make decisions regarding our family life. This also directly affects how women enter the workforce. England (2010) explores this subject, finding that as a result of two existing Western ideas on gender—gender essentialism and individualism—women are moving into traditionally male-dominated fields at a faster rate than males enter femaledominated fields. This occurs most often when women cannot achieve upward mobility within traditionally gendered roles. When this is an option, women may opt to find employment within the prescribed cultural norms to avoid backlash. Debbie, who mistakenly uses middle to upper-class women as her reference group, attempts to use attitudes about gender essentialism to justify her pregnancy and hopes for a life with Derek. Even after Derek is no longer a viable option for her, Debbie attempts to find a vulnerable man with a cancer-stricken wife who can financially provide for her and her baby, Franny, once his wife dies. In Season 6, she works for the family as a nanny in an attempt to show the man how motherly she can be, but her dreams are derailed when his wife goes into remission. Fiona, however, enters male-dominated fields of entrepreneurship and real estate in hopes of achieving upward mobility without anyone’s help. Fiona and Debbie frequently discuss their socioeconomic status and the impact that having a child will have on their futures, financially and otherwise. Fiona is determined to assert herself in a world she is unfamiliar with, constantly struggling to beat the odds. Benard and Correll (2010) detail a form of bias called “normative discrimination,” in which success in the labor market requires traditionally “masculine” qualities, which contradict the societal expectations for women to be mothers, and therefore nurturing. Specifically, they argue that “normative discrimination” is rooted in assumptions that if a mother is committed to her job, she cannot be a good mother, and vice versa. Similarly, Blair-Loy (2003) describes working mothers’ battle with culturally-defined ideals that tell women their place and purpose is within the home. Perhaps because of these cultural messages, women report feeling the need to be “intensive mothers” (Hays 1996) who dedicate their time to their children (in this case, Fiona’s pseudo-siblingchildren). Meanwhile, career-dedicated women describe the need to prove themselves in order to avoid the “motherhood penalty”—a marked decrease in wages women face when they enter into motherhood. According to Avellar and Smock (2003), despite the fact women are more likely to be in the workforce, this penalty has not changed over time. While Debbie tries to find support by adopting more traditional, motherly roles, Fiona goes a different route—adopting the more masculine traits of assertiveness and directness as she enters the workforce. Staying childless is also a part of


Pregnancy and Paths to Financial Freedom

Fiona’s plan to be financially successful. Still, because of her social class and gender, she faces a variety of setbacks. According to Correll et al. (2007), if she were an expectant father, she might enjoy preferential treatment in hiring decisions, be deemed more qualified and devoted, and receive a higher starting salary. She might also receive what Glauber (2008) refers to as a “fatherhood wage premium.” Indeed, by juxtaposing the experiences of Debbie and Fiona, Shameless does an excellent job portraying the difficulties women (especially those from lower socioeconomic statuses) face when attempting to achieve financial stability and freedom in the current workforce, while also navigating expectations of motherhood, gender, and the disadvantages that come along with being a Gallagher. “You can have a baby when you’re older and finished high school and college and gotten a job.” Fiona

Debbie is not prepared for the harsh reality of life as a single, teenage mother. However, she steps up to provide for her child. In a conversation between her and Fiona in Season 6, Episode 5, Fiona asks why Debbie missed her call. Debbie responds by saying that she had to go to work, which surprises Fiona. “You got a job?” she asks. Debbie responds, “Yeah, I have to support my family. And to answer your next question, yes, I’m still going to school. I’m responsible like that. I’m gonna find us a new place.” Indeed, her resilience is admirable—a quality found in many women in similar positions (Edin and Kefalas 2005). Although later seasons were not a part of our original focus, Debbie’s future career in later seasons is relevant to her coming to terms with her inability to fit within idealistic, gendered roles of wife and mother. During Season 8, having accepted the fact that gendered norms work better for middle-/upper-class women, she becomes interested in welding—a blue collar, but potentially lucrative, job dominated by men. Although she faces job discrimination and lower wages compared to her fellow welders, she goes to drastic lengths in her attempt to secure equal pay. After her boss tells her she gets paid less money because she takes more bathroom breaks, she uses Franny’s diapers to create an adult diaper that she uses during her shift. She even develops a relationship with a lesbian coworker, despite the fact that she is sexually attracted to men, in an attempt to achieve financial and emotional support: if she cannot achieve her vision with a man (after many failed attempts), she is willing to try to realize it with a woman. In classic Gallagher form, this ends with drastic emotional consequences for her new partner.

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Limitations and Future Directions One limitation to this study is that the authors do not consider additional seasons in their sample for line-by-line coding. Although other seasons are briefly mentioned to provide some context before and after the seasons studied, there are deeper nuances to be discovered by including all seasons for analysis. For example, Debbie and Fiona’s lives do not end after Season 6. They both experience failure in their relationships (Debbie with Derek and Fiona with Sean) during Seasons 5 and 6, but they experience additional relationship failures in subsequent seasons. Similarly, they both also attempt to join the workforce in male-dominated positions, which we briefly discussed above. However, dialogue and plot lines from additional seasons would be helpful in understanding how the sisters’ relationship changed as a result of their disagreements, as well as how they adapted their plans in order to continue trying to escape their hardships. Also, Debbie tends to gain momentum during later seasons, becoming a savvy welder dodging gender discrimination at her job, as well as taking full responsibility for Franny. Fiona, on the other hand, fails at escaping her dysfunctional habits and falls into a cycle of disappointing work and personal endeavors that leave her angry and sad. She ends up leaving her home on an airplane, leaving viewers to wonder if she will “make it” now that she is physically leaving her home. Another limitation is that the scholarly works referenced do not align perfectly with Fiona and Debbie’s trajectories. For example, Edin and Kefalas (2005) studied real women in Philadelphia and Camden, NJ, whereas Shameless is set in South Side Chicago with fictional characters. The authors recognize that the show is for entertainment and often makes light of the seriousness of social problems facing poor women. However, the purpose of the book is to use examples from the series to connect to the literature, and this chapter does allow for comparison and contrast between real and fictional lives, providing opportunities for critical thinking and discussion.

Conclusion Both Debbie and Fiona Gallagher were forced into a life of struggle and poverty against their own will. Many events within their lives happened not by choice, but as a direct result of the adversity they faced. Their decisions regarding pregnancy and motherhood, while personal, unique, and opposite, were made because of who they were and the contexts they faced. If born into a different class or of another gender, their experiences might


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have been vastly different. Yet, despite their opposition, they are very much alike in that they both wanted to rise out of poverty and a cycle of family dysfunction. However, due to their circumstances, socialization, and low SES status, they were both ultimately unable to achieve these goals using their preferred methods. Through the harsh and realistic portrayal of topics such as poverty, addiction, homelessness, violence, and perseverance, Shameless allows viewers to explore sociological topics in an accessible and relevant way. Seasons 5 and 6 investigate how poverty, class, and life experiences affect women, and where motherhood and familial ties are created and abandoned. Despite the fact that Shameless is a work of fiction, our research uncovered connections to real life hardships many women face in their own, everyday lives.

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Pregnancy and Paths to Financial Freedom

Pew Research Center. 2019. “Public Opinion on Abortion: Views on Abortion, 1995-2019.” Retrieved June 28, 2019. ( Purcell, Carrie. 2015. “The Sociology of Women's Abortion Experiences: Recent Research and Future Directions.” Sociology Compass 9. Sarkisian, Natalia and Naomi Gerstel. 2004. “Explaining the Gender Gap in Help to Parents: The Importance of Employment.” Journal of Marriage and Family 66(2):431-451. Sassler, Sharon. 2010. “Partnering Across the Life Course: Sex, Relationships and Mate Selection.” Journal of Marriage and Family 72(3):557-575. Shameless Transcripts Index, Forever Dreaming. (n.d.). Retrieved from Sisson, Gretchen, and Katrina Kimport. 2014. "Telling Stories About Abortion: Abortion-Related Plots in American Film and Television, 1916-2013." Contraception 89(5):413-418. Snow, David A. and Robert D. Benford. 1988. “Ideology, Frame Resonance, and Participant Mobilization.” International Social Movement Research 1:197-218. Stone, Nicole and Roger Ingham. 2011. “Who Presents More Than Once? Repeat Abortion Among Women in Britain.” Journal of Family Planned Reproductive Health Care 1-7. Thornton, Arland and Linda YoungဨDeMarco. 2004. “Four Decades of Trends in Attitudes Toward Family Issues in the United States: The 1960s Through the 1990s.” Journal of Marriage and Family 63(4):1009-1037. Townsend, Nicholas W. 2002. The Package Deal: Marriage, Work, and Fatherhood in Men’s Lives. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.



Nobody’s saying our neighborhood’s the Garden of Eden. Hell, some people say God avoids this place altogether. But it’s been a good home to us, to me and my kids, who I am proud of…because every single one of them reminds me a little bit of me. Fiona, my rock, huge help, has all the best qualities of her mother, except she’s not a raging psycho-b**ch. Lip, smart as a whip. Straight A’s and the honor roll. Boy’s definitely going somewhere. Ian, industrious, conscientious, ambitious, incredible work-ethic. Don’t have a clue where he got that from. Wants to be a paratrooper. Knows how to disembowel an enemy with a role of dimes and an old gym sock. Carl…Um, I don’t really know that much about Carl. Oh, loves animals. Always dragging home some poor stray he found, taking them up to his room. Ah Debbie, sent by God, total angel. Raises money for UNICEF year-round, some of which she actually turns in. Liam, going to be a star. I’m no biologist, but he looks a little bit like my first sponsor. He and the ex were close. Kev and Veronica, fantastic neighbors. There’s nothing they won’t do for each other…or to each other. I never realized how little sex I was having till V and Kev moved next door. And me, Frank Gallagher, father, teacher, mentor. Captain of our little ship. We may not have much, but all of us to a man knows the most important thing in this life: we know how to f**king party! (Frank Gallagher, Season 1, Episode 1)

Two parents and six children comprise the Gallagher family. Monica, the deceased biological mother, was an addict and diagnosed bipolar who abandoned her children. Frank, the “patriarch” is a profound alcoholic and a narcissist. Although frequently physically present, Frank primarily involves himself in his children’s lives when it directly and

Marshall R. Schmidt and Leslie Riggle Miller


immediately benefits him. Fiona, the oldest child and daughter, dropped out of high school and has played the family caretaker role since she was nine. Fiona does the best she can, with limited resources, to parent her own father and her siblings. However, Fiona also has her own issues that she has never had time to resolve, and her own dreams, and Fiona leaves Chicago once her siblings finally no longer need her mothering. Lip, the second child and oldest son, is smart but also self-destructive, and Lip’s alcoholism and proclivity for violence contribute to his expulsion from a prestigious college. Despite failing to escape the South Side, Lip does learn to manage his alcoholism and becomes a mechanic and a father. Ian, like his mother, has bipolar disorder and frequently encounters difficulties related to his sexuality. Ian has limited success as an EMT and an LGBTQ+ advocate, and is incarcerated for a period of time, but continues to remain loyal to his long-term partner Mickey. Debbie has “daddy issues” and at fifteen becomes a single mother. When Fiona leaves, Debbie, involuntarily, becomes the matriarch of the Gallaghers. Carl is dumb, but tough and loyal, and appears to have his life on track after enrolling at a military academy, only to graduate and be blackballed from enlisting. Finally, Liam, the youngest and only black Gallagher, is smart, but he is also often ignored and depicted as searching for who he is in a family that does not look like him. For instance, Liam both allows himself to be used as a “token student” at an elitist white school, but also embarks on a search for his own personal identity as a young black man. Like his family members across the series who exhibit similar searches for identity and aversions to being a Gallagher, Liam eventually accepts his Gallagher identity and fate. This acceptance is depicted in Season 10, Episode 4 when Liam’s new black mentor, MeVar, tells Liam how the Gallaghers bring out the worst in everyone and asks Liam if he’s proud of that. Liam responds, “Hey, man, I know who I am.” This unique Gallagher familial identity accepted by Liam and his siblings helps illustrate the importance of family as both a source of identity and an institution itself.

Family as an Identity and Institution Family, in whatever form it takes, is the fundamental building block of society and the most important agent of socialization. Shameless depicts the inextricable link between one’s family of origin and one’s image of self. We argue, that in the context of the Gallagher family, the name ‘Gallagher,’ and the internalization of what it means to be a Gallagher (i.e., a poor, tough, determined, loyal, and yet self-destructive and ill-fated Chicago South Sider) becomes so important, in fact, that it actually shifts


“Nobody f**ks with the Gallaghers!”

from simply being a surname to a salient central identity for each member, and that each member also seeks to confirm this identity across a variety of situations, which also acts to further cement and reinforce this identity. Also, because of this, the Gallagher identity acts as a bonding and binding mechanism for the siblings that guides their behaviors and restricts their abilities to completely escape the culture, context, and family in which they have been socialized. Although Shameless focuses on the nefarious activities and exploits of the dysfunctional Gallagher family, and, in doing so, displays the importance of familial identity, the show also fundamentally depicts the complexities of the modern institution of family. The show illustrates several sociological concepts and phenomena identified by family scholars, including those that display changes in the institution of the family over time. For instance, the show depicts changes in family formation, functioning, processes, and meanings, and how these vary by social class. We use the Gallaghers to describe and illustrate some of these changes, including changes concerning the definition and conceptualization of family for both sociologists and mainstream Americans. Further, we discuss how all of these changes relate to the importance of family as an identity, social structure, and institution. We use identity theory as a framework to explain the Gallagher identity and to undergird our discussion of family. We begin by explaining how the Gallagher identity matters for each family members’ formation of self, how it affects members’ behaviors and actions across a range of contexts, and, ultimately, how this Gallagher identity acts to reinforce itself because of its salience.

Gallagher as Identity Identity Theory Structural symbolic interactionism explains the interdependent and reflexive relationship between the self and society (Stryker 1980), or how “…social structures affect self and how self affects social behaviors.” (Stryker and Burke 2000:285). The self consists of multiple, different identities (internalized roles or positions), that are situated within and tied to social structures (e.g., families, social classes). These identities can be related to groups that individuals are members of (social identities), roles that individuals play (role identities), and identities associated with the self as an individual (person identities).

Marshall R. Schmidt and Leslie Riggle Miller


All identities have meanings attached to them that are derived from the culture and social structure in which individuals are socialized, and these meanings include behavioral expectations (Stets 2006). For instance, there are meanings and behavioral expectations associated with being a member of a group like the National Rifle Association or an LGBTQ+ group, such as different conceptions of freedom and rights tied to these groups and group member’s expected defense of these beliefs. There are similar meanings and expectations for roles, like that of a mother or a teacher, both of which may be expected to nurture and instruct. A person may also have a particular unique identity that they have internalized as important to their conception of self as an individual, such as being a moral person (i.e., a moral identity) (Stets and Carter 2006). Identities operate simultaneously, but the identity that individuals focus on or give prominence to (i.e., identities that are more important to their conception of self) determine whether (or not) particular issues are significant in a given situation and the behaviors individuals enact (Stets 2006). Identity theory primarily includes two related strands with different foci. The first strand explains how social structure shapes identity and behaviors (Stryker 1980; Stryker and Serpe 1982). For the Gallaghers, their low socio-economic status (SES) affects their self-perceptions and the various survival behaviors they engage which, in turn, stem from this low SES position. The second strand focuses on how internal processes (i.e., cognitive unconscious processes) working to confirm identity selfmeanings (meanings connected to an identity that is important to one’s conception of self) in a given situation influence behavior (Burke 1991; Burke and Reitzes 1991; Burke and Stets 1999) (through a process of selfverification that helps confirm, validate, and reinforce one’s self-perception relative to different elements present in a given situation). For instance, the variety of self-defeating and self-destructive ways that Gallagher family members act when confronted with social situations are possibly identity disconfirming (e.g., Lips maladjustment and dismissal from college discussed extensively below). Stryker and Burke’s (2000) theoretical work suggests how the two strands of identity theory are related, may be integrated, and that the processes they describe can work reciprocally. That is, social structures can affect identities, which influence self-verification, and self-verification can affect social structures (Stryker and Burke 2000). This reciprocity is evident in Shameless where familial social structure shapes a salient Gallagher identity, which influences self-destructive behaviors and other similar actions of family members that are unconsciously aimed at confirming selfperceptions, informed by the Gallagher identity, across a variety of situations.


“Nobody f**ks with the Gallaghers!”

For instance, we can see the relationship between social structure, identity, and self-verification in Lip’s adjustment to college, his return home for the summer after his first year at school, his return to school, and in the behaviors that lead up to his eventual expulsion and decision to become sober.

Lip, Identity Salience, and Self-Verification “You screwed up. That just proves you’re a Gallagher.” Fiona (Season 4, Episode 4)

In Season 4, Lip has a difficult time adjusting to college. In particular, he has trouble connecting with other students. For instance, at a party in Episode 2, Lip fails to impress his macroeconomics tutor who is more interested in a PhD student, because of the PhD student’s academic prowess and potential, even though Lip and the tutor have a clear connection. At the same party, Lip encounters another former South Sider with whom he thinks he will connect. Lip begins a conversation with her by casually, yet seriously, asking if she wants to go “smoke a fatty” and “bang one out” (Lip Gallagher, Season 2, Episode 4). She tells Lip that his “hood rat attitude” will not work with these people, and Lip begins to realize how ill-prepared he is (both socially and educationally) for this new environment. Lip also encounters difficulties academically. He does poorly on multiple papers, because, possibly for the first time ever, he actually has to put effort into his studies, something he quickly discovers that other students at his school take seriously. When Lip finally adequately prepares for a midterm exam, he misses the exam. After being told he cannot take a makeup exam, and that his scholarship could have been given to another deserving student who would not have shown up late, Lip reverts to his selfdestructive Gallagher self and smashes the windows of multiple cars at the university and has to run from campus police. Back in the South Side, Lip brags to Mandy Milkovich, a neighborhood girl Lip had a significant relationship with, about what he did at school and then has unprotected sex with her. Afterwards, Lip suggests that they don’t get the morning-after pill and that it wouldn’t be bad “to have a little ghetto rug rat running around” (Lip Gallagher, Season 4, Episode 2). Lip eventually tells Mandy he is quitting school, and, they get into an argument in which Mandy tells Lip he cannot quit school just to become a hood rat. Lip’s response to difficulties at school, which also conflict with his Gallagher identity and perception of self, is to return to Mandy and the South Side. Mandy played an instrumental role in Lip’s life before he left

Marshall R. Schmidt and Leslie Riggle Miller


for school, with Kev even describing Lip and Mandy as “ghetto married” (Kevin Ball, Season 3, Episode 5). Being with Mandy, having a “ghetto rug rat,” and living in poverty in the South Side is an image closer to how Lip views himself, and living this life (as opposed to college life) would help Lip verify self-meanings he associates with his salient Gallagher identity (i.e., Lip’s idea of who he is or who he is supposed to be, his role in life, and where he societally fits in, all as attached to his identity) and affirm his choice to leave school. However, Mandy rebukes him and gives him a black eye while making it clear that he does not belong in the South Side, which leads Lip to seek out other sources of verification and enact behaviors that will allow him to confirm self-meanings he associates with his identity. After Mandy gives Lip a black eye, Lip leaves and goes straight to the local bar The Alibi Room where, after explicating how college is a scam, he tells Kev that he is not an “elitist prick” but a “South Side prick” like the rest of them (Lip Gallagher, Season 4, Episode 2). Kev tells Lip that he cannot quit college and that if he does, he will have no future, to which Lip replies “Kev, I am just trying to drink my beer, [and] enjoy being back home.” (Lip Gallagher, Season 4, Episode 2). Kev retorts that “This isn’t your home, this is where you grew up. It’s not where you’re supposed to be.” (Kevin Ball, Season 4, Episode 2). Lip does go back to school and is given a break by the professor whose exam he was late to, and he does ultimately complete his first year of college. Lip returns to the South Side for summer break and the disconnect between the two worlds he occupies and the difficulty he has reconciling who he is in these two places is more pronounced than before. At college, Lip is a promising student with the potential to land a lucrative job, and he is surrounded by upper-class white kids concerned with their future. In the South Side, Lip is known as a Gallagher, and he is surrounded by hood rats with bleak prospects. In Episode 1 of Season 5, immediately upon Lip’s return to the South Side, he has to nonchalantly turn down smoking cannabis with former friends, which he is initially interested in but is clearly turned off by once he learns it is laced with angel dust. During this exchange, to save face, Lip also feels compelled to lie to his friends about the new Fossil watch that Amanda, a coed he develops feelings for, gave him as a sign of her affection. Rather than admitting he likes Amanda, Lip dismissively says that he “stole it [the watch] from some dumb college kid.” Later in the evening, Lip pretends that he isn’t home to avoid associating with the same friends, and he is shown texting Amanda, who he clearly misses, even though he explained to her earlier in the day that he would not be in a committed relationship with her while he was in the South Side, because that is not who he is and it would not be possible for him to be monogamous


“Nobody f**ks with the Gallaghers!”

while home (i.e., this is incongruent with how Lip views himself as a Gallagher). After working backbreaking construction for most of the summer for Tommy, a barfly from The Alibi Room, Lip takes a trip to Miami to visit Amanda. In Miami, Lip surprisingly bonds with Amanda’s engineer father, who formerly offered to pay Lip $10,000 to stay away from his daughter, and Amanda’s father tells Lip that next summer he will get him a paid internship because he is too smart to be working construction. Although Lip sees that he fits more into Amanda’s world than the South Side, he still attempts to verify, especially to himself, his Gallagher identity, his fundamental self-perception. We see this in Episode 5 of Season 5, when Lip is challenged and feels that he has to prove to Mickey Milkovich, Mandy’s brother and a neighborhood thug who eventually becomes the endearing boyfriend of Ian, that he is “still South Side.” Mickey shows that he is “South Side,” and expects Lip to do the same, by using an automatic weapon to shoot up an organic coffee shop recently built in the neighborhood, which also serves as a harbinger of the gentrification to come to the South Side. Lip, unsurprisingly to Mickey, but possibly to himself, cannot pull the trigger, to which Mickey says “South Side huh? I knew it. College b**ch,” and as Mickey and his friends speed away after shooting up the shop and Lip hides in a dumpster from the cops, Lip appears frightened. The next day, two weeks early, Lip moves back to the college dorms, as it is clear that life in the South Side, and to a large degree life as a Gallagher, is starting to clash with Lip’s growing identity and selfperception of a hard-working college student with a future. Lip wants to do well at school and better himself. But, again, when he encounters difficulties, his salient Gallagher identity manifests itself. Helene, a professor who Lip had a brief but significant affair with, recognizes and calls him out on this when Lip tries to invoke “South Side rules,” telling him: You know what? Drop the whole ‘noble thug’ shtick…You have a choice right now. To recognize that you are a promising young college student, not some ghetto outlaw. You stop behaving like the world is out to get you when it is so clearly dropping gifts at your feet. Or you keep doing what you’re doing, and you end up in a cell somewhere angry and out of options (Helene Runyon, Season 5, Episode 10).

Lip has a scholarship and research assistant position to facilitate funding his education, he has the clear mental capacities to do difficult academic work (as evidenced by Professor Youens stealing his ideas for a paper), he is

Marshall R. Schmidt and Leslie Riggle Miller


interested in pursuing related work as a profession (as evidenced by his delight and interest in Amanda’s father’s work), and he has every reason imaginable to want to escape his life as a Gallagher (he also mentions this several times). Yet, he seeks to enact behaviors and associate with others that put him in positions to confirm how he essentially views himself, and thus reaffirm his identity. Even after the fallout from his relationship with Helene, which included him being reprimanded by the university review board and losing his RA position, Lip squanders the opportunities he is given, because he believes that as a Gallagher he is destined to fail. As Frank says, Lip starts “drinking his breakfast, lunch, and dinner” (Frank Gallagher, Season 6, Episode 12). Lip drinks so much that he blacks out at a sorority party and has to get his stomach pumped from alcohol poisoning, which results in him being forced to attend university required counseling or face expulsion, and also results in him failing to turn in Youens’ midterm grades. This setback puts Lip’s relationship with Youens in jeopardy. Youens begins to distance himself from Lip and Lip the same from Youens, something that Tommy at The Alibi Room refers to as “The Gallagher Way”: “Oh! Burn a bridge, run for the hills. The Gallagher Way,” he says. (Tommy, Season 6, Episode 11). Lip eventually gets into a verbal altercation with Youens, vandalizes Youens’ car, and gets arrested. Youens still sees tremendous potential in Lip and encourages and pays for Lip to go to rehab, even though Lip was expelled from school, disrespected Youens, and even though Youens himself is an alcoholic. Youens believing in Lip and sticking with him after Lip repeatedly and consistently acts in Gallagher-like ways to distance himself from Youens is clearly meaningful to Lip, as evidenced by Lip’s loyalty to Youens until his death and Lip naming his own child after Youens. Lip completes thirty days in rehab and is given yet another opportunity to succeed when Youens sets him up with multiple internships and appeals Lip’s expulsion from college. Lip’s yearning to break free from his past, and his acknowledgment of the effect of his Gallagher identity on his actions comes out clearly in his monologue during his academic appeal hearing. When Lip is asked if there is anything he has to say about his actions, he replies: My father, uh, he has kind of a brilliant mind. You know, and that’s—that’s a pretty hard thing for me to admit, because he’s such a waste of space and all, but…you know, it’s true. He could have been a college graduate, but instead, he dropped out, uh, he f**ked up his kids, and he drinks, and does drugs. That’s his whole life. I want to be around people like Professor Youens. And Professor Runyon, even though she…It’s minds like


“Nobody f**ks with the Gallaghers!” theirs…um…you know, these minds that—that are brilliant, you know, and they aren’t wasted. I, uh, I don’t have any big ideas about what I want to do with my life, but this morning I was washing dishes at the diner where I work, and Professor Youens called me, and I thought…‘I miss that.’ You know, I don’t miss the kids who grew up so privileged they didn’t even know what they had. But I miss being around people with minds like Professor Youens’, you know, and I think if I could get a couple more years of that, I’d have a real good shot at, uh…making some better choices than my father made. I don’t blame anybody else for what I did, and I do regret it. But if you guys would have me back, I—I promise, you know, I’ll…I’ll do better. Thank you. (Lip Gallagher, Season 7, Episode 8)

Although Lip is clearly remorseful for his actions and wants to better himself, his expulsion appeal is denied. During this time, Lip claims that he is not Frank, and he starts to drink by following “rules,” which he explains in Season 7 Episode 1 (ironically, a drinking approach similar to Frank’s after his liver transplant). However, unsurprisingly, this does not work. After Lip drunkenly breaks into Helene’s house, he finally admits that he needs help. Lip commits himself to AA, returns full time to the Gallagher house, starts working as a mechanic, stops pursuing higher education and a lucrative job, and eventually gets a neighborhood girl pregnant. For Lip, like the other Gallaghers, his potential is stymied by the way in which his self-perceptions and the meanings he attaches to his most salient and central identity, shape his actions and behaviors and reciprocally reinforce the same identity- that of being a Gallagher.

Salience and Commitment “It may not be Tamietti normal, but it’s definitely Gallagher normal.” Lip (Season 9, Episode 8)

Although we use Lip as an example, the Gallagher identity, for the majority of the series, is the most salient identity for each member of the Gallagher family, and this salience has a similar effect for each member. Identity theory explains that individuals have identity salience hierarchies, and the more salient a given identity is, the more likely that identity is to be enacted across a variety of situations (Stryker 1980). Commitment also influences salience, and the more committed one is to a given identity, the higher it ranks in one’s salience hierarchy. Commitment is influenced by

Marshall R. Schmidt and Leslie Riggle Miller


the quantity and strength of ties an individual has to a given identity (Stryker and Serpe 1982). Each member of the Gallagher family ranks their Gallagher identity highly in their identity salience hierarchy, which is evidenced by family members enacting their identity across a variety of situations with similar results and each member speaking of their surname as an accepted and doomed fate from which they cannot escape. Each member is also strongly committed to their identity via six other primary group members with whom they are strongly bonded (i.e., the other Gallaghers). The close bonds between members of the family are displayed frequently throughout the series. The Gallagher identity is so salient, and members are so committed, because the Gallagher identity is not just a doomed fate, but a shared doomed fate (e.g., when Ian is going to prison and tells Lip, “Thanks for being my brother” (Ian Gallagher, Season 9, Episode 6), and Lip replies “Never had a choice.” (Philip Gallagher, Season 9, Episode 6)). Identity theory and using the Gallagher identity as an example of the power of identity, illustrates the instrumental role family plays in the formation of self. Although the Gallaghers are a unique family, sociologists have long understood that family is the most important agent of socialization, especially for children in their early developmental years. Moreover, familial identity also helps us understand both why and how family as a social structure and institution is important, and how changes to the family and differences in families by social class matter.

The Changing Nature of the American Family The Conceptualization and Definition of Family “Nothing is bigger than family.” Fiona (Season 9, Episode 5)

Defining who, what, and in what context people are considered family has become increasingly complex, for both sociologists and mainstream Americans (Cherlin 2017), with changes in the conceptualization of family described as a move from consensus to complexity (Furstenberg 2014). Some time ago, certain sociologists began to express their concerns, believing that the American family was in decline largely because family has become too ambiguously defined. Popenoe (1993) argued that the family as an institution has weakened and has lost its’ power to other institutional groups as family members have become more autonomous and far less willing to fulfill responsibilities and obligations related to family. This unwillingness has affected the social functions and purpose that family


“Nobody f**ks with the Gallaghers!”

has traditionally served. There are researchers who agree with Popenoe (e.g., see Norval 1993); however, others argue that Americans still value family, seeing it as vitally important, albeit definitively different than in the past, and point to the fact that family has always changed over time (Bianchi 2011; Cherlin 2010; Furstenberg 2014; Thornton and Young-DeMarco 2011). Much of why family has become harder to define has to do with familial changes stemming from the second demographic transition. The second demographic transition includes increases in non-marital childbearing and childrearing, increases in multi-partner fertility, changes in divorce, increases in cohabitation, delayed childbearing, increased female labor force participation, and population aging (Bianchi 2011; Cherlin 2010; Furstenberg 2014). Previously, Americans would be expected to complete schooling, marry, and have children, in that order, and to do so by their midtwenties, rather than their late twenties or early thirties (Cherlin 2009; Furstenberg 2014; Rosenfeld 2007). However, now, expectations as to when, in what order, and if individuals meet certain major life markers are consistently changing, resulting in a more individualized life course for many Americans that differs significantly from previous generations. With these changes, we see variations in how and when families are formed, who is considered family, the purpose and function that family serves, and how family is viewed more generally. Families also differentially experience these societal level changes and demographic shifts, which shape family structure and affect family functions and processes, depending on their social class, and this is alluded to in Shameless. For instance, many Americans are spending more time in extended higher educational pursuits, which, amongst other things, means that more Americans are delaying the age at which they first marry and when they have children. As a result, these individuals may have fewer children than similarly class-situated individuals in the past or remain childless. However, we see this trend most prevalently in the educated white middle- and upper middle- social classes (Furstenberg 2014), while we see a different trend, discussed further below, in which low SES individuals may choose to have children before they have settled down or established themselves (Edin and Kefalas 2011).

Partnering, Marriage, and Cohabiting “I love you… It means we take care of each other… It means thick and thin, good times, bad, sickness, health, all that s**t.” Mickey Milkovich (Season 5, Episode 12)

Marshall R. Schmidt and Leslie Riggle Miller


One of the most fundamental changes to the institution of the family after the second demographic transition concerns changes in coupling practices and the institution of marriage, including changes in how and where people meet, how a relationship progresses, how marriage is practiced, its meaning, and the expectations that Americans have for marriage. However, these changes and their effects on family differ by social class, which is especially evident with Fiona Gallagher. In Season 5, Episode 4, Fiona is briefly married to Gus, someone she knew only for a short time before marrying him. Fiona’s brief marriage is not unlike trends that sociologists find in partnering today. Cherlin (2009) analogizes the swift manner in which Americans partner and dissolve relationships to a “merry-go-round” on which individuals rapidly step on and off. Fiona’s laissez faire attitude and her unconventional approach toward relationships are depicted throughout the show, as Fiona transitions in and out of eight different relationships, some fleeting and some serious, and at least two of which involve marriage. Fiona acknowledges her own ‘merry-go-round’ in Season 6, Episode 9 during an altercation with a current boyfriend who is also her boss. Emotional, Fiona says “I’m headed out to get divorced right now, ‘cause I jump from relationship to relationship without ever catching my breath. Which is why my life is such a f**king mess.” Similarly, Lip approaches relationships with even less of a traditional attitude; Lip’s frequent one-time sexual encounters, and his recurring sexual relationships that have no official ties or labels, relate more to the Hookup culture that Lisa Wade (2017) describes. We see this same attitude toward relationships in Season 10 when Tami, the mother of his newborn, Freddie, is in the hospital from complications after birth. Lip is shown in Episodes 3 and 4 explaining that he is not married when attending a “Mommy Alcoholics Anonymous” support group for new parents. Fiona’s and Lip’s attitudes about relationships are not a new phenomenon in American culture. In fact, studies show an increase in cohabitation with less emphasis on marriage compared to the past (Sassler 2010), as well as an increase in the number of re-partnering and family transitions (Manning, et al. 2015). Trends in cohabitation and marriage have been consistent over time (Manning 2013), and these trends and the end result of cohabitation (i.e., marriage or dissolution), differ by social class (Manning 2013; Miller and Sassler 2017). For instance, there is an inverse relationship between cohabitation and educational attainment (Manning 2013). That is, less educational attainment relates to higher rates of cohabitation compared to individuals with more educational attainment. Furthermore, lower SES individuals are more likely to participate in serial


“Nobody f**ks with the Gallaghers!”

cohabitation—when individuals live with two or more partners at different times without marrying (Lichter et al. 2010)—which Fiona does at various times throughout the series. Again, individuals who are of higher SES and have higher levels of education are less likely to cohabitate. Importantly, when they do cohabitate, they are more likely to marry than other cohabiters of lower SES. Additionally, many cohabiters, especially those lower in SES, report that they slide into their relationship and cohabiting, rather than making a conscious decision to move-in together (Cherlin 2009; Edin and Kefalas 2011; Edin and Nelson 2013; Sassler 2004) (again, an idea we see several times in Shameless). Indeed, cohabitation itself also lacks any real definitive ties or legal obligation compared to marriage. Marriage has notions tied to it, such as the idea of enforceable trust, which lowers the risk of dissolution (Cherlin 2009). Thus, partnering, cohabitation, and marriage are viewed and engaged in differently across social class groups and they also result in different outcomes by social class. How and where partners meet has also changed over time and varies by social class. Middle-class children are now more likely to go away to college or move away from their parents’ home, which has acted to decrease parental control over spouse choice and widened the marriage market for the middle-class. Working- and lower-class individuals, however, are still more likely to meet in a very localized context (i.e., not far from their neighborhood of origin) (Rosenfeld 2007). We see this in the series, as Fiona meets partners mostly from the South Side, while Lip, when he is at school, meets partners from outside of Chicago.

Marriage as an Institution “Marriage: who gives a shit? It's a f**king piece of paper.” Mickey Milkovich (Season 3, Episode 11)

Changes rooted in the second demographic transition have resulted in the weakening of marriage as an institution (Cherlin 2009), which we see some evidence of in Fiona’s fleeting marriages. As alluded to above, the likelihood of marriage has also become bifurcated by social class (Edin, Kefalas, and Reed 2004; Gibson-Davis et al. 2005; Smock et al. 2005), which is demonstrated by the evolution of a two-tiered marriage system with class differences in how marriage is practiced, the expectations we have of it, and the meanings we attach to it (Bianchi 2011; Cherlin 2010; Furstenberg 2014). Research also shows that, over time, the strongest marriages have become stronger and the weakest marriages, weaker, with

Marshall R. Schmidt and Leslie Riggle Miller


higher SES and higher-educated individuals more likely to be in the former group than the latter (Finkel 2017). Contrary to Fiona and other low SES South Siders, marriage, for many, has also moved from a “corner stone” experience to a “capstone” experience. Marriageable partners are now expected to have met certain life markers like completing education, owning a house, or having a steady career—essentially, viewing marriage as coming at a later point in adult development rather than as a launching point in which both partners enter into a relationship and build a life together (Cherlin 2009). Marriage, and the wedding itself, is also viewed by many as almost a “merit badge” that is worn as a sign of making it or part of an overall package of success and achievement (Cherlin 2009). More frequently, upper middle-class individuals delay marriage until they meet some of these major life markers, but, in general, childbirth still precedes marriage for many (Bianchi 2011). Lower SES individuals may choose to delay marriage for different economic reasons and decide to cohabitate until they can afford to have a “real” wedding (Edin and Kefalas 2011; Smock et al. 2005). Further, they delay marriage for fear of divorce, because they hold marriage in such high esteem and they only want to get married once and after they have experienced life and have settled down (Edin and Kefalas 2011). So, while childbirth is being decoupled from marriage more now than in the past for all social classes, lower SES individuals are still more likely than higher SES individuals to decouple marriage from having children (Edin and Kefalas 2011; Edin and Nelson 2013). Thus, this group is more likely than their higher SES counterparts to have children before marriage and to have children with more than one partner (Edin and Kefalas 2011; Edin and Nelson 2013). Furthermore, Americans have transitioned from a companionate marriage to a more individualized or expressive marriage. This newer marital form is expected to change over time to meet individual needs and allow for fulfillment, encouraging divorce if the marriage does not meet these expectations (Cherlin 2009). The individualized marriage changes how we conceptualize the family because it acts to both increase divorce (divorce laws have also relaxed over time) and decrease its stigmatization, while also making clear that marriage is not strictly necessary for family formation or child rearing. This family conceptualization is depicted in Shameless by Fiona’s approach to marriage and divorce, and Debbie’s and Lip’s having children out of wedlock.


“Nobody f**ks with the Gallaghers!”

Childbearing by Social Class “Please, Fiona…if you love me, you will support my decision in having this baby, because I know I’m going to be a great mom.” Debbie (Season 6, Episode 2)

Debbie having a child at fifteen is not uncharacteristic for women from lower-SES and less-educated populations. Maternal education is a predictor for whether women have children outside of marriage (Edin and Kefalas 2011). Specifically, studies show that lower maternal education is linked to having higher rates of children, a trend that has been consistent over time (Kravdal and Rindfuss 2008; Manning et al. 2015). As previously mentioned, low-income single mothers may decouple partnering from childbirth, viewing childbearing as something they can do while young, and possibly be successful at, placing an emphasis on the fact that they can “be there” for their children while everything else in their lives is in turmoil, as they are faced with limited economic and educational opportunities. The process of deciding to have children and childbirth itself may occur quickly in lower-class and less-educated families, as many couples may move from simply “being together” to having children without really knowing their partner or talking about birth control or the possibility of birth (Edin and Kefalas 2011; Edin and Nelson 2013), which was also the case with Debbie having a child so young. Before Debbie’s baby is born, Frank offers some “fatherly” advice (S6:E3): she should just find an older father figure who has money to help her with the baby. Despite this useless “parental” advice, Debbie is excited for the arrival of her baby. Once Franny arrives (named after Frank), Debbie falls in love, determined to be a better parent than her own. Indeed, Debbie has doubts about being a good mother (e.g., she briefly considers leaving her baby at the fire station in Season 7), but she quickly realizes that while she cannot financially provide for Franny, she can “be there” and love her, which seems to be enough for Debbie. This approach, and the decision when to have children is much different for parents who are more socioeconomically advantaged and highly educated. Different views on the decision to have children, the path to motherhood, and on the effect of motherhood on mothers’ lives are discussed further in Welch and Murray, this volume.

Marshall R. Schmidt and Leslie Riggle Miller


Childrearing by Social Class “Big responsibility, being a parent…That’s what I’m trying to tell you, my philosophy: you gotta let kids learn for themselves…You give a man a fish, you’ve fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you’ve fed him for a lifetime. I raise fishermen. The best gift you can give? Neglect. Neglect fosters self-reliance. Do the right thing. Split.” Frank (Season 7, Episode 11)

Frank’s admonition reflects differences in childrearing by social class. For instance, one of the fundamental differences that sociologists recognize in terms of childrearing by social class concerns the level of parental involvement or oversight in children’s lives and the different agentic orientations that this fosters in children. Research shows that college-educated parents or middle-class families encourage children to be independent, autonomous, and cultivate “an emerging sense of entitlement” (Lareau 2002:749) (i.e., “concerted cultivation”), whereas less-educated parents or working-class families encourage their children to obey authority and allow their children to grow on their own (i.e., “natural growth”). The concerted cultivation method of parenting includes extended discussions and reasoning between parents and children, an abundance of organized activities aimed at development, and very little free time (Lareau 2011). This method of childrearing results in children feeling far more willing and entitled to seek accommodations from, and interact with, authority figures. This benefits children in the mostly middle-class institutions that families and children tend to interact with, facilitating immediate success (i.e., in school and extracurricular activities), but also setting them up for entry into other institutions that will provide them with further opportunities for success (e.g., entry into elite colleges and universities, internships, etc.), and providing them with sustained advantage across the life course (i.e., through the development of social and cultural capital). For instance, research shows that middle- and upper-middle-class children are socialized to demand attention and specialization, including accommodations, in social institutions like schools, while lower-class children are socialized to be more passive and deferential (Calarco 2014). The concerted cultivation parenting strategy is also analogous to the idea of authoritative parenting, which emphasizes high levels of demandingness from children and evidences high levels of responsiveness from parents and is argued to result in the most positive outcomes for children (Bush and Peterson 2013).


“Nobody f**ks with the Gallaghers!”

In the quote at the beginning of this section, Frank explains his childrearing approach to Lip, after Karen, a neighborhood girl who Lip has a sexual relationship with, gets pregnant. This is a parenting approach similar to that taken by other families in the South Side, a strategy closer to the accomplishment of natural growth. Many children in the South Side, including the Gallaghers, are left to their own devices, often ignored by parents, encouraged to be passive in school, and essentially expected to develop on their own. This is in sharp contrast to the parents that Liam and the Gallaghers encounter at Hopkins Academy, the elitist white prep school that Liam is enrolled in as a token student used to trick parents interested in enrolling their children in a diverse environment. We see similar characteristics in the parents and caretakers at the private, and over-priced, preschool that Kev and Vee visit when looking at schools for their children. Upper middle-class and upper-class parents are aware of the competitiveness and importance of children doing well in school and other developmental activities and how these shape their children’s trajectories across their life courses (Cooper 2014; Lareau 2011). These parents make every attempt to confer resources and advantages on their children, via things like enrolling them in pricey elite institutions—which Frank refers to as the “21st-century version of segregation” (Frank Gallagher, Season 7, Episode 7). For example, the Mandarin immersion program at the upscale “Beaucoup” preschool Kev and Vee tour which costs three times their monthly mortgage (Kev and Vee tour, Season 9, Episode 2). Higher SES parents do this because they are more cognizant of the increasingly demanding, specialized, and precarious job markets that children are likely to enter into, and they are more aware of what is necessary for children to sustain or increase their class standing (Cooper 2014). To account for this, higher SES parents’ “upscale” expectations for themselves and their children (i.e., they increase goalposts regarding family financial security and children’s development). However, many lower and working-class parents, instead, “downscale” expectations for themselves and their children (Cooper 2014). This is seen in Shameless through the “no nothing” policy and “imagination room” at the budget friendly “Basic” preschool (Kev and Vee tour, Season 9, Episode 2). These different approaches to parenting, understandings of roles, and families’ understandings of where they fit in socioeconomically point to different class understandings of family and the purpose that family serves in modern society.

Marshall R. Schmidt and Leslie Riggle Miller


The Function and Purpose of Family, and the Maintenance of Ties “How many times have we bailed out family before? Isn’t that just the cost of being a Gallagher?” Fiona (Season 9, Episode 1)

One area of research that points to fundamental change in the conceptualization and definition of the American family, for both mainstream Americans and sociologists, is studies of LGBTQ+ families. Though little research exists in this area, seminal work does illustrate shifts from strictly biologically based ties used to define family to the idea of “families we choose” (Carrington 1999; Weston 1991). For instance, research shows that many LGBTQ+ individuals form close-knit groups of long-term friends, which function and are considered by group members, as family (Carrington 1999). For these individuals, the families they choose may replace or supplement biological families, and they also serve similar functions in terms of kin work and domesticity. Moreover, many of these families also meet financial, social, and emotional needs previously met by biological families, which buttresses the idea that mainstream Americans and sociologists have conceptually moved further away from the nuclear family ideal of the 1950s and strictly biologically based familial ties. The move from family being defined strictly by biological ties to the function and purpose family serves, as well as the concerted decision to maintain ties, can be seen in the Gallagher family and in other groups that the Gallaghers consider extended family (e.g., Kev and Vee). Throughout the series, several different families and familial type groups are displayed in the South Side. These groups form, exist, and dissolve for different reasons—that is, people within this neighborhood form groups (biologically or socially) for different purposes (e.g., financial, social support, kinship), but, like the idea of “families we choose,” these groups are only maintained as a “family form” by the members themselves making a concerted effort and decision to maintain ties, and they do so because they believe these associations function as family. Moreover, within these groups there is consistent negotiation and renegotiation (both explicit and implicit) concerning roles and expectations of members that both align with and differ from larger societal expectations (e.g., the roles of mothers and fathers, and siblings as parents). Despite the non-normative nature of the Gallaghers, the family maintains ties to each other even when they have opportunities to leave and while other familial groups in this context, including others who are biologically related, dissolve. Every Gallagher member has an opportunity


“Nobody f**ks with the Gallaghers!”

to leave, including Frank. For instance, Fiona has opportunities to leave with Jimmy/Steve and many of the other men she dates, Lip has the opportunity to leave via college, and Ian has the opportunity to leave after discovering that Frank is not his actual father. Frank does leave at various points but continues to maintain ties with his children (at least those he had with Monica), while Fiona does leave, only once her mothering is done, but remains connected to her siblings (as evidenced by Debbie talking to her on the phone after the birth of Freddie) and leaves them with financial resources. The Gallaghers choose to maintain ties to each other when others in this context dissolve, because they are bonded through a shared, salient identity. This group meets their needs (although not always well) and serves the function of family for each member.

Conclusion In many ways, Shameless is about what constitutes family and the changing nature of family as an institution, how this varies by social class, and how family influences one’s sense of identity. In this chapter, we presented a glimpse of how Shameless illustrates these ideas. We also described how the behavior of family members, especially Frank, Fiona, and Lip, offer support for several trends identified by family scholars, such as changes in attitudes and expectations about partnering, cohabitation, marriage, and parenting. Though the Gallaghers are dysfunctional and experience unrelenting turmoil throughout the series, which would likely cause other families in this context to dissolve, they share a strong salient identity that does not break. This is because, the Gallagher identity, though restrictive, bonds the members together and reinforces their shared identity. Even when members are offered a chance to leave, and though the family does not always meet their needs, the identity holds all of the Gallaghers together, because, as Fiona says to Debbie, “Nobody f**ks with the Gallaghers!” (Fiona Gallagher, Season 3, Episode 5).

References Abbot, Paul. 2011. Shameless, seasons 1-9. [Television series]. Chicago, IL: Showtime. Bianchi, Suzanne M. 2011. “Family Change and Time Allocation in American Families.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 638:21-44.

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Burke, Peter J. 1991. “Identity Processes and Social Stress.” American Sociological Review 56:836-849. Burke, Peter J., and Donald C. Reitzes. 1991. “An Identity Theory Approach to Commitment.” Social Psychology Quarterly 54:239-251. Burke, Peter J., and Jan E. Stets. 1999. “Trust and Commitment Through Self-Verification.” Social Psychology Quarterly 62:347-360. Bush, Kevin R., and Gary W. Peterson. 2013. “Parent-Child Relationships in Diverse Contexts.” Pp. 275-302 in Handbook of Marriage and Family, edited by G.W. Peterson and K.R. Bush. New York, NY: Springer. Calarco, Jessica McCrory. 2014. “Coached for the Classroom: Parents’ Cultural Transmission and Children’s Reproduction of Educational Inequalities.” American Sociological Review 79:1015-1037. Carrington, Christopher. 1999. No Place Like Home: Relationships and Family Life Among Lesbians and Gay Men. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Cherlin, Andrew J. 2009. The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today. New York, NY: Vintage Books. Cherlin, Andrew J. 2010. “Demographic Trends in the United States: A Review of Research in the 2000s.” Journal of Marriage and Family 72:403-419. Cherlin, Andrew J. 2017. Public and Private Families: An Introduction. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education. Cooper, Marianne. 2014. Cut Adrift: Families in Insecure Times. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Edin, Kathryn, and Maria J. Kefalas. 2011. Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. 3rd ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Edin, Kathryn and Timothy J. Nelson. 2013. Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Edin, Kathryn, Maria J. Kefalas, and Joanna M. Reed. 2004. “A Peek Inside the Black Box: What Marriage Means for Poor Unmarried Parents.” Journal of Marriage and Family 66:1007-1014. Finkel, Eli J. 2017. The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work. New York, NY: Dutton. Furstenberg, Frank F. 2014. “Fifty Years of Family Change: From Consensus to Complexity.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 654:12-30. Gibson-Davis, Christina M., Kathryn Edin, and Sara McLanahan. 2005. “High Hopes but Even Higher Expectations: The Retreat from Marriage


“Nobody f**ks with the Gallaghers!”

Among Low-Income Couples.” Journal of Marriage and Family 67:1301-1312. Kravdal, Øystein, and Ronald R. Rindfuss. 2008. “Changing Relationships between Education and Fertility: A Study of Women and Men Born 1940 to 1964.” American Sociological Review 73:854-873. Lareau, Annette. 2002. “Invisible Inequality: Social Class and Childrearing in Black Families and White Families.” American Sociological Review 67:747-776. Lareau, Annette. 2011. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, Second Edition. Berkeley: University of California Press. Lichter, Daniel T., Richard N. Turner, and Sharon Sassler. 2010. “National Estimates of the Rise in Serial Cohabitation.” Social Science Research 39:754-765. Manning, Wendy D. 2013. “Trends in Cohabitation: Over Twenty Years of Change, 1987-2010 (No. FP-13-12).” Bowling Green State University: National Center for Family & Marriage Research. Retrieved from Manning, Wendy D. 2015. “Family Formation Processes: Assessing the Need for a New Nationally Representative Household Panel Survey in the United States.” Journal of Economic and Social Measurement 40:197-219. Manning, Wendy D., Susan L. Brown, and Bart Stykes. 2015. “Trends in Births to Single and Cohabiting Mothers, 1980-2013.” National Center for Family & Marriage Research 2. Norval, Glenn D. 1993. “A Plea for Objective Assessment of the Notion of Family Decline.” Journal of Marriage & Family 55:542-544. Miller, Amanda J. and Sharon Sassler. 2017. “Reasons for Cohabitation Mini Qualitative Analysis.” Class Activity Published in TRAILS: Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology, American Sociological Association. Popenoe, David. 1993. “American Family Decline, 1960-1990: A Review and Appraisal.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 55:527-542. Rosenfeld, Michael J. 2007. The Age of Independence: Interracial Unions, Same Sex Unions, and The Changing American Family. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Sassler, Sharon. 2004. “The Process of Entering into Cohabiting Unions.” Journal of Marriage and Family 66:491-505. Sassler, Sharon. 2010. “Partnering Across the Life Course: Sex, Relationships, and Mate Selection.” Journal of Marriage and Family 72:557-75.

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Smock, Pamela J., Wendy D. Manning, and Meredith Porter. 2005. “’Everything’s There Except Money’: How Money Shapes Decisions to Marry Among Cohabitors.” Journal of Marriage and Family 67:680696. Stets, Jane E. 2006. “Identity Theory.” Pp. 88-110 in Contemporary Social Psychological Theories, edited by P.J. Burke. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Stets, Jane E. and Michael J. Carter. 2006. “The Moral Identity: A Principle Level Identity.” Pp. 293-316 in Purpose, Meaning, and Action: Control Systems Theories in Sociology, edited by K. McClelland and T.J. Fararo. New York, NY: Palgrave-MacMillan. Stryker, Sheldon. 1980. Symbolic Interactionism: A Social Structural Version. Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin-Cummins. Stryker, Sheldon, and Peter J. Burke. 2000. “The Past, Present, and Future of an Identity Theory.” Social Psychology Quarterly 63:284-297. Stryker, Sheldon, and Richard T. Serpe. 1982. “Commitment, Identity Salience, and Role Behavior: A Theory and Research Example.” Pp. 199-218. in Personality, Roles, and Social Behavior, edited by W. Ickes an E.S. Knowles. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag. Thornton, Arland and Linda Young-DeMarco. 2001. “Four Decades of Trends in Attitudes toward Family Issues in the United States: The 1960s through the 1990s.” Journal of Marriage and Family 63:10091037. Wade, Lisa. 2017. American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co. Weston, Kath. 1991. Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.


“Excuse is the refuge of the moral coward.” Lip’s work-study supervisor (Season 4, Episode 3)

Emotions produce and sustain normative behavior, and function as mechanisms of social cohesion and social control (Heise 1987; Scheff 1988; Shott 1979). They motivate us toward—and reward us for expressing— culturally appropriate behavior, while serving to deter and punish inappropriate behavior. This process occurs through the creation and reinforcement of emotion norms (i.e., culturally-based rules associated with the feeling and expression of emotions) (Hochschild 1979). As such, emotions are heavily tied to morality. Yet, what some scholars refer to as “moral emotions”— shame, guilt, and embarrassment—vary by individual with respect to frequency, intensity, and duration (Scheff 2003). Moreover, these emotions are not necessarily always felt or expressed in all “appropriate” situations. In fact, emotional deviance is quite common: emotionally responding in ways that are inconsistent with cultural expectations (Thoits 1990). Explanations for the experience of emotional deviance include a lack of socialization about normative emotional responses, as well as social psychological changes that frequently induce stress such as inhabiting conflicting role identities or transitioning from one major role to another (Thoits 1985, 1990; Wikström 2010). In this chapter, I explore shame and its connection to deviant behavior. In the process, I examine society’s connotations of the concept of “shamelessness” and whether the actions of the characters on the popular television series Shameless fit the bill. Are these characters unable to feel shame due to the competing demands of being both marginalized members

Pamela M. Hunt


of the working-class and citizens of the greater society? Are they able, but simply weren’t socialized to understand appropriate emotional responses? Are they justifying their behavior in order to avoid feeling ashamed? To help answer these questions, I analyze the types of rationalizations that characters in the series use to defend their deviant behaviors, and I examine the extent to which such attempts to nullify their actions leave characters without shame (i.e., shameless).

Emotion Norms, Socialization, Shame, and Blame “To say that someone has a sense of shame is akin to saying someone has a sense of duty and is appropriately modest or virtuous, whereas to say someone is shameless or has no shame implies they lack these qualities and have not internalized community norms” (Cohen 2003: 1083-1084).

Each culture has its own emotion norms, which include “feeling rules” that inform us of appropriate emotions to feel, and “display rules” that guide our expression of emotion in particular situations (Ekman 1971; Hochschild 1979). These prescriptions also guide our interpretation of our own and others’ emotions. Those who feel or express emotions that don’t fit the situation, either “in quality or degree,” are treated as emotional deviants (Thoits 1990:181). To avoid or overcome this perception, most people will attempt to manage their emotions. For example, we might suppress those emotions we are feeling that are not appropriate or we may evoke emotions that we aren’t really feeling in order to follow normative standards—this is what Hochschild referred to as “emotion work” (1979). In a similar way, we also control our behavior to avoid negative judgments from others, or from being perceived as bad, deviant, or wrong. And, here too, emotions are a critical part of the equation. When our behavior invokes negative reactions from others, most people take the role of the other and experience guilt, shame, or embarrassment. It feels bad to feel these emotions; in order to avoid feeling them again, we control our future behaviors to fall in line with normative cultural expectations. In other words, role-taking emotions such as shame facilitate social control via selfcontrol and thereby inspire people to behave according to the norms and laws of their society or group (Shott 1979). That is, shame and guilt are moral filters through which opportunities to deviate are evaluated. An important component of a functioning society, then, is for the majority of citizens to learn how to feel and express these role-taking, moral emotions. However, not everyone internalizes and follows the moral values of society. When proper moral development is non-existent or ineffective


“Excuse is the Refuge of the Moral Coward”

(i.e., weak parental and school bonds, lack of parental monitoring), individuals are less motivated to engage in normative behavior, and moreover, may feel little to no shame (or guilt) when deviating (Hirschi 1969; Shott 1979; Svensson et al. 2013; Tangney and Dearing 2002; Wikström 2010). Deviant peers can also deter moral socialization, not only by influencing attitudes and beliefs, but also via expectations of loyalty (Svensson et al. 2013:24; Warr 2002). Additionally, there are structural conditions under which actors are unable to experience the appropriate emotion, even if it is an expected moral emotion such as guilt or shame. For example, for individuals who are socialized in two distinct cultures, the emotion standards learned in each may clash (Thoits 1985, 1990). Though a person born into poverty may deem it necessary to steal in order to survive, they also must abide by the rules of the larger society. The emotion they might experience after bringing home a stolen meal to feed their loved ones (pride) would be acceptable to the family, yet inappropriate according to the standards of the greater society (Thoits 1985:229). Similarly, status inconsistencies, such as holding both a devalued identity (member of the working-class) and a valued identity (a university student) can make it difficult to abide by the emotion rules of both groups. Still, there are times when everyone experiences shame, and the feeling is quite uncomfortable. Unlike guilt, which motivates empathy and reparations, tends to be about specific behaviors, and is short-lived, shame elicits self-loathing, is in reference to one’s overall sense of self, and induces the desire to turn away and hide from others (Lewis 1971; Tangney, Stuewig, & Mashek 2007; Tracy & Robins 2006). A feeling of failure, shame is experienced when we violate internalized norms of morality and fail to live up to standards, typically those of others (Higgins 1987; Tangney and Fischer 1995). In essence, shame involves internalizing blame (i.e., blaming oneself). In order to manage shame and avoid self-blame, individuals may externalize blame instead, via excuses or justifications (Gilligan 1996; Scheff 1987; Tangney 1992; Tangney & Dearing 2002; Stuewig et al. 2010). Excusing a behavior entails accepting that the action was wrong, but avoiding responsibility for the behavior (Scott and Lyman 1968). Justifying an action involves just the reverse: taking responsibility, but arguing that the conduct was not wrong/bad/immoral (Scott and Lyman 1968). As we will see in the next section, there are several excuses and justifications people use to deny wrongdoing. These cognitive distortions include refuting harm, contesting the existence of a victim, accusing others, and blaming forces outside one’s control for deviant or criminal behavior.

Pamela M. Hunt


While Shameless is heavily based on the notion that the characters feel littleto-no shame, it is more probable that they manage shameful feelings by blaming and using excuses and justifications for their actions. Before discussing the methods used in this study and presenting the findings, I explain how theories of sociology and criminology, especially Sykes and Matza’s Techniques of Neutralization, are particularly suited to the analysis of deviant behavior and the management of shame in Shameless.

Theoretical Background Brad: Lip:

What happened to you? Ah, some asshole stole this chick's cash from an ATM machine, and I chased him down. Brad: Look at you, superhero. How much did he take? Couple hundred. Lip: You give the money back? Hell no. Bought us some Devil Dawgs. Brad: Hey, all right. Lip: Hey, you, uh think I should've given the cash back? You know, to the ATM chick? Brad: What'd she look like? Lip: Uh, she had a yoga mat. Brad: f*ck that. You should've stolen her purse too. Lip: Ah, Tami's got me questioning my morality. You know, she says I'm a bad role model for the kid [scoffs]. Brad: Role models and morals are for the comfortably middle-class. Rich people don't have 'em, and working guys like us can't afford 'em. (Season 10, Episode 9)

Shame, and morality more generally, has been integrated into several theories of criminal behavior, such as Situational Action Theory of Crime Causation (Wikström 2006, 2010) and Reintegrative Shaming Theory (Braithwaite 1989). Other criminological theories, while not explicitly about emotion, clearly address morality, as they propose reasons for why people engage in activities that contradict the rules and practices of society. Two theories that work well for the purposes of discussing emotion socialization and attempts at neutralizing shame are Differential Association Theory (DAT) (Akers 1998; Cressey 1960; Sutherland 1947) and Techniques of Neutralization (Sykes and Matza (1957). Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory is a theory of social learning, and posits that crime is rooted in conflict between groups who have varying definitions of the law (Cressey


“Excuse is the Refuge of the Moral Coward”

1960; Sutherland 1947). Our relationships with groups of individuals with varying attitudes about the legal code have a significant influence on our own behavior, as these social groups expose us to a variety of behavior models and help us define what is normative (Akers 1998; Matsueda 2015:124). Crime is learned via association (usually via primary groups) with individuals who believe in criminality. One learns to think and feel negatively about the law and its enforcement, as well as criminal motivation and techniques, from these associations. It goes without saying that we all— even criminals—associate with individuals who conform to society’s rules. There are also plenty of people who have friends and family who have committed crime(s), and some of the latter hold definitions that are favorable toward crime. DAT argues that when we associate with more people who are motivated toward crime than people who believe in the law, the more likely we will engage in criminal behavior. Additionally, when an actor establishes criminal associations early in life with whom he/she engages in frequent interactions, the actor is more likely to participate in nonnormative behavior (Sutherland 1947). This is not to say that delinquent/deviant/criminal individuals necessarily don’t believe in conventional values, nor that law-abiding individuals believe in those values without fail (Matsueda 2008). Rather, as Sykes and Matza (1957) suggest, people defend their actions with “vocabularies of motive” (Mills 1940:905) or a “vocabulary of adjustment” (Cressey 1953:94). 1 Sykes and Matza (1957) proposed that even in individuals with high moral standards who subscribe to orthodox social values, crime is still possible. They argued further that even after committing an act of deviance, our dedication to moral decency may be preserved via excuses and justifications that neutralize our transgressions. In contrast to DAT theorists, neutralization scholars argue that individuals engaging in delinquent behavior do not necessarily learn values in direct opposition to the dominant society. Instead, they learn techniques that allow them to remain faithful to values of society, while (un)apologetically violating the rules (Sykes and Matza 1957). By this line of reasoning, individuals who engage in morally corrupt acts are not necessarily deviant, as long as they employ an account (either before or after the wrongdoing). Doing so helps the person manage both their own potential feelings of guilt or shame, and the disappointment of those watching. In other words, they can rebel and still perceive themselves as upstanding, moral, and ethical people, so long as they align their actions with the greater social order. 1 Also see psychoanalytic arguments from A. Freud ([1936] 2018), Fenichel (1945), and Redl and Wineman (1951).

Pamela M. Hunt


Furthermore, the use of these accounts is not just for those who believe in conventional values. 2 People who routinely engage in nonnormative behavior (like the Gallaghers) also make use of neutralization techniques (Agnew 1994; Austin 1977; Mannle and Lewis 1979). Adverse judgment from others can make even the most deviant people feel some degree of guilt or shame. The focus of this chapter is to illustrate that no matter who we are or what we believe in, disapproval from others after we deviate— and the self-blame that often accompanies it—can be deflected using one or more of the techniques outlined by Sykes & Matza (1957), which are: denial of responsibility, denial of victim, denial of injury, condemnation of the condemners, and appeal to higher loyalties. Below, I conceptualize these five techniques and provide examples of situations in which each might be used. I include two additional techniques (of the several that have been proposed by researchers since Sykes and Matza’s formulation) that are pertinent to the rationalization of behavior in Shameless.

Techniques of Neutralization Denial of Responsibility Essentially, denying responsibility involves a separation of self from one’s actions. It is the quintessential example of an “excuse” (Scott and Lyman 1968), in which actors agree that their actions were wrong, but deny responsibility. This technique is used to claim that the deviant act is unintentional or due to forces beyond the individual’s control. The actor might argue that they did not know, for example, that there was a person inside the car of which they just broke the windshield. If someone was hurt, that was not the intention. On the other hand, a person using this strategy might claim that they are helpless with regard to life’s circumstances, and that bad situations just “happen” to them or that they have no choice in the matter. As we will see in the application of these techniques to Shameless, some people even argue that since their family has a reputation of delinquent or criminal behavior, their individual behavior cannot be helped: “this is just how The Smiths do things!”


Though researchers have found that people from various backgrounds and those facing a wide variety of circumstances also use techniques of neutralization (e.g., victims of crime, in order to preserve their self-concept from shame, see Ahmed et al. 2001), I will focus only on excuses for deviant acts in this chapter.


“Excuse is the Refuge of the Moral Coward”

Denial of Injury Denying injury largely involves separating one’s action(s) from the consequences. It is the prototypical “justification” (Scott and Lyman 1968), which is the opposite of an excuse. Here, deviants accept responsibility, but argue that their behavior has done (little to) no harm to another person, so it should not be considered punishable. They might even contrast their own actions to those of people who, relatively speaking, engage in more serious or more violent acts, in order to create the perception of their own actions as benign. Furthermore, this technique is often used as a “Robinhood” justification: there is nothing wrong with stealing other people’s money or possessions, for example, if the person can afford to lose it. That is, there is really no harm done, because the rich still have plenty.

Denial of Victim Sometimes, actors admit that they did cause injury, but purport that there was no true victim, or that the target wasn’t really hurt because they can bounce back from victimhood. 3 This excuse is used in a variety of situations, such as reciprocating harm or avenging prior ill-will perpetrated on others. This involves the insistence that the person harmed is not really a victim; they deserve what they got. A variation of this justification comes when the victim is physically absent or unknown to the actor. If we can’t see the damage or we aren’t invested in the offended, we can refute their injury and/or their victim status.

Condemnation of the Condemners Sometimes, it’s not who you are or what you’ve done that is most pertinent to explaining your behavior—what matters most is the reaction of the audience. This nullification deflects attention away from the deviant act and toward the motivations of the people who disapprove of it. The focus becomes not the deviance, but the moral righteousness of those criticizing it. That is, sometimes actors “moderate the salience of corrupt behaviors” by either condemning the condemner or, more specifically, engaging in “selective social comparison” (Anand, Ashforth, and Joshi 2004:41). For 3

The fact that the descriptions of “denial of injury” and “denial of victim” are exceptionally similar is not lost on me. Over time, scholars have found that many of these five initial techniques are not as conceptually distinct as Sykes and Matza once proposed (1957). In fact, these two in particular have been found to be conceptually the same (Landsheer, t’Hart, and Kox 1994).

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example, some believe that all rich people made their wealth by luck or via crooked behavior. They didn’t get to the upper echelons from hard work, but rather by deception and corruption. In this way, the deviant attempts to make his own wrongful actions disappear or lose importance.

Appeal to Higher Loyalties Actors sometimes maintain that violating the law/norms of the larger society is necessary in order to realize the norms/values of their more immediate, primary group (i.e., a higher-order value). We might use this justification when we break a norm or law of the greater society for the benefit of a friend or family member. The value we place on the rules of our more proximate group outweighs the value we give to the laws of greater society. The model example of this is at the heart of the prisoner’s dilemma or in the unspoken code that one should “never squeal on a friend” (Sykes and Matza 1957:669). Members of fraternities often rely on this justification— arguing that the norms and ways of their group take precedence, even when they call for delinquency. In attempts to test and analyze the techniques of neutralization proposed by Sykes and Matza, researchers have offered several more tactics as explanations for bad behavior. For example, in Klockars’s study of whitecollar criminals, he found two that I will use (in addition to the five proposed by Sykes and Matza) to analyze the behavior of the Gallaghers: defense of necessity and the metaphor of the ledger (1974).

Defense of Necessity This method may be used by those who have broken a rule or law, but claim that their actions were necessary. The excuse is that the circumstances or situation called for the particular behavior. For example, sometimes those who cannot afford to buy food might steal it in order to survive. Of course, the type of rule-breaking and the justification for its necessity are relative and largely dependent upon one’s social position. Middle managers in white-collar occupations, for example, may reason that, in a competitive business climate, they must engage in nonnormative acts such as insider trading to stay ahead in “the game” (Chibnall and Saunders 1977; Geis 1967). The justification is the same—necessity—but the action and their reason for doing it are quite different.


“Excuse is the Refuge of the Moral Coward”

Metaphor of the Ledger This technique suggests that positive and negative acts counterbalance each other. Doing good deeds offsets any misdeed(s). The actor might rationalize that because they have engaged in mostly good acts for a long while (maybe even their entire lives), they should be entitled to a bad behavior once in a while (Anand et al. 2004). In fact, some researchers call this excuse the “claim to entitlement” (Coleman 1987). For instance, a person who frequently works overtime defends her action of taking home office supplies from the company she works for—she believes she has earned the right to do so (Klockars 1974; Minor 1981). After all of her hard work and dedication to the organization, she deserves a little reward. In sum, these methods of mitigating deviant behavior provide a buffer between the actor and their actions and/or the consequences of their actions. These techniques are learned in social groups (e.g., peers or family) and are important components of our attitudes about morality, the law, and conventional society. Whether they come before or after the questionable behavior, they protect deviants from self-blame (and the blame of others), and therefore aid in the prevention or management of moral emotions such as shame. In the next section, I explain the methods I used to search for instances of these techniques in the series Shameless. Following that, I analyze the use of them with examples from the show.

Methods In order to connect techniques of neutralization to the behaviors of the characters on Shameless, I watched and analyzed the 122 episodes available from Seasons 1-10 (12 episodes each season except Season 9, which contained 14 episodes). When viewing the series, I looked for examples of deviance and criminal behavior, especially with regard to the justifications used for such actions. After viewing each episode multiple times, I accessed full transcripts of each in search of phrases used by characters that would indicate their rationalization of deviant behavior. I searched for words and phrases associated with the various excuses and justifications explicated by Sykes and Matza and other scholars, such as “fault,” “not my fault,” “my control,” “nothing wrong,” “no harm,” “innocent,” “had it coming,” “asked for it,” “payback,” “deserved it,” “victim,” “I’m the victim,” “my right,” “every right,” “moral,” “moral duty,” “who are you to judge,” “law-abiding,” “had no choice,” and “deserve/s/d it.” I found instances of all seven techniques, including several

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subcategories within each technique. I discuss these findings in the next section, providing detailed examples and quotes from scenes throughout the series.

Shameless Neutralizations Anyone who has occasionally tuned-in to the escapades of the Gallagher family knows that they are seemingly never regretful for the way they live, and they do not frequently express modesty. Frank, the patriarch, is the king of rationalizing deviant behavior. Yet, there is no doubt that the entire Gallagher clan engages in actions that give credence to the show’s title. Arguably some of the most offensive acts include cashing a dead aunt’s social security check for nearly a decade after burying her (she died of natural causes) in the backyard, telling a physically healthy child he has cancer and sending him to a summer camp for dying children, using a catatonic person’s hand to masturbate oneself, and stealing from UNICEF. The characters in Shameless are not afraid of scandal, typically do not claim a sense of duty, are not virtuous, and seem immune from humiliation or degradation. In other words, they seem impervious to shame. It’s no coincidence, then, that the neighborhood bar is called The Alibi Room. It is hard to tell exactly how many episodes of Shameless include examples of the techniques of neutralization, as the peripheral focus (if not central, in some episodes) of the show is brazen behavior. Below, I offer examples of each technique throughout Seasons 1-10.

Denial of Responsibility: We’re Gallaghers—We’re South Side! It’s not my fault! The Gallaghers often claim that they participate in deviance due to forces outside their control. They argue that they must engage in unethical acts (especially stealing), typically because of dire financial straits—they simply cannot afford to buy the things they need—or due to intoxication. Yet, perhaps the most frequently used denial of responsibility, especially from the Gallagher children, is that they inherited bad genes from corrupt parents who were never around to raise the kids during their adolescence, and that they grew up in “the ghetto,” lacking resources and opportunities, and learning criminal values. In fact, a frequently heard phrase throughout the series is “We’re Gallaghers!”—a declaration inferring that they are inventive survivors and that no one can or should “mess with” them, but also giving them infinite excuses for bad behavior. In other words, they cannot help the way they behave—it’s in their DNA. A variant is professing

“Excuse is the Refuge of the Moral Coward”


that “We are South Side” when explaining behavior that might seem a bit radical, rude, or brash. For example, in Season 4, Episode 2, after being caught in several lies by her boyfriend and boss, Fiona explains, “it’s what I do, I’m a Gallagher.” In Season 8, Episode 7, when Debbie goes to Missouri to party and has unprotected sex (intoxicated) with a fellow welding school student, she goes to a pharmacy to obtain Plan B (the prescription drug that prevents pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex), only to be turned away for her age (17). She proceeds to get into a fight with a would-be helper in the parking lot who, instead of purchasing the drug for Debbie, takes her money and tries to run. Debbie is subsequently arrested, and when she is late to work the next day because she was in jail in another state, she argues to her boss, Nadine, that it isn’t her fault, and if it weren’t for the corrupt legal system in Missouri, she would be on-time: Nadine: A no-call, no-show on a weekend? You f*cked me, Debbie Gallagher. Debbie: I know, but the circumstances were really beyond my control. Of course I would have called if I weren't in jail in Missouri. It's the stupid Plan B state law's fault, not mine. Sorry. Nadine: No show, no job.

Denial of Injury: What I’ve Done is Not Wrong Recall, refuting bad behavior by denying injury is an attempt to separate the action from its consequences. There are three possible dimensions of this defense. First, the argument that there is minimal-to-no direct or lasting harm done in the process of a deviant act. Second, the insinuation that deviance is relative, and that when compared to people who engage in more extreme deviance, the actor’s behaviors are not that bad— perhaps they shouldn’t even be considered wrong. In an example of this facet, in Season 8, Episode 12, Frank is explaining to his youngest son, Liam—who wants to go yachting with his private-school friend Dylan’s wealthy family—that the system is rigged, and that people like Dylan’s father often judge people like the Gallaghers to be morally bankrupt. The truth however, Frank argues, is that wealthy people are the problem, and it is perfectly acceptable to rip them off. In this scene, Frank gives Liam the reasons he should help Frank steal valuables from Dylan’s home: Frank:

I met your friend Dylan's dad. I looked the man up. He makes nothing. He creates nothing. He buys

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Liam: Frank: Liam: Frank:


businesses, tears them apart, sells the pieces, and then discards the employees like trash. He's a legal thief. He wants the companies to fail. The world's not just, Liam. No one's gonna take care of us in our old age. We have a moral duty to rip this asshole off. So can I go on the cruise with Dylan's family or not? Well... are we partners? [Monotone] Yeah. Okay, good. I'm very proud to be your partner. And your job, partner, is to go to the Caribbean and have a great time. After you get the turn off the alarm. And pics of their valuables and of the security system. One more big score, I can retire in style.

This is not the only time Frank uses his children to steal from the rich. In Season 3, Frank convinces Carl to steal from Carl’s foster parents. Of course, it is Carl, not Frank, who ends up getting arrested for the transgression. The third dimension of the denial of injury defense is that the “victim(s)” is/are actually people who can afford a little loss, and therefore there is no true injury. Frank and Liam’s escapades attempting to steal from the wealthy is an example of a common theme throughout the series. For example, in Season 7, Debbie “finds” (steals) expensive strollers in the park belonging to the very rich. She sells them and uses the money to pay for a night nurse for her daughter, Franny, so that Debbie can get some sleep. Throughout the seventh season, Debbie also steals wallets from wealthy women and uses their credit cards to buy Franny luxurious toys and clothes. She continues this until she’s caught by one of the women victimized.

Denial of Victim: They Had it Coming/Payback’s a Bitch In Shameless, characters often admit responsibility for harming someone, while defending the act as retaliatory or warranted. Inherent in this justification is the assumption that some people deserve harm while others do not. This account is used several times by characters in the show to justify injuring a person simply because they are not from the neighborhood. In Season 5, Episode 11, Lip attends a party of a new resident of the increasingly gentrified South Side neighborhood—a wealthy man who knows Lip’s professor, Dr. Helene Runyon. An awkward encounter ensues between the man and Lip, in which the man insults the community and its residents, unaware that Lip lives nearby. When Lip reveals this fact, the host patronizes him for becoming upwardly mobile. Though during the conversation, Lip carries himself in a diplomatic, respectful—albeit forthright—manner, he later discusses with Runyon’s former student


“Excuse is the Refuge of the Moral Coward”

Norbert how the host deserved to be insulted. The implication is that he deserves it because he doesn’t belong and he needs to know what life is really like on the South Side: Norbert: All this fancy landscaping seems a little out of place when you consider it's kind of— Lip: Before you go and say it's a shitty neighborhood, you should know I live right down the block. Norbert: Oh. Then you know it's a shitty neighborhood. [laughs] Hey, you know the owner, or— Lip: No, I just met him. I mean, he seems nice, but that party is—is not my scene, man. I think I insulted the guy. Norbert: Oh. He deserve it? Lip: Well, he moved here. Norbert: Well, then f*ck him. Let's piss in his bushes.

Perhaps the most reprehensible example of this technique can be found in Season 2, Episodes 2 and 3, when Frank attempts to woo a fellow South Sider named Dottie who has a bad heart and is on a transplant waiting list. Behind her back, Frank and the other patrons of The Alibi Room (the bar she once frequented and where Frank spends most of his days) refer to Dottie as “Butterface.” As Frank puts it: “God gave her one hell of a rack and legs to die for, though.” Then, the entire barroom yells and laughs: “But her face!” When Frank finds out that Dottie’s city pension death benefits would be substantial, he begins doing things for her around the house (e.g., getting her groceries, fixing the toilet). After a short while of these favors, he asks her to marry him. She refuses at first, but after Frank makes the argument that someone should get to spend the money she worked so hard to earn, and promises that he would put flowers on her grave every day, she agrees to marriage. 4 Dottie informs Frank that her heart can’t handle the excitement of sex; she would die if her blood pressure rose above a certain level. This fact sets the scene for arguably one of the most shameless acts in the entire series. As Dottie showers, Frank hears her transplant beeper alert. He subsequently calls to tell the hospital that she no longer needs the transplant. Dottie never discovers what Frank did, but knowing that she missed what is probably her last opportunity for a new heart, she relies on him for the ultimate favor. She agrees to give Frank $2,000 and her flat screen television if he will have sex with her so that she can die. Afterward, as she lay dead in the bed, Frank scavenges her residence and takes rings from her fingers. Then, he goes to The Alibi Room and justifies his 4

The two do not marry.

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egregious actions by arguing that Dottie was gluttonous in her quest for a new heart: You know what's wrong with the organ transplant system? If you're waiting for a new organ, you are just interfering with God's plan…God's plan is that you take what we are given and don't complain. No one is satisfied with what they have anymore. Always trying to get something better. "I don't like my heart; I think I'll get on a list, get a new one, upgrade." If you've got a bum heart, that's your lot in life. Don't take someone else's. It's not yours. She got along just fine with her heart all these years. Why's she got to be greedy and want another one? …just 'cause she's on some stupid list, how come she's the next one in line?

By proclaiming this, Frank implies that Dottie was an appropriate target— in other words, that she deserved to miss out on a transplant. The series is riddled with justifications that people get what they deserve, though the circumstances are typically not as deplorable, opportunistic, and predatory as Frank’s actions against Dottie. In Season 6, Episode 1, for example, Mickey asks Ian to wait for him to be released from prison. When Ian argues that they probably shouldn’t be together because Mickey attempted to kill Ian’s half-sister Sammi, Mickey justifies that act by arguing that Sammi deserved it. After all, Sammi got Ian in trouble when she told the military police where Ian lived: Mickey: Been thinking about you. You ever think of me? Gonna wait for me? Ian: [chuckles] You’re here for fifteen years. Mickey: Yeah, but I’ll be out in eight with overcrowding, so… Ian: You tried to kill my sister. Mickey: Half-sister, one. Two, like you give a shit. Bitch had it coming, calling f*cking MPs on you.

Condemnation of Condemners: The System is Corrupt and Unjust Frank Gallagher repeatedly blames his lot in life on a rigged social system. It is the corrupt system that makes him engage in criminal ways. But, Frank is not the only Gallagher who professes that the system (or parts of it) is rigged and broken, often in the favor of the rich, to the detriment of the poor and working-class. In Season 10, Episode 10, viewers get a glimpse of fundamental differences between the values of Lip (who comes from a working-class family), and those of his girlfriend Tami (whose family is

“Excuse is the Refuge of the Moral Coward”


upper middle-class). As she opens the hospital bill after delivering their new baby and spending several weeks in the intensive care unit postpartum, Tami has a brief, albeit important, discussion with Lip about principles. In that conversation, Lip’s loyalty to South Side values is strongly conveyed. The hospital staff provided the new family a great service, Lip agrees, but there’s no reason, in his mind, that the hospital should charge an exorbitant amount of money, especially considering that Tami nearly died. The implication is that the system is broken and structured to keep working-class people poor: Tami: Lip: Tami: Lip: Tami: Lip: Tami: Lip: Tami: Lip:

Tami: Lip: Tami: Lip: Tami: Lip: Tami: Lip: Tami: Lip: Tami: Lip: Tami:

Thirty-six hundred. That's after insurance. I mean, how are we gonna pay this? [sighs] That’s easy. We're not. We already brought him home. What are they gonna do? Take him back? Well, they delivered our baby and saved my life. Yeah, and that was their choice. They didn't give me the option of leaving Fred in the oven or letting you die on the operating table. So you would've let me die? I mean, if I knew it was gonna cost us four grand yeah, maybe. [chuckles] Look, we have to pay this. Tami, no, we don't. Isn't not paying your bills stealing? No. Charging us money while your life is on the line, that's extortion…We're, uh, Robin Hooding, you know? We're stealing from the rich, giving to the poor. You're not Robin Hood. Yeah, but I'm poor. So, what, so you steal stuff? Like what? [chuckling] I don't know. It's a long list. Okay, well, like, uh, food from the grocery store? Yeah, like food from anywhere. Money? [sighs] That a real question? What? Cars? No. But, uh, never say never. Wow. "Wow" what? No, you're just exactly the role model I always wanted for my kid.

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Appeal to Higher Loyalties: South Side Rules Occupying conflicting role relationships—such as being a (mostly) law-abiding citizen of the United States and a member of a delinquent gang—inevitably produces situations in which an actor must choose where loyalties lie. Actors appeal to higher loyalties when they act in ways that benefit the smaller, more primary group (e.g., family, neighborhood, peer group), even if it means breaking a law of the larger society. On Shameless, it is made abundantly clear that the Gallaghers and other South Siders value “protecting their own,” and distrust the rules of the larger society and the enforcers of those rules. Due to class-based oppression, they have had to police their own neighborhood in the absence of law enforcement and they have had to break laws just to survive. As a result, the needs of the neighborhood are more pressing than the rules of society. In Season 5, Episode 10, Lip refuses to utilize the legitimate means of getting medical attention for his working-class pal who jumped out of a window while intoxicated. His reasoning lies in the fact that he doesn’t want to bring more pain to his friend who, to make ends meet, was selling drugs in the dorms at Lip’s university. Lip doesn’t want to take him to the hospital because he’s afraid his friend will get busted. When Helene (Lip’s professor and love interest) asks why, Lip responds with three simple words that illustrate his loyalty to the code of the street: “South Side Rules.” Helene: called 911. Hang tight, honey, okay? They're sending an ambulance. Lip: Come here, come here, come here, come here. Why did you do that? Helene: What did you expect me to do? Lip: He's on drugs, okay? He could get kicked out of school, and my friend who sold him the drugs, he's staying illegally in the dorms. He could go to jail, all right? He's got three kids. Helene: This boy is suffering. He needs help, regardless of the consequences. Lip: No, no, no. I gotta cover their asses. Helene: Why? Lip: South Side rules. Helene: You know what? Drop the whole "noble thug" shtick. You're covering your own ass and you know it. You—you have a choice right now. To recognize that you are a promising young college student, not some ghetto outlaw. You stop behaving like the world is out to get you when it is so clearly dropping gifts at your feet.


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Defense of Necessity: I Had No Choice Actors sometimes argue that the situation in which they find themselves constrains their behavior. This is a frequently used argument in Shameless. For example, in Season 1, with the help of Vee (Veronica Fisher, neighbor and Fiona’s best friend, who worked in a local nursing home), the Gallaghers kidnap a woman with dementia to pose as their Aunt Ginger, who is the owner of the house they live in. In reality, Aunt Ginger died several years prior (of natural causes) and Frank buried her in the backyard. He didn’t report her death because he wanted to keep collecting her social security checks. The Gallaghers argued that posing a woman with dementia as their aunt was necessary—otherwise, the house would be sold and they would be homeless. Similarly, in Season 3, the Gallaghers steal a body from a morgue in order to get an official death certificate for their Aunt Ginger. They must prove Ginger is dead so that Fiona can buy the family house in an effort to prove she can handle custody of her siblings. Once again with the help of Vee, who has inside information on bodies that are left unclaimed after dying in the nursing home, the Gallaghers rationalize that they had no choice. Even when they dig up their own mother’s body (because two pounds of drugs were buried with her and they needed to sell the drugs to pay back the drug dealer from whom she stole) (Season 8, Episode 3), the Gallaghers reasoned that they had no choice—they couldn’t find the money anywhere else, and they did this to avoid being maimed or killed by the drug dealer. In Season 6, Episode 3, we find Kev wrestling with his guilt and grief over having (accidentally) made his friend and neighbor, Yanis, into a paraplegic. Yanis has a habit of revving his motorcycle engine at the same time that Kev and Vee’s twin baby daughters nap each day. As a result of the noise, the babies were having a hard time getting rest. Kev, feeling pressure from Vee and some neighbors who have also been complaining, decides one day to cut the throttle cable on Yanis’ bike. However, he inadvertently cuts the brake cable instead, sending Yanis flying into traffic the next time he rides it. When Yanis awakes paralyzed in the hospital, he thinks that the culprit is the other annoyed neighbors, Lisa and Lisa. Vee pleads with Kev, telling him that Yanis doesn’t need to know the truth, because if he did, he would kill Kev, a much-needed new daddy to two little girls. She tries to make Kev understand that, even though it was an honest mistake (cutting the wrong cable), the resulting injury to Yanis meant that Kev did everyone in the neighborhood a favor: Kevin, you have to let this go now. That man can't kill the lawyers or the Lisas or anybody else 'cause he can't get out of

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the house without your help. He doesn't have any other friends. Nobody likes him. You know why? Because the guy's an asshole. So... [sighs] ...maybe this wasn't an accident, Kev. Maybe he didn't deserve working legs. Maybe guilt isn't what you should be feeling. Maybe you should be feeling like a hero. You saved the neighborhood.

Metaphor of the Ledger: I Deserve It! The final neutralization technique is the metaphor of the ledger (Klockars 1974), in which an actor does an evaluative accounting of their prior behavior, arguing that good behavior in the past excuses bad behavior in the present and future. Fiona uses this justification for nearly the entirety of Season 8, when she is attempting to obtain wealth and cultural capital. She argues throughout the season that she deserves to do anything she deems necessary to make a better life for herself. After all, she has paid her dues—it’s her time to shine. Among the questionable things Fiona does this season so that she can “have hers” includes selling the laundromat and moving Etta (the previous owner who is battling dementia) into assisted living after promising Etta the opportunity to stay in the upstairs apartment she once shared with her late husband. In reality, Fiona sold the laundromat to make money—she was paid double what she initially invested in it. A second example of Fiona’s immorality is outbidding her brother Ian on an abandoned church building. Ian wanted to buy it (using a generous philanthropic donation) and turn it into housing for homeless LGBTQ teens. Fiona, after hearing that the city block and neighborhood were going to be redeveloped and gentrified, wanted to own the building for investment purposes. One of her many arguments with Ian during the season illustrates her use of two techniques of neutralization simultaneously. On one hand, Fiona implies that she has earned the right to make money and get out of the endless cycle of poverty that her family has inhabited (metaphor of the ledger). On the other hand, Fiona argues that she’s really doing all of this for the family (an appeal to higher loyalties): Fiona: Ian: Fiona: Ian: Fiona: Ian:

You do know that I didn't realize it was your shelter, right? What difference does that make? I just want to put it behind us…Hey. We're family. Come on, there's nothing more important than that. There is to you. What's that supposed to mean? Money.

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224 Fiona:

That is so unfair. If I had known that it was you trying to buy it, I would've come to you first to talk about it. Ian: Still would've made the same mistake. Fiona: So what? I didn't make a mistake. Ian: Right. Because what's good for Fiona can't be a mistake…Bunch of kids with nothing just needed a place to sleep. But you getting rich is more important than that. Fiona: Getting rich? I'm barely scraping by! I've been cleaning a dead body out of an apartment all day! Ian: Your moral compass is seriously f*cked up. Fiona: Moral compass? I've been working my ass off trying to make a life for myself and you turn on me? For what? A bunch of strangers? Why should I sacrifice everything I worked for just so they can move into that building? Ian: Because they're helpless, and you're not! Fiona: That's bullshit. They have just as much of a chance as I ever had. The f*ck... I'm not gonna apologize to you or anybody else for trying to better myself. Better all of us. Ian: I don't know who you are anymore. (Season 8, Episode 6)

Discussion and Conclusion Experiences of moral, role-taking emotions such as embarrassment and shame typically indicate to us that we have violated norms and signals to others that we accept those norms. Many of the behaviors exhibited by the characters in the hit television series Shameless are—without argument— shameful by conventional society’s standards. The premise of the program lies in the ease with which the characters carry on about their day, seemingly without regard to the appropriate emotional response to such behaviors. When an actor does not express shame after a behavior that most agree should have induced the emotion, we may argue that the actor does not understand the social order (i.e., they are new to this culture or were not properly socialized), that they do not give legitimacy to it, or that they are mentally ill (e.g., Pugliesi 1987). The characters in Shameless are quite aware that mainstream society disagrees with their most outrageous actions, but the Gallaghers were not socialized with the same emotion norms as the majority of American society. Lacking parental bonds and monitoring, they grew up watching their mother and father steal, scam, and cheat without remorse. While they clearly accept some of the normative standards of the greater society, they mostly live by their own rules.

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Though the Gallaghers are able to mostly avoid the negative feelings that many people experience after breaking the rules, their emotional response is sometimes in accordance with normative standards. This chapter examined how the Gallaghers cope with the experience of moral emotions. Specifically, I provide examples from Shameless of characters using variations of Sykes and Matza’s Techniques of Neutralization (1957) to manage shame. Researchers have used this theory to illustrate how people in a wide range of social groups and settings rationalize their deviance as temporary, excusable, and justified. These techniques often give people—who in most situations follow the conventional norms of the greater society—a defense to bend the rules on a provisional basis. In moments that might otherwise call for a period of shame or guilt, individuals are able to manage these emotions by externalizing blame via accounts, excuses, and/or justifications. I found that in Shameless, characters justify their actions via denials of injury, responsibility, and victim; defenses of necessity; comparison to those of relatively deeper despicable character; and appeals to higher values, even in moments that would surely shame most of us. In “real life,” we rationalize our behavior daily—either quietly to ourselves or deliberately to others—and we frequently request reasons for others’ actions. We expect justifications, especially when people act in ways that we may not agree. Hearing neutralizations for bad behavior usually makes us feel better. But, do we require this from everyone? For example, seeing our (nice, middle-class) neighbor strike her child is shocking, and could be interpreted as abuse. In a situation such as this, in which we know that our neighbor is always a nice person, a justification can help, but we likely will not ask for one. Instead, we might cognitively reinterpret the situation as an act of discipline, not violence. In our minds, the admirable actor (our neighbor) could not have been behaving aggressively; she was correcting the child. Unfortunately, we do not give the behaviors of everyone the same benefit of the doubt that we did for our nice middle-class neighbor in the above example. We expect mostly “bad” actions from “deviant” individuals, and we expect answers for what they have done. That’s why most of us perceive deviant and alternative behavior as the work of the poor (Conklin 1977), and why we tend to hold accountable poor people who commit crimes more often than we do wealthier offenders (Levi 1994). Just as the privileged are afforded more leniency in their behavior, they are also provided more space to do their emotion work, are less likely to be stigmatized, and work considerably less at being forgiven (Clark 1990). Due to this disparity in expectations, members of subordinate groups spend


“Excuse is the Refuge of the Moral Coward”

significantly more time and effort doing emotion work—managing the shame and guilt that follow the disappointment of others. These differential expectations work to create and maintain the social hierarchies and inequalities present in today’s society (Fields, Copp, and Kleinman 2006). In the long-run, role-taking moral emotions can play a large role in perpetuating structural inequality. So, why are people drawn to a show about poor people acting without shame? Perhaps we watch Shameless because we expect shameful behaviors and deviance from the working-class. Maybe we are enticed by the prospect of the poor working to manage their emotions, and we want to hear them excuse their disgraceful behavior. Regardless, until wide-scale reform occurs so that our institutions and interactions are more equitable for all, members of subordinate groups (e.g., women, people of color, the working-class, racial minorities, those living with disabilities) will continue to be expected to offer accounts for their behaviors, even though they are unlikely to fully recover from the blame attributed and the shame experienced.

References Agnew, Robert. 1994. “The Techniques of Neutralization and Violence.” Criminology 32:555-80. Ahmed, Eliza, Nathan Harris, John Braithwaite, and Valerie Braithwaite. 2001. Shame Management through Reintegration. New York: Cambridge University Press. Akers, Ronald L. 1998. Social Learning and Social Structure: A General Theory of Crime and Deviance. Northeastern Boston. Anand, Vikas, Blake E. Ashforth, and Mahendra Joshi. 2004. “Business as Usual: The Acceptance and Perpetuation of Corruption in Organizations.” The Academy of Management Executive 18(2):39-53. Austin, Roy L. 1977. “Commitment, Neutralization, and Delinquency.” Pp.121-137 in Juvenile Delinquency: Little Brother Grows Up, edited by Theodore N. Ferdinand. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage. Braithwaite, John. 1989. Crime, Shame, and Reintegration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Chibnall, Steven & Peter Saunders. 1977. “Worlds Apart: Notes on the Social Reality of Corruption.” The British Journal of Sociology 28(2):138-154. Clark, Candace. 1990. “Emotions and Micropolitics in Everyday Life: Some Patterns and Paradoxes of ‘Place’.” Pp. 305-333 in Research Agendas in

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the Sociology of Emotions, edited by Theodore D. Kemper. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. Cohen, Dov. 2003. “The American National Conversation About (Everything but) Shame.” Social Research: An International Quarterly 70(4):1075-1108. Coleman, James W. 1987. “Toward an Integrated Theory of White-Collar Crime.” American Journal of Sociology 93(2):406-39. Conklin, John. 1977. Illegal but Not Criminal: Business Crime in America. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Cressey, Donald R. 1953. Other People's Money: A Study in the Social Psychology of Embezzlement. Glencoe, IL: Free Press. —. 1960. “Epidemiology and Individual Conduct: A Case from Criminology.” Pacific Sociological Review 3:47-58. Ekman, Paul. 1971. “Universals and Cultural Differences in Facial Expressions of Emotion.” in Nebraska Symposium on Motivation: 1971, edited by J. K. Cole. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Fenichel, Otto. 1945. “Neurotic Acting Out.” Psychoanalytic Review 32(2):97-206. Fields, Jessica, Martha Copp, and Sherryl Kleinman. 2006. “Symbolic Interactionism, Inequality, and Emotions.” Pp. 155-178 in Handbook of the Sociology of Emotions, edited by Jan E. Stets and Jonathan H. Turner. Springer: Boston, MA. Freud, Anna. [1936] 2018. The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence. Routledge. Geis, Gilbert. 1967. “White Collar Crime: The Heavy Electrical Equipment Antitrust Cases of 1961.” Pp. 139-151 in Criminal Behavior Systems: A Typology, edited by Marshall Clinard and Richard Quinney. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. Gilligan, James. 1996. “Exploring Shame in Special Settings: A Psychotherapeutic Study.” Pp. 475-489 in Forensic Psychotherapy: Crime, Psychodynamics and the Offender Patient, Vol. 2: Mainly Practiced edited by Christopher Cordess and Murray Cox. London, England: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Ltd. Heise, David R. 1987. “Affect Control Theory: Concepts and Model.” Journal of Mathematical Sociology 13:1-33. Higgins, E. Tory. 1987. “Self-Discrepancy: A Theory Relating Self and Affect.” Psychological Review 94:319-340. Hirschi, Travis. 1969. Causes of Delinquency. Berkeley: University of California Press. Hochschild, Arlie R. 1979. "Emotion Work, Feeling Rules, and Social Structure." American Journal of Sociology 85:551-575.


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Klockars, Carl B. 1974. The Professional Fence. New York: Free Press. Landsheer, Johannes A., H'T. Hart, and Wolfgang Kox. 1994. "Delinquent Values and Victim Damage: Exploring the Limits of Neutralization Theory." British Journal of Criminology 34:44-53. Levi, Michael. 1994. “Masculinities and White-Collar Crime.” Pp. 234-252 in Just Boys Doing Business? Men, Masculinities and Crime, edited by Tim Newburn and Elizabeth Stanko. London: Routledge. Lewis, Helen B. 1971. Shame and Guilt in Neurosis. New York: International Universities Press. Mannle, Henry W. and Peter W. Lewis. 1979. "Control Theory Reexamined: Race and the Use of Neutralizations Among Institutionalized Delinquents." Criminology 17:58-74. Matsueda, Ross L. 2008. “On the Compatibility of Social Disorganization and Self Control.” Pp. 102-126 in Out of Control: Assessing the General Theory of Crime, edited by Erich Goode. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. —. 2015. “Social Structure, Culture, and Crime: Assessing Kornhauser’s Challenge to Criminology.” Pp. 117-143 in Challenging Criminological Theory: The Legacy of Ruth Kornhauser: Advances in Criminological Theory, Vol 19, edited by Frances T. Cullen, Pamela Wilcox, Robert J. Sampson, and Brendan D. Dooley. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers. Mills, C. Wright. 1940. “Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive.” American Sociological Review 5(6):904-913. Minor, W. William. 1981. "Techniques of Neutralization: A Reconceptualization and Empirical Examination." Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 18:295-318. Pugliesi, Karen L. 1987. “Deviation in Emotion and the Labeling of Mental Illness.” Deviant Behavior 8(1):79-102. Redl, Fritz and David Wineman. 1951. Children Who Hate: The Disorganization and Breakdown of Behavior Controls. Scheff, Thomas J. 1987. “The Shame-Rage Spiral: A Case Study of an Interminable Quarrel.” Pp. 109-50 in The Role of Shame in Symptom Formation, edited by H.B. Lewis. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. —. 1988. "Shame and Conformity: The Deference-Emotion System." American Sociological Review 53:395-406. —. 2003. “Shame in Self and Society.” Symbolic Interaction 26(2):239-262. Scott, Marvin B. and Stanford M Lyman. 1968. “Accounts.” American Sociological Review 33(1):46-62. Shott, Susan. 1979. “Emotion and Social Life: A Symbolic Interactionist Analysis.” American Journal of Sociology 84(6):1317-1334.

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Stuewig, Jeffrey, June P. Tangney, Caron Heigel, Laura Harty, and Laura McCloskey. 2010. “Shaming, Blaming, and Maiming: Functional Links Among the Moral Emotions, Externalization of Blame, and Aggression.” Journal of Research in Personality 44(1):91-102. Sutherland, Edwin H. 1947. Principles of Criminology. 4th ed. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott. Svensson, Robert, Frank M. Weerman, Lieven J.R. Pauwels, Gerben J.N. Bruinsma, and Wim Bernasco. 2013. “Moral Emotions and Offending: Do Feelings of Anticipated Shame and Guilt Mediate the Effect of Socialization on Offending?” European Journal of Criminology 10(1):22-39. Sykes, Gresham and David Matza. 1957. “Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency.” American Journal of Sociology 22:664-670. Tangney June P. 1992. “Situational Determinants of Shame and Guilt in Young Adulthood.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 18(2):199-206. Tangney, June P. and Ronda L. Dearing. 2002. Emotions and Social Behavior. Shame and Guilt. New York: Guilford Press. Tangney, June P. and Kurt Fischer. 1995. The Psychology of Shame, Guilt, Embarrassment, and Pride. New York: Guilford Press. Tangney June P., Jeffrey Stuewig, and Debra J. Mashek. 2007. “Moral Emotions and Moral behavior.” Annual Review of Psychology 58:345372. Thoits, Peggy A. 1985. “Self-Labeling Processes in Mental Illness: The Role of Emotional Deviance.” American Journal of Sociology 92: 221249. —. 1990. "Emotional Deviance: Research Agendas." Pp. 180-203 in Research Agendas in the Sociology of Emotions, edited by Theodore D. Kemper. Albany: State University of New York Press. Tracy, Jessica L. and Richard W. Robins. 2006. “Appraisal Antecedents of Shame and Guilt: Support for a Theoretical Model.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 32(10):1339-1351. Warr, Mark. 2002. Companions in Crime: The Social Aspects of Criminal Conduct. Cambridge University Press. Wikström, Per-Olof H. 2006. “Individuals, Settings and Acts of Crime. Situational Mechanisms and the Explanation of Crime.” Pp. 61-107 in The Explanation of Crime: Contexts, Mechanisms and Development, edited by Per-Olof Wikström and Robert J. Sampson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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—. 2010. “Explaining Crime as Moral Actions.” Pp. 211-240 in Handbook of the Sociology of Morality, edited by Steve Hitlin and Stephen Vaisey. New York: Springer Verlag.


“Nowadays men often feel that their private lives are a series of traps. They sense that within their everyday worlds, they cannot overcome their troubles, and in this feeling, they are often quite correct.” C. Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination

The Gallaghers, the main protagonists of the television show Shameless, are situated in South Side Chicago, one of the roughest urban districts in America. The physical conditions and social environment they navigate are saturated with material and non-material risks, including living conditions, health issues, substance abuse, violence, stress, and various other concerns and threats. The Chicago ghetto of the show can be seen as an extreme example of what C. Wright Mills described in his opening to The Sociological Imagination as a “series of traps” ([1959] 2000:3). With limited material means and little social and cultural capital, the Gallaghers do not possess the resources necessary for establishing a sense of control, stability, and security, or for making long-term plans. Instead, they must constantly deal with risks and uncertainties, some concrete and immediate, and others that loom ahead. While even the most resourceful social groups cannot avoid dealing with some measure of risk and uncertainty, the Gallaghers’ precarious lives represent an existential state of risk. The characters’ frequent encounters with risk and their ongoing crisis management successfully create a fast-paced, high-energy, and action-filled show. It is easy to admire the Gallaghers’ heroic perseverance through difficult situations and challenges, while empathizing with the pain and struggles, though their often-devastating setbacks can be challenging for viewers. Nevertheless, Shameless has proven to be Showtime’s most successful and longest-running television show, with both commercial


Urban Hustling, Emotion Work, and Reflexive Modernity

success and critical acclaim. This success springs partly from the show's effective balance between pain and a sense of vitality, sensuality, joy, and humor. It is precisely because the Gallaghers have little to lose and limited control over their future that they are able to be more authentic and liberated. The Gallaghers represent an extreme form of “natural growth,” which stands in contrast to the “concerted cultivation” identified with the middle-class. Coined by Annette Lareau in her influential book Unequal Childhoods ([2003] 2011) natural growth and concerted cultivation describe two different parenting styles; the former is more typical in poor and working-class families and the latter in middle- and higher-class families. In natural growth environments, children enjoy substantial free time and various informal activities with minimal parenting intervention, enabling a high degree of spontaneity. In contrast, a childhood characterized by concerted cultivation is full of tightly scheduled and structured extracurricular activities that demand significant planning and commitment, both from the children and their parents. Such level of parental intervention and deliberate planning provides children with the tools and skills needed for the competitive job market. It is a privilege not available for the Gallaghers, who are mostly busy managing crises rather than securing the children’s future. Frank, the father of the Gallagher family, expresses this point in Season 2, Episode 5, when giving a fatherly advice to his son Lip, who has just learned that his girlfriend is pregnant, “Big responsibility, being a parent… my philosophy: you got to let kids learn for themselves… the best gift you can give? Neglect. Neglect fosters self-reliance.” Overall, the Gallaghers depict a new sociological group, or a sociological form, called “the precariat.” 1 The emergence of the precariat is associated with a series of economic and political shifts that fall under the general term neoliberalism, including: deregulation, privatization, financialization, decline in “good jobs,” decline of commitment between employers and employees, and governments’ withdrawal of social welfare programs and securities. Rooted in a radical reinterpretation of the self-regulated market, coupled with a perception of individuals as being guided by rational choice, this neoliberal order has generated heightened competition that has simultaneously squeezed workers through wage stagnation while removing governments’ and employers’ responsibilities and safety nets (Harvey 2007). The result is a shift of responsibilities from governments onto individuals, families, and private organizations. Within this process, which can be generally perceived 1

The term “precariat” refers to a new social group characterized by a high degree of insecurity and low material and symbolic capital. See Standing (2014) and Savage, et al. (2013).

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as a weakening of the social contract, risk has increasingly become a private matter, rather than a public one. Indeed, a wide historical view finds that other time periods were not less risky. In fact, measured in objective and material terms, contemporary risks pale in comparison with some other historical eras, which were fraught with risk. However, during these eras, risks were perceived as being caused by external forces, and in turn were countered by such, most notably by turning to religious authority. When major figures in the classical sociological canon, including Marx, Durkheim, and Weber, asked questions regarding the new challenges emerging with modernity—whether as effects of capitalism, the division of labor, or the rule of reason and bureaucracy— they looked for solutions in new forms of governance and new social and public institutions as the possible new “agents” of change, social reforms, and organized action. In some ways early sociologists acknowledged risk, but mostly as a public matter. Only in late modernity, and with the rise of neoliberalism, risk has invaded the private realm, and coupled with individualization processes emerged as a powerful organizing and regulatory social force. The questions it raises include: What is the contemporary meaning of risk as a sociological concept? In what ways does risk invade social lives? and What are the social consequences of allocating risk to the individual realm? In this essay I discuss these questions through an analysis of the stories, narratives, and actions of the expert risk managers in the television show Shameless. Following Lichter (R.), Lichter (L.), and Rothman (1991), I examine what television can tell us about our lives and about our society. That is, I do not assess how the show reproduces ideologies and perpetuates stereotypes, and I also do not consider the ways in which the show resists the status quo and pushes new boundaries—all are useful approaches that can be found in this book. Instead, I seek points of convergence between contemporary sociological research and themes and ideas expressed in Shameless. In other words, I use the show as a cultural product that illustrates some of the social aspects and processes of our time. I start with a short account of the emergence of the concept of risk and the different analytical approaches developed in regard to this concept. I then offer an analysis divided into three sections addressing various aspects of risk. The first is “hustling.” It deals with practices of conning, violence, survival, “flirtation” with criminal activities, and both adherence and resistance to formal and informal laws. In this section I apply the concept of “edgework” and relate it to the issue of precarious work. The second deals with “emotion work,” addressing the emotional consequences of risk management. I consider this aspect mainly with regard to gender.


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The third aspect of risk is “reflexive modernity,” and in this section I address the tension between individualization, self-reliance, and self-interest— trends driven by neoliberalism—and the need for social cohesion, belonging, solidarity, and community. Organizing the paper in this way is intended to simplify the analysis, but since various social aspects are intertwined, I do not attempt to keep social aspects, including class, gender, and race, fully separated.

Sociological Approaches to the Study of Risk An overview of the literature on the sociology of risk reveals the existence of several different analytical approaches: reflexive modernization, identified with Ulrich Beck (Bauman [2000] 2013; Beck 1992; Giddens 1990, 1999); governmentality, identified with Foucault’s work (Castel 1991; Dean 1998; Ewald 1991); a cultural, or socio-cultural approach, identified with the work of Mary Douglas (1985, 1992); systems theory, identified with Luhmann (1968; Japp 2000); and edgework (Lyng 1990). Beck’s reflexive modernization, or “risk society,” is the most prominent in the literature and serves in this essay as the main vantage point. 2 Both Beck’s reflexive modernization and the governmentality approaches include a strong historical dimension. That is, they account for historical shifts and assess the specific form and function of risk in contemporary societies. For Beck, the historical change is mostly related to accelerated industrialization, post-industrial economies and globalization, while the main sociological effect is individualization (1992). The governmentality approach links the change to new mechanisms of control and the construction of a self-policing subject, who assumes personal responsibility for managing risk (Lupton 2006; Zinn 2006). Therefore, both approaches are closely tied to the contemporary socio-economic form, namely neoliberalism, and to the contemporary socio-economic phase, namely the post-industrial economy. Since risk can appear in an actual and concrete form, but it can also operate at the level of a threat yet to materialize, a sociological account of risk should address its dual nature. Some examples of concrete risks are depicted on Shameless in incidents like a broken heating system during winter, Frank’s liver failure, and Debbie’s smashing her toes at work. These risks are material, felt physically, and require immediate action in order to avoid further physical, mental, and financial consequences. The ability to manage such risks relies on social-economic positions, material means, and 2 Douglas’ (1985) and Luhmann’s (1968) approaches are less prominent than others and I do not elaborate on their work here.

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other forms of capital that could help activate social networks and navigate institutions. However, some sociological approaches to risk are more focused on the effect of risk as a potential threat. Therefore, we must direct attention to the social construction of risk and keep in mind W. I. Thomas’ famous statement, “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” (Thomas and Thomas 1928:572). In order to address these complexities, the concept of risk has been supplemented with various other concepts. In fact, risk is hardly ever utilized as a subject matter in and of itself, and instead provides a sort of entry point for the use of other concepts such as “uncertainty” (Zinn 2006) 3, “liquid modernity” (Bauman [2000] 2013), “precarious work,” and “precariousness.” 4 The subjective and interpretive nature of such concepts raise difficulties in generating empirical measurements. Perceptions and reactions to risk are not always based on rational thinking, but instead on experiences and social positions that entail certain interpretations of the social world and the risks it contains. A major contribution of sociology to the study of risk is the understanding that the perception and reaction to risk is always socially situated (Lidskog and Sundqvist 2012). Accordingly, what is required from a sociological analysis of risk is to consider how certain social contexts shape specific interpretations and responses to risks. Applied to Shameless, such an analysis must account for factors including poverty, precarious work, proximity to violence, substance abuse, and criminal activities in which the characters are embedded. Moreover, it must account for the fact that these characters hold very little symbolic or political power. The following analysis examines these aspects of risk through three concepts. The first is the concept of edgework. In this section I explore the consequences of risk and violence being an ever-present integral part of social reality. While risk, violence, and danger are situations one typically would like to avoid, they can also become practices and tools that one may skillfully master and then use, at times in order to recover some a sense of control. While some engagement with edgework seems to be necessary for all the characters in the show, different characters adopt such practices for different purposes and to different degrees. I find the stories of Ian and Carl particularly telling. Both characters walk a fine line between criminal behavior and public service. Eventually, Ian’s and Carl’s acquired edgework skills are used for more productive causes, such as in the armed forces or as paramedics. The second concept is that of emotion work. First 3 4

For example, Anthony Giddens (1991) speaks about “ontological insecurity.” Judith Butler discusses “precariousness” as “a new form of regulation” (2015).

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theorized by Arlie Hochschild in The Managed Heart ([1983] 2012) in the context of addressing the mental and emotional consequences of the rise of the service economy, this concept has expanded into new realms and proven highly useful in sociological research. In this section I focus on gender, using the stories of Fiona and Debbie, who embody the unequal emotional burdens stemming from gendered social expectations, mainly the association of femininity with care. The third concept draws on the idea of reflexive modernization, which highlights the processes of individualization and disintegration of social institutions and social bonds. In this section I examine how family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors are impacted by ideologies of self-reliance and individualism, but more importantly how they are able to resist these ideologies through joining forces in collaborative actions and solidarity.

Edgework: Risk Management as Skill and Thrill Ian:

My kids don’t need art classes. They need homes. They’re at-risk. Fiona: They’re not at-risk, they are risk. (Shameless, Season 8, Episode 5)

In explaining practices of voluntary risk-taking, the sociologist Stephen Lyng borrowed the term “edgework” (1990) from the founder of gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson. Lyng built on a social psychological approach that brings together a macro sociological framework, mainly Marx’s theory of alienation, with a micro sociological framework based on Mead’s theory of social interaction. In this way Lyng ties structural aspects rooted in political economy to the phenomenological level, accounting for sensations and feelings. This approach stands in contrast to an examination of risk that relies on cost-benefit calculations. One of the premises of edgework is the idea that “the opposition between spontaneity and constraint is at the heart of many important problems that confront members of modern postindustrial society” (Lyng 1990:865). This approach fits well for the analysis of Shameless since this tension between spontaneity and constraint has a specific role among weakened social groups. Through an engagement in risky situations and experiences, edgework is a sort of exercise in obtaining control over chaotic situations and claiming some agency for those who have only a limited degree of self-determination (Lyng 1990:859). Therefore, social groups such as youth and the precariat are more disposed to edgework. They are the most weakened, most alienated, and most at odds with authority and formal institutions. Overall, edgeworkers

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have little at stake and limited influence in the ongoing negotiation of the social contract; they see the social order as imposed. In an attempt to better understand engagement in criminal behavior, Jack Katz’s “Seductions of Crime” (1988, preceding Lyng’s formulation) explored similar processes. Katz also emphasizes the interplay between chaos and control as a major driver of edgework (1988). Later studies on edgework practices added more dimensions to the analysis, with gender being a major one (Miller 2005). Since traditional masculinity is associated with being tough, being in control, and keeping emotions in check, edgework is typically more associated with men, and stands in contrast to expectations regarding women’s management of emotions—a subject addressed in the next section. Shameless demonstrates various edgework behaviors—here also referred to as “hustling.” Some hustling practices are demonstrated by all the main characters of the show: Debbie swipes newspapers for coupons, Veronica distracts a delivery guy while Ian lifts dairy products from his truck, Lip and Kevin sell drugs from a food truck or at the university’s dorms, and Frank’s character hardly exists outside some sort of edgework activity. Some of the edgework performed is instrumental to survival, directed at obtaining a basic means of subsistence, but some involves a kind of a challenge, or an entrepreneurial project. These two forms are reflected in Fiona’s attempts to become a party organizer in Season 3. For this purpose, she uses money the family kept aside for property tax payment. When Lip learns that Fiona risked the money, he feels responsible for acquiring the necessary sum, and manages to do so by scamming some North Side kids. At the end of the Episode (#2, Season 3) Lip confronts Fiona by declaring, “The only way to make money when you’re poor is to steal it or scam it.” Implicit in Lip’s statement is that conventional ways of making substantial money are not available to the poor. This touches on one of the root causes of the emergence of the precariat: the changing nature of the job market and the rise of “precarious work” (Kalleberg and Vallas 2017). Precarious work refers to the current structure of the job market, shaped by processes of globalization, financialization, the post-industrial economy, and neoliberal policies. In a historical view, precarious work refers to the decline of manufacturing jobs and the Fordist model, and the rise of parttime, temporary jobs, with reduced or eliminated benefits and union protection. Behind many of these changes are neoliberal policies that gave corporations and financial institutions a higher level of autonomy to act while reducing the bargaining position of the workers. Therefore, at the same time that workers were increasingly squeezed by employers, governments were rolling back welfare policies and programs, removing


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safety nets and protections. In this new, double squeezed reality, the responsibilities have been shifted onto individuals. The logic of this process can be easily identified in the above-mentioned advice given to Lip by Frank, “Neglect fosters self-reliance.” Frank does not merely “talk the talk,” but also walks the individualistic self-reliant walk. Brilliantly acted by William H. Macy, Frank is the ultimate hustler, always on the lookout for a new scam. On only one occasion, after his mourning Monica’s death, does Frank seem to make a genuine attempt to adopt a conventional life with a steady job. While at first this plan appears to go well, the transformation falls short after the retail company for which Frank works is liquidated and all the employees are summarily fired, demonstrating precisely the nature and consequences of the neoliberal economy and the nature of precarious work. Frank is perhaps the most skillful edgeworker among the Gallaghers, and since his edgework is mostly self-serving it frequently damages others—although as one who opposes almost everything, Frank occasionally also functions as a rebellious force that challenges social norms and common wisdom. He is also the most spontaneous on the spontaneitycontrol axis, the most anchored in the present, and always prioritizes fun over any commitment or serious undertaking. Throughout the show Frank initiates countless schemes, some illegal, such as extortion or drug dealing, and others typically involving some type of exchange—a particular comic one is Frank’s complying to Sheila’s pleasure from penetrating him with oversized dildos in return for having a place to stay. The cost of Frank’s edgework is heavy, not only for those who are around him, but also for himself; it’s doubtful that in reality anyone could have survived the number of medical conditions Frank endures throughout the show. The proclivity for engaging in edgework and being a hustler seems to be an inherent part of South Side life, and indeed also part of the Gallaghers’ identity (see Schmidt and Miller in this volume). In order to belong, one must be a hustler. This is demonstrated through the encounters between Fiona and Steve in Season 1 5. Fiona is at first reluctant to respond to Steve’s courtship and is at the same time courted by Tony, a kind young policeman from the neighborhood. During a dinner with Steve, Fiona explains that she is not interested in him because he seems unreliable, telling him, “people like you are just too used to getting your own way” (Season 1, Episode 1). In other words, Fiona identifies Steve as an outsider who does not share the risks and realities of her world. But soon after this exchange the dinner abruptly ends in a rapid sequence of events, with Steve finally getting into a fancy sports car and driving away while Fiona remains, 5

Steve’s real name, Jimmy, will be revealed later in the series.

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somewhat confused, outside the restaurant. Moments later, Steve calls her and reveals that he is dealing with stolen cars, then drives back to her, opens the car window and says, “Still looking for fun, Fiona?” Fiona smiles in acceptance and gets into the car. In other words, Fiona chooses Steve over Tony once he has proved he is a hustler. Fiona’s relationships with men will continue to be fraught with this tension between her affinity for fun and chaos and the need to be the responsible adult and in control. For example, in Season 4, Fiona loses her job and her reliable partner (who is also her boss) after sleeping with his bad-boy brother. Another example can be found later, in her work at Patsy’s Pies, when Fiona is rejected by Sean. Sean, a recovering drug addict, tells Fiona that he would very much like to get closer and more intimate with her, but that he can’t allow himself to do so. He explains, “you’re dangerous… you’re chaos, chaos follows you around…You took your monitor off yourself…” When Fiona reacts in surprise that she is being judged by him for her actions, Sean continues, “I’m not going to judge you for that, I’m going to want you for that…it’s just you’re a chaos junky, Fiona” (Season 5, Episode 2). Sean will, however, ultimately cave in to Fiona’s “chaos.” This demonstrates how the tension between chaos and order serves as a major axis for the Fiona character’s actions and identity. Still, it is perhaps the plotlines of Ian and Carl that are most powerfully driven by the characters’ engagement with edgework. The paths of these two characters demonstrate how fine the line can be between order and chaos, and how edgework and hustling can be redirected to more constructive purposes. In both storylines the characters ultimately find ways to harness their edgework skills for legitimate jobs appreciated by society. Carl finds his calling in a military career and Ian in his work as a paramedic and an advocate for LGBTQ+ youth. However, different forces and circumstances push each character toward this path. Carl seems to have a knack for using violence and keeping cool in dangerous situations; at times he seems to enjoy bullying or solving crises through violent acts. In a school meeting, when Carl’s school principal complains about his behavior, Fiona suggests that Carl might need more structure. The principal bursts out laughing in response, and adds, “what Carl needs is medication, a near-death experience, or a lobotomy…I’m not a religious man, but every now and then, a child comes along who makes me believe in the existence of Satan” (Season 1, Episode 6). Just when it looks like that Carl is going to get expelled, Steve shows up to save the day, schmoozing the teacher and preventing Carl’s expulsion. After the meeting, the family explains to Carl that he must stop punching and hurting other people. While these events are clearly set as a wake-up call for Carl and a


Urban Hustling, Emotion Work, and Reflexive Modernity

possible turning point, already later the same night, when a guy attacks Lip and chases him into the house, Carl acts violently, crushing the attacker’s knee with a baseball bat. The chapter ends with Carl being carried on his brothers’ shoulders and glorified for his actions. The message here is that in this environment Carl’s skills are highly valued. Carl continues to get involved in various hustling and edgework practices, including teaming up with a girl in an episode with the selfexplanatory title, “The Legend of Bonnie and Carl” (Season 4). In Season 5 Carl joins a gang and engages in drug dealing. He then spends time in a juvenile correctional facility, from which he emerges even more socialized to the world of gangs and crime. But in Season 6 something changes. His gang partner, Nick, murders a young boy for a rather petty matter, and this unnecessary death causes Carl to reflect and question his path. Perhaps this turn of events is what Carl’s school principal meant by the need for something extreme to happen in Carl’s life. The event shakes Carl’s world, and from this moment he starts looking for a way out. Through the mentoring and support of Sergeant Winslow (the father of Carl’s girlfriend, Dominique), Carl’s edgework skills are redirected. Winslow, a tough black police officer, seems an unlikely mentor for Carl, but Carl develops interest in Winslow’s police work and the two gradually bond. Winslow tells Carl about his experiences in the military academy, in which one “learns how to be a man” (Season 7, Episode 4). After some difficulties Carl finds funding to join the academy, and on his departure states, “I’m not good at school. Not good at sports. Definitely don’t want to be back on the corner. One thing I do know is that I can take a punch and hit harder back. Hopefully I can put it to some use” (Season 7, Episode 6). Later, Carl’s edgework skills indeed serve him well in this new path. This story brings attention to the impact of mentoring and the need for role models in the inner-city. The importance of strong role models in the ghetto—or more correctly their absence—was pointed out in Julius William Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged (2012). Only with having Winslow as a role model, Carl is able to imagine a different life, and only with Winslow’s active help navigating the application process and secure a funding source Carl is able to break, or at least redirect to a more productive purposes, the cycle of violence. Ian’s somewhat similar path is impacted by different forces. Because of his gay identity, he is more exposed to risks and violence from unaccepting others, and his mental illness also further complicates his actions and engagement in edgework. However, his partnerships are probably the most significant drivers of his engagement with various types of edgework. At one pole stands his bond with Mickey, who represents a

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life of hustling and crime, and at the other stand his relationships with Caleb and Trevor, who represent alternative worlds, anchored in the middle-class. Through his relationships with Caleb and Trevor (Seasons 6 and 7), Ian is exposed to new lifestyles, art, new expressions of sexuality, and professions that provide service to the community. Caleb is a black gay man, though with somewhat fluid sexuality. He works as a fireman and makes sculptures in his free time. Trevor is a young white trans-man who works to help LGBTQ runaway teens. Ian is torn between the raw Mickey and the more complex worlds of Caleb and Trevor. This conflict intensifies when Mickey escapes prison and contacts Ian. At first it seems that Ian chooses Mickey, as he joins him in his escape heading toward the southern U.S. border. In a dramatic scene, Ian must decide whether to cross the border with Mickey or get back to Trevor and his job as a paramedic. Ian ultimately decides to return to Chicago (Season 7, Episode 11). Therefore, Ian’s choice between partners is at the same time also a choice between two worlds and between two types of edgework; one is criminal and the other involves public service. Later, Ian presents the viewer with an interesting dilemma when assuming the role of a protector and leader of LGBTQ youth. While he engages in violent behavior (blowing up a van to prove a point), he does so for a greater cause. Ultimately, Ian’s trajectory follows that of Carl’s. It is a process of growth and maturation of a character who learns to reflect, to take responsibility for his actions, and to find a way to harness edgework skills for productive causes. The difference is in the way in which Ian gains exposure to various alternatives. It must be noted that these two stories provide a somewhat optimistic view about the ability to change life trajectories. In real life, few who live in the ghetto are provided the opportunity to become familiar with alternative paths, lifestyles, and life choices, nor to meet role models and enjoy mentorship, which are important drivers of change. As long as innercity neighborhood segregation remains high, stories like those of Carl and Ian will remain exceptions to the rule, and acquired edgework skills might be channeled more easily toward criminal behavior.

Emotion Work: Risk and “Security Workers” The concept of emotion work was developed by Arlie Russell Hochschild in The Managed Heart ([1983] 2012). Building on Goffman’s work but also drawing on a diverse set of thinkers, including Marx, C. Wright. Mills, Nietzsche, and Darwin, Hochschild explores the ways in which feelings function in modern society. The basic mechanism that Hochschild formulated can be understood as a type of alienation that stems


Urban Hustling, Emotion Work, and Reflexive Modernity

from the management of feelings caused by external, estranged pressures, mainly those in the workplace. Using empirical data from a study on flight attendants in the early 1980s, she attributes the increasing need for the management of such emotions to the rise in service jobs and the changing nature of work. While Marx identified how the workplace depersonalized work—for example with the increasing use of machines in manufacturing— Hochschild finds an opposite trend in which workers are increasingly responsible for interpersonal interactions with clients. That is, in the new economy more workers are required to manipulate certain emotions or displays of emotions, which may lead to alienation of the worker from her/his own feelings. This active management of emotions is what Hochschild terms emotion work. The impact of these processes is closely related to unequal gender relations. Hochschild points out men and women’s unequal burden of emotion work and emotional labor (i.e., emotion work performed at a paid job). This inequality is rooted in gendered expectations, unequal power relations, and unequal bargaining positions both at work and at home. As Hochschild explains, “A social role—such as that of bride, wife, or mother—is partly a way of describing what feelings people think are owed and are owing” ([1983] 2012:74). While the changing nature of work provides Hochschild with an entry point for developing the idea of emotion work, it has been widely applied to the private sphere as well. A major consequence of emotion work is mental stress. As Hochschild explains, “Maintaining a difference between feeling and feigning over the long run leads to strain” ([1983] 2012:90). This is one of the reasons that stress, anxiety, and depression have grown to unprecedented dimensions in Western societies; this is frequently spoken of as an epidemic, and American society tops the charts. One out of five people in America experiences a mental health problem (National Alliance on Mental Illness 2018), and the consumption of prescription drugs has spiked in the last few decades (Goode 2015; Tone and Watkins 2007). The grip of neoliberalism, specifically its push toward individualism, made the issues raised in The Managed Heart more relevant over time. Elizabeth Wurtzel’s bestseller Prozac Nation (1994) gave voice to the rise in mental health issues and the medicalization of America. Wurtzel was not a sociologist, but one can find precision in her linking of the economy, work, precariousness, and risk with mental health: “In the world that we live in, randomness does rule. And this lack of order is a debilitating, destabilizing thing. Perhaps what has come to be placed in the catchall category of depression is really a guardedness, a nervousness, a suspicion about intimacy,

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any of many perfectly natural reactions to a world that seems to be perilously lacking in the basic guarantees that our parents expected: a marriage that would last, employment that was secure, sex that wasn't deadly” (1994:315).

As a highly educated white woman from a middle-class background, Wurtzel (1994) likely had a better access to resources for managing mental struggles, but for non-whites and people from workingclass backgrounds, the consequences can be more profound. A recent study by Marianne Cooper (2014), Hochschild’s student, examined the emotional consequences of experiencing risk and insecurity. Cooper explains that “those who face the least risk are best equipped to handle it, while those who face the most risk are least equipped to handle it” (2014:210). Cooper identifies what she calls “designated worriers,” those who take on the role of the “responsible adult” by caring for the family’s security and future plans. While Cooper finds that risk and uncertainty preoccupy people of all classes and groups, women carry a heavier share of emotion work, especially among working-class families. For most of the show’s run, the main “designated worrier” of the Gallagher family is the oldest sister Fiona. With an absent bipolar mother and a father who is merely a burden, Fiona becomes the matriarch of the family, and at some point even formally, as the family guardian. Fiona is responsible for the unity, survival, and security of the family. In the opening episode Ian tells Fiona, “You must get sick of having to think for everybody” (Season 1, Episode 1). This role consumes Fiona, who must push aside her own desires and plans for the future. Throughout the show she contemplates this role. For example, in Season 1, Episode 4 she reflects, “I hope I’m not fucking up the kids.” In the same episode Debbie “kidnaps” a little boy. We see how Debbie, following her sister in “doing gender,” adopts traditional gendered behaviors and practices of caring. The chapter closes with a comic bit in which Debbie complains that Gin-Gin, her doll, had her stay up half the night because of diarrhea. Throughout the show, Debbie will increasingly perform emotion work and exhibit its consequences. In one case, in Season 2, Episode 4, Debbie suffers a “stress rush” (presented as a physical reaction to stress). Throughout the series, emotion work is exhibited both at the workplace and at home. In order to provide for the family Fiona works in various temporary jobs. On some occasions she is shown working as a day laborer, doing some of the most nasty and unsafe work—the type of work


Urban Hustling, Emotion Work, and Reflexive Modernity

that Steve would not be able to bear. 6 But most of her jobs involve service work, such as waitressing. Some painful scenes in Season 1, Episode 8 depict Fiona waitressing tables with an exposed outfit, maintaining a smile in spite of being grabbed by clients and treated as a sexual object. Fiona endures this behavior because she needs the tip money, but we later see her break down crying after the humiliating experience, powerfully expressing the mental cost she endures. At the opening of the next episode, we observe Debbie’s growing mistrust in Steve and concern for Fiona. Expressing her concerns to Veronica (aka “Vee”), she says, “Fiona takes care of everybody but nobody takes care of Fiona.” Debbie gradually emerges as the second designated worrier of the Gallagher family. When she confronts Steve, who is now known to her by his real name, Jimmy, she demonstrates a remarkably mature and sober attitude for her young age. She tells Jimmy, “Love is fleeting, Jimmy. What are your intentions?” In this funny reversal, the young girl acts like a responsible adult and the grown man in front of her is put in the position of an unreliable child. Fiona’s ongoing conflict between her own life and her commitments to the family come to a climax at the end of the first season, as she must decide whether to leave the country with Jimmy. Her brothers and sisters seem to have developed some independence, and Lip even tells Fiona that she has done enough and that she should go. In the final scene we see Fiona at the bus station, but we cannot know where she is heading. Only at the very end is it revealed that she is not going to the airport. Instead, Fiona chooses to stay with the family. Though she was earlier offered work in a “real job” that she wanted, she instead enters her new workplace—the home. The gap between her personal desires and her role in the family haunts Fiona throughout the series, but some resolution comes at the end of Season 9, when she finally leaves Chicago. This development might simply be the result of Emmy Rossum’s (the actor who plays Fiona) desire to depart the show, but this development feels somewhat in place considering that others in the family, especially Debbie and Lip, have matured, and gradually assumed many of the responsibilities for the family and for the house. It should be noted that Shameless sometimes seems to make an intentional effort to break away from gendered patterns with regard to emotion work. Lip, for example, gradually takes on emotion work by caring for friends, family, and partners. This shift accelerates after the death of Professor Youens, his mentor and friend. But as his character explains more than once, caring for others is part of his rehabilitation from alcoholism, used as a tool for maintaining hope that he himself has a chance for a stable, 6

See Gretchen Purser’s account of day laborers as representing some of the most precarious workers (2012).

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normal life and for remaining sober. The character of Kevin Ball (aka “Kev”) also represents a type of reversal in gender roles with regard to emotion work. Kev is the one who pressures Veronica to have children, to serve as a foster parent, and to adopt, while Veronica is more reluctant to embrace a motherly, caring role. The incongruity between Kev’s masculine physique with his sensitive caring nature is a mechanism frequently used in the show to generate humor. But perhaps this role reversal is allowed here precisely because of Kev’s undeniable masculinity. The same is true for Jody, Karen’s boyfriend, who is also portrayed as a sensitive, caring, and devoted person, yet balanced with a strong masculine physique. Overall, Shameless illustrates the mental and emotional consequences of living with uncertainty, risk, and little control over the future. Emotion work is performed both in the workplace—especially for working-class people who occupy service jobs—as well as at home. The characters of Fiona and Debbie demonstrate how gender expectations and gender inequality burden women more heavily, as they become responsible for the Gallaghers’ security. In closing this section, it is worth mentioning another character whose entire existence and mental state is defined by risk, uncertainty, and emotional costs. This character is Sheila, played by Joan Cusack. Sheila is agoraphobic and as such the world outside is, in her mind, endlessly risky. Sheila becomes consumed by remorse since her condition prevents her from being able to fully perform her role as a mother. She compensates by taking extraordinarily good care of the house—by cleaning and cooking relentlessly. Despite Sheila’s supportive role in the show, it is worth mentioning for its portrayal of a life shaped by risk and the unequal emotional burdens of risk across gender lines.

Reflexive Modernity: Between Individualization and Community “To understand love as a philosophical and political concept, it is useful to begin from the perspective of the poor and the innumerable forms of social solidarity and social production that one recognizes everywhere among those who live in poverty. Solidarity, care for others, creating community, and cooperating in common projects is for them an essential survival mechanism… When we band together, when we form a social body that is more powerful than any of our individual bodies alone, we are constructing a new and common subjectivity” Negri and Hardt (2011).


Urban Hustling, Emotion Work, and Reflexive Modernity

A decline of social cohesion, solidarity, and communal ties in favor of individualism was a central concern in the work of sociology’s founding fathers. This concern can be found in Marx’s work on alienation and the search for solidarity, in Durkheim’s “cult of the individual” (Durkheim [1893] 1960:407), and in Weber’s account of the Protestant work ethic from which the entrepreneurial, individualistic spirit of western modern capitalism emerged. Among the major historical shifts that contributed to the erosion of communities and the rise of individualism are the massive migration from rural areas to cities and the declining strength of religion’s grip, which once served as a source of authority and power and regulated daily life. Throughout the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, authority and power were reestablished in the formation of governments that made increasing use of new tools, primarily scientific, organizational, and bureaucratic. The social order and social cohesion were generated through formal laws and through discourses that helped coordinate social life and economic systems. These processes accompanied a new social contract between the citizens and a new sovereign, the nation-state, which gradually assumed responsibilities for the security and welfare of their citizens. During this time period, nation-states still maintained a strong commitment to their citizens. A relative stability was also maintained in the private sphere, where the “ideal” of a traditional family still prevailed. The same is true in the realm of work, with the establishment of the Fordist model, which—putting aside its less-positive aspects—strengthened employer-employee commitments. However, starting in the 1960s and 1970s and with the rise of neoliberalism, all these stabilizing social forces began to erode. In Zygmunt Bauman’s terms, modernity had moved from its solid stage to a “liquid modernity” ([2000] 2013). This weakening of social institutions transferred responsibilities onto individuals and left fewer contexts and means for the development of common political goals or for generation of collective action and change. These shifts form the backdrop for Beck’s idea of “Risk Society” (1992) and Giddens’ “ontological insecurity” (1991). These concepts, especially Bauman’s “Liquid Modernity,” are not only about the demise of social institutions, but in a deeper sense they identify loss of basic social skills, like dialogue and collective bargaining, which are necessary for social change, action, and perhaps most importantly for agency. Power and authority, which at one point were possessed by nation states and other social institutions, have been dispersed, as Ulrich Beck explains, “Many characteristics, functions, and activities that were previously the prerogative of the nation-state, the welfare state, the hierarchical organization, the nuclear family, class, or

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centralized trade union have now been displaced either outwards or inwards: outwards to global or international institutions; inwards to the individual” (2010:120).

Therefore, it can be argued that in this most recent modernization phase, the concerns of sociology’s founding fathers regarding the decline of solidarity, community, and social cohesion alongside the rise of individualism have a newly reinforced significance and relevance. In The Tumbleweed Society (2015), Allison Pugh provides an updated empirical account of this process based on her ethnographic study. Pugh perceives precarious work as the most foundational form of insecurity, but explores how insecurity and risk in different realms are intertwined. From this viewpoint Pugh is able to draw connections between job insecurity and the very nature of social ties, including the most intimate. She identifies an economy of rescue under which people must decide who deserves rescuing and who does not. In this economy one must also carefully decide with whom to make bonds and toward whom to make commitments. People themselves, in their actions, behavior, and ability to reciprocate, can be a risk to others (Pugh 2015). Some characters in Shameless illustrate how the presence of certain people can pose a risk to others. The arrival of characters like Peggy, the grandmother, Monica, the bipolar junkie mother, and Marty, Veronica’s pyromaniac brother who just broke out of prison, infuse the viewer with an uncomfortable feeling, since it is clear that these characters pose risk to others. The Gallaghers usually recognize those who may represent a threat, even when the source is their own flesh and blood. When Peggy shows up, Frank (her son) is so frightened that he wets the bed at night, and in Episode 9 of Season 2—with the apt title “Hurricane Monica”—Fiona approaches Monica’s ex-partner Bob to ask for her help with Monica. Bob refuses and replies, “Monica is your problem now.” Therefore, some people can serve as a resource for others while some may constitute a risk. Always on the verge of a crisis, the characters in Shameless are caught up in a rescue regime and must constantly evaluate the extent to which they are able and willing to provide practical and emotional support to others. In this light, one might expect that the characters in Shameless act mostly in an individualistic and self-serving manner. However, the opposite is true; one finds relatively strong solidarity and communal behavior, with only a minority of the characters demonstrating a strong individualistic nature. We can count Frank and Karen, Sheila’s daughter, in addition to Monica, Peggy, and Marty, as characters led by self-interest and disregard for the problems and desires of others, but almost all other characters counter this narrative, and instead rely on family and friends as one of their


Urban Hustling, Emotion Work, and Reflexive Modernity

most important resources for practical and emotional support. At the very beginning of the opening episode of the show, which serves as a sort of introduction to the family, the Gallaghers are depicted managing their morning routine. Like a well-coordinated platoon, they join forces to address the tasks and challenges they face. Many of their later, sometimes miraculous, overcoming of dire situations will depend precisely on their ability to recover such moments of collaboration, coordination, and mutual support. Throughout the show we encounter on numerous occasions characters taking strong action to assist friends and family: Veronica serves as an alternative health care provider to many people, Mandy writes school applications for Lip and gets him into college; Tony saves Ian and Lip from prosecution for auto theft; Ian helps Mandy raise money for an abortion; Sheila and Sammi attempt to buy Frank a new liver; Debbie’s co-workers help obtain the morning-after pill just in time to prevent a second pregnancy; and everybody comes to help Fiona when she gets into trouble with her newly acquired laundromat. There are also many stories involving rescue: Kev and Vee serve as foster parents for a cult survivor and later foster an immigrant child; Carl starts a makeshift rehabilitation center in the basement; and Ian becomes a savior of LGBTQ+ teens. Among the main characters, Lip is perhaps the one most driven by an economy of rescue. Mutual rescue is a key motif in the relationship of Lip and Professor Youens, who helps lip get sober, and in turn, finds Lip going to great lengths for him. Lip also deliberately gets himself beaten by Sierra’s violent father in order to cause him to violate probation and be returned to prison. He goes to great lengths to help Brad after his relapse, and at the end of the eighth season, Lip decides to take on responsibility for Xan, the niece of a recent love interest, who is about to be taken by social services. In many ways, the seventh and eighth seasons are marked by an economy of rescue through story lines that include self-sacrifice and acts of support in others. In a touching moment, Fiona performs a compassionate act of rescue by adopting her deceased tenant’s dog when she realizes he would be euthanized if taken by the city’s animal services, performing both an actual and highly symbolic act of rescue. With few material and symbolic resources, the Gallaghers must ultimately rely on one another in order to endure and survive the risks and challenges they face. Indeed, commitment to other people can be risky, but in the absence of other resources, mutual support and collective efforts become almost a necessity. For this purpose, one must generate solidarity, friendships, and trust through dialogue and care for others. For example, when Lip quarrels with Ian, Fiona approaches Lip and tells him that he must

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sort it out with Ian because she cannot do this without them (Season 2 Episode 6). Despite their hard life, the Gallaghers’ representation as a collective provokes an appealing sentiment as to what it means to be part of such family, in which one always has the others’ backs. Whether realistic or not, this recovery of a sense of solidarity is probably one of the most powerful positive messages that Shameless delivers, and it mirrors the ideas conveyed by Negri and Hardt (2011), cited in the introduction to this section. It is a resisting force generated by the poor, and counters the underlying self-serving individualistic logic of the neoliberal order. In one of the most celebrated television shows in recent years, Breaking Bad, the management of risk also functions as driver of the plot and the characters. In fact, the premise of the show can be traced to the precarious situation that the main character, Walter White, must face. His two jobs—as a schoolteacher and a car washer—could not support his cancer treatments. His highly individualistic (and violent) actions lead to the destruction of his relationships with his family, his partner-in-crime, his friends, and ultimately lead to his inevitable self-destruction. Shameless shows us an alternative view in which solidarity, security, stability, liberation, and agency are inseparable, and can be achieved through a collective and collaborative process. In their best moments, when the Gallaghers come together, reject the individualistic path, and join efforts, they resist the neoliberal order. Instead they are “breaking good,” demonstrating Latour’s assertion that, “As to emancipation, it does not mean ‘free from bonds’ but well-attached” (2005:217).

References Bauman, Zygmunt. [2000] 2013. Liquid Modernity. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. Beck, Ulrich. 1992. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. 1st edition. London: Sage. —. 2010. A God of One’s Own: Religion's Capacity for Peace and Potential for Violence. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. Butler, Judith. 2015. “Forward.” Pp. vii-xi in State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious, edited by I. Lorey. London: Verso. Castel, Robert. 1991. “From Dangerousness to Risk.” Pp. 281-298 in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, edited by G. Burchell, C. Gordon, and P. Miller. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Cooper, Marianne. 2014. Cut Adrift: Families in Insecure Times. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.


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Dean, Mitchell. 1998. "Risk, Calculable and Incalculable." Soziale Welt 49(1):25-42. Douglas, Mary. 1985. Risk Acceptability According to the Social Sciences. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. —. 1992. Risk and Blame: Essays in Cultural Theory. London: Routledge. Durkheim Emile. [1893] 1960. The Division of Labor in Society. Glencoe, Il: The Free Press. Ewald, Francois.1991. “Insurance and Risks.” Pp. 197-210 in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, edited by G. Burchell, C. Gordon, and P. Miller. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Goode, Erich. 2015. Drugs in American Society. 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education. Giddens, Anthony. 1990. The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. —. 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press. —. 1999. "Risk and Responsibility." The Modern Law Review 62(1):1-10. Harvey, David. 2007. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press. Hochschild, Arlie Russell. [1983] 2012. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press. Japp, Klaus Peter. 2000. Risiko. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag. Kalleberg, L. Arne, and Steven P. Vallas. 2017. “Probing Precarious Work: Theory, Research, and Politics." Pp. 1-30 in Precarious Work, edited by A.L. Kalleberg, and S.P. Vallas. Bingley UK: Emerald Publishing Limited. Katz, Jack. 1988. Seductions of Crime: Moral and Sensual Attractions in Doing Evil. New York: Basic Books. Lareau, Annette. [2003] 2011. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life. 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press. Latour, Bruno. 2005. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to ActorNetwork-Theory. New York: Oxford University Press. Lichter, S. Robert, Linda S. Lichter, and Stanley Rothman. 1991. Watching America. New York: Prentice Hall. Lidskog, Rolf and Göran Sundqvist. 2012. "Sociology of Risk." Pp. 10011027 in Handbook of Risk Theory: Epistemology, Decision Theory, Ethics, and Social Implications of Risk, edited by S. Roeser. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer. Luhmann, Niklas. 1968. Vertrauen: Ein Mechanismus der Reduktion Sozialer Komplexität? Stuttgart, Gernany: F. Enke verlag.

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Lupton, Deborah. 2006. "The Sociology of Risk." Pp. 11-24 in Beyond the Risk Society: Critical Reflections on Risk and Human Security, edited by M. Gabe, and S. Walklate. New York: Open University Press. Lyng, Stephen. 1990. "Edgework: A Social Psychological Analysis of Voluntary Risk Taking." American Journal of Sociology 95(4):851-886. Miller, J. William. 2005. "Adolescents on the Edge: The Sensual Side of Delinquency." Pp. 153-171 in Edgework: The Sociology of Risk-Taking, edited by S. Lyng. New York: Routledge. Mills C. Wright. [1959] 2000. The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). 2018. “Mental Health by the Numbers.” Retrieved November 2019 ( Negri, Antonio, and Michael Hardt. 2011. Commonwealth. Cambridge, MA: Belknap-Harvard University Press. Pugh, J. Allison. 2015. The Tumbleweed Society: Working and Caring in an Age of Insecurity. New York: Oxford University Press. Purser, Gretchen. 2012. “The Labour of Liminality.” Labour, Capital and Society/Travail, Capital Et Société 45(1):10-35. Savage, Mike, Fiona Devine, Niall Cunningham, Mark Taylor, Yaojun Li, Johs Hjellbrekke, Brigitte Le Roux, Sam Friedman, and Andrew Miles. 2013. "A New Model of Social Class? Findings from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey Experiment." Sociology 47(2):219-250. Standing, Guy. 2014. The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. Thomas, I. William, and Dorothy S. Thomas. 1928. The Child in America: Behavior Problems and Programs. New York: Knopf. Tone, Andrea and Elizabeth S. Watkins. 2007. Medicating Modern America: Prescription Drugs in History. New York: NYU Press. Wilson, William Julius. 2012. The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy. 2nd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Wurtzel, Elizabeth. 1994. Prozac Nation: A Memoir. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Zinn, O. Jens. 2006. "Recent Developments in Sociology of Risk and Uncertainty." Historical Social Research/Historische Sozialforschung 31(2):275-286.



Shameless is an American comedy-drama series that chronicles the lives of the Gallagher family in Chicago’s South Side. The Gallaghers are a poor, dysfunctional, non-traditional family that struggles with poverty, mental illness, sexuality, abortion, addiction, parenthood, and neighborhood crime. Frank Gallagher is an alcoholic and negligent single father who raises six children: Carl, Debbie, Fiona, Ian, Liam, and Phillip “Lip” Gallagher. Frank’s irresponsibility forces his children to learn to take care of themselves with the help of his eldest daughter Fiona and his eldest son Lip. In order to survive, the family often has to use unconventional methods to “game the system” in order to make money and access resources they would not have had otherwise. These methods usually involve taking advantage of illicit and risky neighborhood resources, networks, and connections. However, in Season 5 of the series, the Gallaghers are at risk of being displaced from their neighborhood as wealthier people start to move into the area due to the process of gentrification. Gentrification is the process of gradually transform a poor innercity neighborhood with limited property investment into a state of commodification and reinvestment (Ley 2003). According to the National Community Reinvestment Commission: Neighborhoods experience gentrification when an influx of investment and changes to the built environment leads to rising home values, family incomes and educational levels of residents. Cultural displacement occurs when minority areas see a rapid decline in their numbers as affluent, white gentrifiers replace the incumbent residents (Richardson, Mitchell, and Franco 2019:5).

The spread of gentrification can be attributed to ecological, sociocultural, political-economical, community, and social factors. Gentrification is often

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framed positively as a way to deconcentrate poverty by dispersing the poor to higher-income communities, or by attracting higher-income people to poor neighborhoods, thus making these neighborhoods “safer” and more “comfortable” places to live. On the contrary, urban residents see gentrification as invasive and disruptive (Brown-Saracino 2017). Gentrification is frequently discussed in the literature as a major social problem that threatens community character by erasing its working-class infrastructure and replacing it with a “middle-class” habitus, or way of life, that excludes the working-class and perpetuates class inequalities (Davidson 2011; Kleinhans and Kearns 2013). Season 5 shows us how the Gallaghers and the residents of the South Side of Chicago resist or buy into gentrification, and how the resistance and support change the characters, their relationships, and the dynamics of the neighborhood. The debate between the belief that gentrification is a force that will uplift residents and the belief that it will uproot them instead is a common theme in the discourse on gentrification in sociology. The resistance versus acceptance of gentrification by characters in Season 5 of Shameless mirrors this tension. Thus, this season is ideal for the sociological analysis of class dynamics, middle-class principles, the working-class way of life, and the response to changes to the working-class way of life. The response to impending gentrification operates on a continuum. On one extreme, the onset of gentrification is portrayed as beneficial for financial endeavors. Sheila and Kevin see moving up and out of poverty, and the stigma associated with it, as the major benefits of gentrification. On the other end, Frank sees gentrification as a process by which the wealthy elite moves in to change the neighborhood’s character which ultimately leads to neighborhood and cultural extinction. Lip exists at the center of this continuum since he initially assists in the gentrification process while simultaneously criticizing it. This season presents gentrification as a threat to working-class habitus with various pros and cons and, by doing so, gentrification is depicted as inevitable, ascendant, formidable, and unassailable (Brown-Saracino 2017). To make sense of the complexities of gentrification in the season, this chapter will focus on how gentrification is portrayed in Season 5 of the show and how characters respond to it. First, I briefly outline some of the sociological literature and research on gentrification. Second, I connect that research to portrayals of gentrification and its effects on Chicago’s South Side in the show. Third, I discuss Bourdieu’s concept of “habitus” and how it relates to gentrification, and how gentrification can affect people in addition to neighborhoods. Finally, I focus on Lip and how he embodies the tension between the “positive” and negative aspects of gentrification as he


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buys into middle-class values yet rejects the social processes and institutions that work to support those values.

Literature Review Since its inception, the concept of gentrification has gained a lot of attention from the media, world governments, urban planners, architects and developers, conservation and preservation groups, businesses, and political activists (Lees, Slater, and Wyly 2008). Generally, gentrification is “the transformation of a ‘working-class’ or vacant area of the central-city into middle-class residential and/or commercial use” (Brown-Saracino 2017; Lees et al. 2008: xv; Ley 2003). Gentrification is a complex social, political, and economic process that has been discussed by several scholars across a variety of disciplines such as: geography, sociology, anthropology, economics, and political science. It remains one of the most popular and controversial topics in inquiries of urban life and development all over the world (Lees et al. 2008). According to Chris Hamnett (1991) and Lees et al. (2008), gentrification has attracted widespread attention because it challenges major theoretical paradigms of residential life, location, and social structure. Hamnett claims that, “The gentrification debate is one played for high theoretical and ideological stakes” (1991:174). He continues to argue that it has become an “intellectual battleground between competing and radically opposed theoretical perspectives” (1991:175). The concept of gentrification has challenged traditional models of urban location such as those proposed by Park, Burgess, and McKenzie (1925) and Hoyt’s work in the early 20th century (Adams 2005). The traditional models, proposed by the aforementioned researchers, assumed that affluent households would move further away from the innercity while their old homes would be occupied by less affluent residents (Lees et al. 2008). The existence of wealthy enclaves invading, succeeding, thriving, and permanently residing in the inner-city was thought to be an anomaly. Gentrification uprooted and inverted the traditional models by explaining that the middle and upper-classes moved back into working-class neighborhoods, in the inner-city, and revitalized them via privatization and the creation of business opportunities in the area (Firey 1947; Lees et al. 2008). However, scholars like Berry (1980) and Rose (1984) argued that the gentrification process would be temporary and small-scale because it was the result of temporary housing patterns and cycles. Likewise, Larry Bourne (1993) argued that neighborhoods were actually experiencing “degentrification” because,

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The supply of potential young gentrifiers will be significantly smaller, given the passing of the baby-boom into middle-age, the declining rate of new household formation, and the general aging of [the] population. The expanding cohort of potential young gentrifiers will not be sufficient to compensate for the rapid decline in the younger cohorts. At the same time, given widespread macro-economic restructuring, corporate downsizing and a persistent recession, we might also expect slower rates of employment growth in the service sector and associated occupations (Bourne 1993:104-105).

Berry, Rose, and Bourne were all wrong about gentrification’s longevity and scale. We still see the on-going processes and effects of gentrification, which do not show any signs of decline over twenty years after Bourne’s “degentrification” thesis was published (1993). Given the global nature of gentrification, and the fact that the process is not just confined to the innercity or metropolises in developed countries, gentrification is still an issue that threatens to drive disadvantaged residents out of their neighborhoods (Brown-Saracino 2017; Kleinhaus and Kearns 2013; Lees et al. 2008). Qualitative sociologists have found that urban residents frame and experience gentrification as a social problem. This sentiment is exacerbated by satirical and dramatic portrayals of gentrification in modern media coverage and popular culture depictions of, and references to, gentrification. Most of these depictions are negative, indicating that it is an increasingly consequential social problem that adversely affects communities (BrownSaracino 2017). Some of the most powerful portrayals of gentrification come from popular television series that let audiences watch the gentrification process affect neighborhoods and their residents across several episodes. Fowler and Derrick (2018) explain that television series portray gentrified cities as places where “young people go to retire,” referring to how hipsterism—defined in Fowler and Derrick’s article as a subculture linked to fetishizing “scarcity, uniqueness, authenticity, and individualism” with an emphasis on non-conformist consumption. Fowler and Derrick also discuss how hipsterism and yuppiedom are interconnected. According to Fowler and Derrick, “yuppies” belong to a group of young upwardly mobile professionals who are wealthy, white, educated, and materialistic. Hipsterism and yuppiedom come together to form a gentrifying “creative class” that enters impoverished neighborhoods and displaces the people of color who live there (2018:190). The gentrifying “creative class” helps establish and maintain a “white ideal” of consumer capitalism in these neighborhoods at the expense of its poorer residents (Atkinson et al. 2005; Burnett and Bush


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1986; Fowler and Derrick 2018). Season 5 of Shameless inflects the familiar themes and tropes of hipsterism, yuppiedom, and gentrification as complex and intersectional social problems. The show presents the problem of gentrification as not having any simple causes, effects, or solutions, and none of the local residents know how to actually deal with the arrival of the “creative” upper-class. As rich and privileged residents move in, South Side residents face the threat of imminent cultural extinction brought about by the arrival of artisanal venues and cafes like Starbucks. The next section will detail these residents, their perspectives on gentrification, and what happens when “Comet Starbucks” lands in the South Side.

Up-and-Coming, Down-and-Out: Gentrification in Season 5 of Shameless The season begins with an episode titled “Milk of the Gods” set in summer in Chicago as many of the series’ main characters undergo some form of transformation. Fiona begins her new job at Patsy’s Pies diner, after being released from jail in Season 4, and begins a relationship with a touring musician. Frank is recovering from a liver transplant, after his body begins to decay from alcoholism, and he lives with Sheila. Lip returns home from college and takes a job working for a demolition crew that has suddenly begun taking down buildings in the neighborhood. He finds that he struggles to fit in with his old friends who mock his matriculation to college. While the characters undergo change and reinvention, the neighborhood begins to change as well. Kevin, a bartender at Frank’s favorite bar The Alibi Room, is approached by realtors from Rothchild Realty. They explain that they are interested in buying his home and ask if he is interested in selling it. He is confused, since no one has ever really wanted to live in his home because— in his words—it is a “dump,” as shown in the following conversation. Realtor: Good evening, sir. Kevin: Oh, Jehovahs. Not interested. [He goes to close the door, but the realtors stop him] Realtor: No, no, no. We’re not Jehovahs. Everyone keeps thinking that. Kevin: Your clothes. [He points to their outfits] Realtor: We’re from Rothchild Realty. Would you be interested in selling this house? Kevin: You want to buy this dump? Realtor: Redfin named this one of the top five up-and-coming neighborhoods in Chicago.

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The description of the neighborhood as “one of the top five up-and-coming” areas in Chicago is a recurring motif throughout the season as it clarifies the connection between hipsterism and gentrification. Redfin (a real-estate website) has helped to fetishize the South Side’s scarcity, making a “dump” to a resident seem like a good place to visit and/or live to an outsider. Because of the neighborhood’s reputation throughout the season, The Alibi Room is slowly transformed from a low-quality dive bar—where locals congregate to drink and socialize—into an expensive venue for hipsters who can come in, hang their bikes on the wall, smoke hookah, sing karaoke, and get a haircut, all while driving up the prices and pushing former customers away. The Alibi Room becomes a hipster, yuppie venue that has been transformed from a poor, working-class hangout into a tourist attraction for the middle- and upper-classes. As a result, bar is devoid of the original culture that helped create it. Kevin infers that the changes occur in The Alibi Room after it is voted “shittiest bar in the South Side.” The hipster obsession with The Alibi Room early on in Season 5 reflects a thirst for quirkiness, oddballery, and weirdness that can only be quenched by going to the “shittiest bar in the South Side” or moving into an “up-and-coming neighborhood.” It is implied that by moving into the South Side, and going to The Alibi Room, patrons will be indulging in a more authentic and distinct experience. It is in trying to accommodate the hipster desire for “authenticity” and “distinction” that impoverished neighborhoods become playgrounds designed to encourage the consumption of residential amenities (Fowler and Derrick 2018; Perry 2013). Hipsters who flock to The Alibi Room help to transition the area from poor and run-down to an area that can be commodified and rebuilt for the sake of wealthy yuppies who only want “an experience,” at the expense of the people who live in the neighborhood (Fowler and Derrick 2018; Ley 2003). The themes of gentrification continue into the season’s second episode “I’m the Liver” where we see Frank’s reaction to the impending gentrification around him. This episode forces the Gallaghers to face the truth of gentrification. They watch as realtors and aspiring home-owners slowly turn the grimy and gritty South Side neighborhood into a typical American suburb replete with community gardens and organic coffee shops. The city is being cleaned up and Sheila sees it as a benefit to everyone. To her, turning Wallace Street into an up-and-coming residence makes it more livable. Frank is the first character to truly express disdain for gentrification as he believes making the neighborhood more comfortable comes at the expense of families who have lived there for years, when they are forced out because they can no

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longer afford to live there. The following conversation between Frank and Sheila reinforces their difference of opinion. Sheila: Frank: Sheila: Frank:

A realtor came by. And he was with two, like, very clean lesbians. And he offered us double the market value for the house. Double, Frank. You didn’t accept it, did you? No, but why not? Double? It’s got scam written all over it.

Frank had a distillery in the basement which he would have to give up if they sold the house. Sheila was excited because she could use that money to move out of Chicago and travel the nation in a motorhome. Frank asked his daughter, Sammi, what she thought of the deal and she thought it was a good investment, especially since the neighborhood was thought to be “upand-coming.” Frank rebutted Sammi’s opinion and claimed that gentrification was a way to move-in people who can pay taxes while pushing the poor out. He reinforces his point later in the episode when he goes to The Alibi Room, where he and his friends discuss whether the offer for the house is a scam. One of his friends mentions that The Chicago Tribune labeled their part of town as an “up-and-comer.” Frank gets defensive and says, “It used to be that poor folks could get a decent apartment right near downtown. And then suddenly, it’s moved forty blocks south. And then eighty blocks.” He laments how the wealthy have pushed the poor out of the city with almost no place to live, and how that process begins with being labeled “up-andcoming.” Later on, his son Lip enters the bar with the demolition crew. Lip was helping to demolish an old building so that a new coffee shop, the Zen Beanery, could be constructed there. Frank criticizes his son and the demolition crew. Frank: Lip: Frank:

What are you guys building on top of the old nursing home? I don’t build. I’m just demo. I’ll tell you what it is. I’ll tell you all what it is. It’s a Starbucks. Or some sort of artisanal juicery. Or a Whole fucking Foods…I’m talking about gentrification, my friends…Realtors started buying up property at better than market value, and within a few months, the whole neighborhood was over-run with the gentry, and we were forced out…They knock on your door. They offer you twice what your home is worth…They move in, they take over. They kick the homeless out of the park as if they don’t have a

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God given right to sleep there. We are dinosaurs, my friend. And a big, fat comet is headed for our sweet slice of Earth. And that comet is a Starbucks.

Frank claims that gentrification is the literal extinction of a community and its culture. Frank has lived in the area for several years and has developed an intimate understanding of it. He knows where to buy drugs and alcohol, he knows how to scam people for money, he knows where to go if he needs something he cannot afford, and he knows where to go when he needs a place to stay. Gentrification will disrupt his way of life. He emphasizes this concern in the third episode, “The Two Lisas,” when he continues to beg Sheila not to sell her home because the neighborhood is all he knows and cares about. Sheila likes the money she is being offered for her home and decides to sell the house. Sheila: Frank:

Okay, this is earnest money to buy this house, which means they’re earnest! It’s happening, Frank, whether you like it or not. I—what if—I have to stay close to my doctors and my family? Sammi and Chuckie need me, and Sammi is a train wreck. And Fiona and the kids—I’m their dad… I’m practically the mayor of this place. Sheila, come on, you can’t take this away from me. These few blocks, this neighborhood it’s the only thing I’ve ever had, It’s the only thing that’s ever meant anything to me.

Frank’s attempt to convince Sheila to keep the house is an example of the everyday acts of resistance to gentrification that sociological research has focused its attention on for several years. Qualitative sociological work, focusing on resistance to gentrification, has found that longtime residents organize to protect their communities from gentrification. Community actors frame gentrification as troubling and threatening to their way of life and the character of their community (Brown-Saracino 2017). Frank’s disdain for gentrification is rooted in what he believes to be the negative effects gentrifiers have on community “character.” Neighborhoods subtly change due to store closings, the disappearance of familiar establishments, and the appearance of different types of people (Zukin 1989:6-7). The ethnic culture of neighborhoods changes as new residents move in. Irish bars, Latino bodegas, and black soul food restaurants, where locals congregate to find community, slowly go out of business and are replaced by “less cultured” establishments that appeal to the new residents (Zukin 1989). Ultimately, cities lose their “soul” once


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they are gentrified, creating social and political conflict between the people of the old and new neighborhoods (Brown-Saracino 2017; Molotch, Freudenburg, and Paulsen 2000; Zukin 1989). As a result, the people who used to be rooted in the neighborhood disappear and are slowly pushed out of their enclaves as gentrification continues. In the show, this manifests as: the appearance of “No Parking” signs, a local coffee shop closing down for violating health codes as mainstream coffee chains open up, residents facing foreclosure on their homes or being pressured to sell them to wealthy buyers, and increased presence of police activity in the area. Because of how intrusive gentrification is, people all over the world tend to resist it in creative ways. Streitfeld (2014) explained the recent resistance to gentrification by detailing how protestors in San Francisco have spoken out against tech firms and their role in neighborhood upscaling. Cromidas (2016) detailed how “witches” in Chicago came together to exorcize the city of its “gentrification demons” as a form of performance art and protest. Likewise, in the show, Frank and some of the other local residents also engage in acts of resistance to stop it with the goal to make the neighborhood seem like an “unattractive” place to live. Continuing through Episode 3, Frank tells his younger son Carl to help him make the neighborhood “unattractive” to the couple trying to move in. In Episode 5, “Rite of Passage,” local residents shoot at the posh new coffee shop, the Zen Beanery, in an act of protest against gentrification and as a deterrent to make the neighborhood seem dangerous for new business and residents alike. However, the resistance fails as they eventually face the reality that the gentrification process is forcing them to adapt to a new way of life—a new habitus—that they cannot stop. The concept of habitus can be used to help make sense of the gentrification process and how different characters begin to adapt to it. The next section will explore the concept of habitus, as it was explained by Pierre Bourdieu, and how gentrification is about more than giving a poor neighborhood a face lift—it is also about class distinctions.

Bourdieu’s Habitus Habitus is a concept in social theory that refers to the habits, skills, and dispositions that are used to help individuals understand and navigate the social world around them according to their class position (Bourdieu 1984; Bridge 2001). According to Bourdieu (1984), we develop these skills and dispositions from our life experiences, imitating others, history, and the cultures of which we are a part. Thus, we can pass them on to others with similar race, class, gender, cultural, and professional backgrounds (Bourdieu 1984). Bourdieu’s analysis of habitus and class suggests that the

Eric A. Jordan


neighborhoods that are, or in the process of being, gentrified become sights for the emergence of a “new middle-class” and thus a new habitus as people from the middle-classes move into neighborhoods and slowly renovate and navigate them (Bourdieu 1984; Bridge 2001:206). This, in turn, transforms the ways of life in the area by attracting more members of the middle-class, upper-class, and private sector (Bridge 2001). Gentrification thus helps the wealthy, creative class achieve upper-class “distinction,” or status and separation from the lower classes, through the renovation of older houses and the establishment of expensive stores and restaurants in central cities. These renovations help raise property values, attract wealthier people into the homes, and price poorer people out of the neighborhood which forms a new socio-cultural milieu (Zukin 1989). The creation of these milieus concentrates wealth, and wealth-building investment, “in just a handful of the nation’s biggest metropolises, while other regions of the country languish” (Richardson, Mitchell, and Franco 2019). Class is reproduced in these areas not only through the acquisition and building of wealth, but the practices, norms and values that support it, creating a wealthy residential class habitus that people either adapt to or risk being forced out. Gentrification can thus be defined as a process that can transform people as much as neighborhoods. Using the aforementioned definition of habitus, gentrification can be defined as the “outcome of the repertoire of responses to these new economic and social opportunities” that develop from dispositions of the newly-established class habitus in gentrified neighborhoods (Bridge 2001:206). According to Schulman (2013), gentrification restricts the availability and viability of new forms of art, politics, and thought. Once newcomers move in and begin to change the community’s character, paying rent requires a decently-paid, full-time job which requires conforming to conventional behaviors (Schulman 2013). Thus, the South Side residents must adopt different goals, and ways to achieve them, in order to thrive in the new culture and environment. This makes the neighborhood “safer” since illicit businesses, like the brothel being run out of The Alibi Room, have to be shut down. However, it also excludes the original residents who are often too poor or lacking the knowledge and resources to take advantage of the new services and products being offered to them. The tensions between the “old” and “new” cultures of the South Side clash as we watch Lip’s transformation from a “noble thug” into a straight-laced, by-the-book teaching assistant at Chicago Polytechnic University. As a result of his transformation, Lip becomes a perceived threat to the neighborhood he claims to love. His matriculation to college, and his friendship with members of the upper-class who are actively gentrifying his


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neighborhood, change who he is as he learns how to navigate college and the professional world. As a result of Lip buying into the norms and conventions of the upper-class, he comes to represent the ways in which neighborhoods and people can be gentrified. The next section will detail some of Lip’s character arc in this season and explain how gentrification can force old residents to conform to new conventions, rules, and class habitus.

Noble Thugs and Hipster Habitus: Lip Gallagher in Season 5 of Shameless Throughout the show, Lip develops a reputation for gaming the system in creative ways to help him get what he wants. He is depicted as highly intelligent, yet irresponsible and unmotivated to use his intellect for anything except committing petty crimes and manipulating the people around him. Several characters, including Fiona, encourage him to finish high school and go to college. His family places a lot of expectations on him to use his talents and maturity to get out of the South Side. With the help of, and encouragement from, his ex-girlfriend Mandy, Lip gets into college. Once he starts his schooling, he learns that he cannot cut corners to get by, and that he isn’t popular with women like he is in the South Side. Upon realizing that doing well in school can open up opportunities for him to interact with the super-rich and pursue his intellectual curiosities, he becomes more studious and begins to feel less like an outsider as he begins to interact with his wealthier peers, including his confident, sensual, and worldly college professor Helené Runyon. Professor Runyon is actually part of the gentry moving into the South Side. She tries to convince Lip that he should recognize his intellectual gifts and use them to optimize his opportunities as a college student. As Lip interacts with his college peers more, he comes to embrace his new identity as a gifted student and starts to take himself and his life more seriously. As he starts to do better in school, Professor Runyon challenges Lip to move away from the way he used to behave in the South Side and become one of the gentry as shown in their argument in Episode 9, “South Side Rules.” In this episode, Lip helps a friend who injured himself in a recent drug-related accident after another friend, who had been staying in the dorms illegally, sold him drugs. He drove his friend to Professor Runyon’s house, instead of the hospital, because she told him her husband was a doctor. Runyon returned home and called the ambulance to help Lip’s friend.

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Lip: Why did you do that? Runyon: What did you expect me to do? Lip: He could get kicked out of school, and my friend who sold him the drugs, he’s staying illegally in the dorms. He could go to jail, alright? He’s got three kids. Runyon: This boy is suffering. He needs help, regardless of the consequences. Lip: No, no, no. I gotta cover their asses. Runyon: Why? Lip: South Side rules. Runyon: You know what? Drop the whole “noble thug” schtick. You’re covering your own ass and you know it. You—you have a choice right now. To recognize that you are a promising young college student, not some ghetto outlaw. You stop behaving like the world is out to get you when it is so clearly dropping gifts at your feet. Or you keep doing what you’re doing and you end up in a cell somewhere angry and out of options.

Runyon tells Lip to start acting on, and believing in, his privileges. She suggests that “South Side rules” are no longer relevant in the neighborhood; the rules are changing as the neighborhood habitus changes. He is not part of the South Side anymore, he is not some “noble thug” or “ghetto outlaw.” He is one of “them,” the yuppies, the hipsters, the gentry who have every opportunity in life. She presents Lip with a choice between his neighborhood and his potential. Lip explicitly chooses his potential and tries to blend into the new culture around him, but he implicitly wants to maintain the original spirit of his community and expresses disdain for gentrification. This is the quintessential challenge posed to everyone faced with the threat of gentrification—either residents stick to their “old ways” and get pushed out, or they adopt the new habitus and survive. Gentrification reduces Lip’s ability to use his street smarts and creativity to succeed and help others, and he is forced to play by the rules of the upper-class and use more conventional and “commonsense” methods to get by. This is reinforced in Episode 11, “Drugs Actually,” when Lip and Professor Runyon go to a cocktail party where he confronts the very people who are gentrifying his neighborhood, the same people with whom he associates in college. In preparing for the party, Runyon buys him a Hugo Boss jacket, shirt, and tie and takes him to the party and introduces him to all of the guests. Lip is visibly uncomfortable as he attempts to blend in. He has a conversation with the wealthy hosts of the party and learns that they support

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gentrifying the neighborhood because doing so makes it easier for them to live in the South Side. Runyon: Bill: Lip: Bill: Lip: Bill:

Lip, this is Bill, and that’s his wife Eileen. Um, as in ‘lip’? (he asks, pointing to his mouth) Yeah, yeah, that’s it. We were saying how much we love this house. Yeah. The detail. Just finished the remodel. Course, everyone thinks we’re crazy for moving here. Lip: Not a street you want to walk alone late at night, hmm? I know, this is pretty scary, huh? (he says sarcastically) Bill: Mm, but that is changing. There’s a coffee house down on Maple Drive and a yoga studio. Runyon: Lip grew up down the block. Bill: Really? Oh, that must’ve been—Well, what do you do now? Lip: Oh, I’m an undergrad. Bill: Oh, good for you. That's impressive. Lip: Yeah? How come? Bill: Well, I just meant that— Lip: I—I like, you know, coffee, you know, but the—the coffee shops and yoga studios, you know, they—they make it so the people I grew up with, you know, they can't afford to live here anymore. You know, so—so the neighborhood's getting nicer, but it's just not really the neighborhood anymore, you know?

Bill’s condescending assumptions about South Side residents reflects the upper-class contempt for those whom they believe to be beneath them. Characters like Bill—characters who are contributing to rising prices and an increased police presence—are portrayed in the show as callous and patronizing. They lack a true understanding of the cultures they are intruding upon and they do not really care to understand them. For them, moving into the neighborhood was exciting. Preserving the culture or character of the neighborhood was laughable and seemingly antithetical to why they were living there in the first place. Bill was not moving into the South Side because he wanted to experience its culture. He moved there because the neighborhood was called “up-and-coming” and was undergoing steady reinvestment so that it could be commodified and enjoyed by the rich at the expense of everyone and everything else. People moved to the South Side because doing so was a mark of uniqueness, authenticity, individualism, and distinction that all came from remodeling homes and creating a new,

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more civilized habitus. Bill knew that as more people like him moved in, more people like Lip were going to be forced out, making the community more “comfortable” for the rich and inaccessible to everyone else. It is at this moment in the show that gentrification is presented as an exclusion movement and a way to keep classes separate in order to help some people achieve and maintain their distinction. The coda of the season really presents Lip with a no-win situation. He either accepts gentrification for what it is and blend in or he does not accept it and risks losing the opportunities presented to him by the gentry. Both choices reveal that gentrification is deeply consequential and challenging.

Conclusion Season 5 of Shameless shows how Chicago’s South Side residents react to gentrification and how the neighborhood changes as the middleclass moves in. Some characters like Sheila and Kevin see gentrification as a windfall. Frank perceives gentrification as a cultural threat that corrupts the DNA of the neighborhood at the resident’s expense for the benefit of the upper-class. While the threat of gentrification is salient at the beginning of the season, we see that neighborhood gentrification is sidelined for a focus on how characters like Lip come to embody and personify the tensions of gentrification as the South Side is slowly transformed. Lip works a summer job in construction tearing down buildings on the South Side, and joins the rank-and-file of the educated elite that is actively gentrifying the South Side. As a result, Lip is perceived by his friends to be a threat to his own neighborhood. Lip’s slow transformation from “noble thug” to a typical college student reveals the ways in which people can be gentrified as they come to buy into a middle-class habitus. This habitus helps to transform the South Side into a posh commodity and a tourist attraction for “hipsters” and “yuppies” who seek excitement, distinction, and individualism at the expense of the former residents. Ultimately, gentrification is presented as good way to reduce crime and stabilize declining areas. At the same time, it is shown to be bad for people who originally lived in these areas who may not be able to afford local services. Gentrification is an ascendant force that no one can really stop. The realtors skulk the premises to make offers and buy up property. Those who accept the offers are forced out of their homes so the wealthy, creative, hipster elite can move in and commodify, renovate, and make the neighborhood more amenable to the middle-class. Starbucks, Whole Foods, and other popular and “culture-less” establishments replace older businesses. The processes presented in the show reflect the realities of gentrification


“Gentrify This!”

that occurs every day all over the world. In many instances, there is no way to stop gentrification from displacing residents. As mentioned, one of the only ways to deal with gentrification is to resist it through protest or organized community action to retain local affordable housing. Unfortunately, the residents of the South Side continue to wrestle with the effects of gentrification in Season 6 as the gentry continues to push into Chicago and into the lives, and minds, of its residents.

References Adams, John S. 2005. “Hoyt, H. 1939: The Structure and Growth of Residential Neighborhoods in American Cities. Washington, DC: Federal Housing Administration.” Progress in Human Geography 29(3):321-325. Atkinson, David, Peter Jackson, David Sibley, and Neil Washbourne. 2005. Cultural Geography: A Critical Dictionary of Key Ideas. New York: IB Tauris. Berry, Brian JL. 1980. “Inner-City Futures: An American Dilemma Revisited.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 5(1):128. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Bourne, Larry S. 1993. “The Demise of Gentrification? A Commentary and Prospective View.” Urban Geography 14(1):95-107. Bridge, Gary. 2001. “Bourdieu, Rational Action and the Time-Space Strategy of Gentrification.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 26(2):205-216. Brown-Saracino, Japonica. 2017. “Explicating Divided Approaches to Gentrification and Growing Income Inequality.” Annual Review of Sociology 43:515-39. Burnett, John and Alan Bush. 1986. “Profiling the Yuppies.” Journal of Advertising Research 26(2):27-35. Cromidas Rachel. 2016. “‘Witches’ Want to Exorcise Logan Square’s Gentrification Demons.” Chicagoist, January 26. Retrieved June 23, 2019 ( ua.php) Davidson, Mark. 2011. “Critical Commentary. Gentrification in Crisis: Towards Consensus or Disagreement?” Urban Studies 48(10):19871996.

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Firey, Walter I. 1947. Land Use in Central Boston. Cambridge. MA: Harvard University Press. Fowler, Eric and Matthew Derrick. 2018. “Yipster Gentrification of Weird, White Portlandia.” The California Geographer 57:189-210. Hamnett, Chris. 1991. “The Blind Men and the Elephant: The Explanation of Gentrification.” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 16(2):173-189. Kleinhans, Reinout and Ade Kearns. 2013. “Neighborhood Restructuring and Residential Relocation: Towards a Balanced Perspective on Relocation Processes and Outcomes.” Housing Studies 28(2):163-176. Lees, Loretta, Tom Slater, and Elvin Wyly. 2008. Gentrification. New York: Routledge. Ley, David. 2003. “Artists, Aestheticisation, and the Field of Gentrification.” Urban Studies 40(12):2527-2544. Molotch, Harvey L., William Freudenburg, and Krista E. Paulsen. 2000. “History Repeats Itself, But How? City Character, Urban Tradition, and the Accomplishment of Place.” Urban Initiative 65(6):791-823. Park, Robert E., Ernest W. Burgess, and Roderick D. McKenzie. 1925. The City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Perry, Forrest. 2013. “The Class Dimension of Hip Rebellion.” Rethinking Marxism 25(2):163-183. Richardson, Jason, Bruce Mitchell, and Juan Franco. 2019. “Shifting Neighborhoods: Gentrification and Cultural Displacement in American Cities.” National Community Reinvestment Coalition. Rose, Damaris. 1984. “Rethinking gentrification: Beyond the Uneven Development of Marxist Urban Theory.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2(1):47-74. Schulman, Sarah. 2013. Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. Streitfeld, David. 2014. “Activists Accuse Tech Community of Throwing San Francisco Under the Bus.” New York Times, January 21. Retrieved June 20, 2019 ( Zukin, Sharon. 1989. Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.


The Showtime series Shameless premiered on January 9, 2011. Shameless presents the story of a Southside low-income biracial family in South Chicago. In every episode, viewers are entertained by the lengths the family will go to in order to stay together and survive to the point that their behavior really is “shameless.” Shameless portrays the struggles the family experiences as they try to break inter- and intragenerational cycles (i.e., a family history of drug and alcohol abuse) and offers hope that is more realistic than a rags-to-riches myth wherein people go from a working-class status to the upper echelons of society through pure luck or hard work. It takes time and opportunity for a working-class family to move up the class ladder, as well as people to invest in their lives to help them achieve a version of the “American Dream” with families, jobs, and the material things that represent success. In the pilot episode, viewers learn some key information about the Gallagher family. Monica Gallagher is the absent matriarch who left the family when Fiona was 14 years old, Lip was 11, Ian was 10, Debbie was 7, Carl was 5, and Liam was four months old (Season 1, Episode 1). Frank Gallagher is the absent patriarch and self-proclaimed “captain” of the Gallagher family but is often seen drinking in bars or passed out, not really spending time with or taking care of his six children. In Episode 2, a monologue from Frank reveals insight into why he started drinking and his view of parenthood: I didn’t split, like your mom did! I could’ve. Let the state figure out what to do with all six of you. But I didn’t…and bars…you ask anybody. A beer, once in a while, and that’s it. Three and I’d be on the floor. And they all thought it was funny then, that I couldn’t knock ‘em back. You can’t win, you know. Your mom just takes off, you’re all looking at me. Six kids to keep track of when you never had to do that stuff. Food on the table. Clothes for school. Bills to pay. Diapers. Dentists. Oh! Oh! And 1

The author would like to thank Carrie Rodgers for feedback on this chapter.

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you’re all looking at me like I’m fucking up, which…I am! Then what’s the point?! So, you knock back a few. Then you have a few more. And while you’re knocking ‘em back, you know everybody’s laughing, but that’s okay. Cuz that’s what you need…people laughing…people drinking. Anything, so long as it’s not six kids that you didn’t want in the first place! (Season 1, Episode 2)

Frank’s monologue shows his state of mind when it comes to being a single father to his six children. Alcohol is his escapism from the responsibility he “didn’t want in the first place.” As his addiction grows, he slowly fades out of his children’s lives and thus establishes the foundation of distrust, deceit, coping inabilities, and poor relationship skills in his children’s developing self-identities. As his eldest daughter, Fiona, assumes the role of matriarch and fills the patriarchal role left absent by Frank’s addiction and neglect, viewers watch as her character develops and evolves over the course of nine seasons and subsequently influences how her siblings also evolve. However, the absent parents in the Gallagher household result in parentification of the Gallagher children. Parentification is a term coined by Minuchin in 1967. Boszormenyi-Nagy and Spark (1973) further defined the concept of parentification into two types: instrumental parentification is when children in the household take care of physical tasks, such as paying household bills or looking after younger siblings; and emotional parentification where children are placed in an emotional support role for parents. Byng-Hall (2008) described the ways in which parentification manifests in later development or adulthood including taking on a caregiver role, bearing feelings of guilt or low self-esteem, issue avoidance, and isolation. Lamothe (2017) also points out that in families with alcohol- or drug-addicted parents, those same destructive patterns can manifest in the children. The Gallagher children all show eventual signs of parentification, including attachment issues in relationships as adults, despite a need to take care of others. Unfortunately, the two eldest children, Fiona and Philip (“Lip”), suffer the effects of instrumental and emotional parentification the hardest. Fiona’s need to take care of her siblings is ever-present; however, her role as caretaker evolves throughout the series from one of simply an older sibling keeping everyone together to a matriarchal role to finally a role of older sibling leaving the house. In the first three seasons, Fiona spends her time and energy managing daily life in the Gallagher household and everyone (except Carl and Liam, the two youngest children) put money into the “squirrel fund” for household expenses, like utilities and groceries. Once the family is split up and sent to foster homes or juvenile centers, Fiona


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realizes the need to establish a more permanent arrangement in the house and petitions to become legal guardian of her siblings (Season 3, Episode 7). Over time and with each experience she faces, Fiona becomes the matriarch the family has been missing for so long. Once she takes on this new role as guardian, her values begin to evolve out of a need to keep the family from getting split up again and this change is reflected in her relationships with her siblings and causes strain in her intimate relationships throughout the series. Early on in the series, we watch Fiona drinking and getting high with her brothers, Ian and Lip, and their father, Frank. She does not get involved with her siblings’ issues unless they risk splitting up or harming the family. As Fiona starts to fill the guardian role, she agrees to obtain her GED in an effort to inspire Lip to finish high school and graduate (Season 2, Episode 8). She tells Debbie she is not allowed to wear certain clothes as she is not going to “stripper school,” although it is alluded to that Fiona wore similar clothing at that age (Season 3, Episode 8). She adopts the parental role to protect Ian from serious consequences of erroneously enlisting in, then shortly thereafter deserting, the Army. By Season 4, Fiona even calls herself a parent when referencing cleaning the house for an upcoming inspection from her probation officer. She tells Debbie to “get rid of anything that can make me look like a bad parent” (Season 4, Episode 8). Fiona evolves from a young adult trying to balance familial responsibilities with a penchant to party and have fun, to an adult with more stringent values and who understands the necessity of personal sacrifices to prevent her siblings from falling into the same intergenerational cycles the family has suffered. Lip is the eldest son and thought to be the smartest Gallagher, the one with the best chance of getting into college. He makes money for the family “squirrel fund” by writing papers for other students and taking SATs for a fee. His intellectual capabilities allow him to achieve specific scores based on a student’s preference (e.g., intentionally submitting incorrect answers to get a lower SAT score) to game the system. Lip does not have a serious relationship at the beginning of the series but quickly forms a bond with a local neighborhood girl named Karen. Lip continuously invests his time to help the people he loves in any way he can. Ian, the second eldest son, has a strong work ethic and early desire to serve in the military. Aside from Fiona, Ian is the only other Gallagher with a steady job working in a local neighborhood market. Ian is homosexual and struggles to keep it a secret from his siblings until Lip discovers Ian’s homosexual pornography stash. When Lip questions Ian’s sexual history and assures him that his sexuality has no influence over

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family ties, Ian confides in Lip about his previous sexual encounters. This is the moment when Ian realizes the extent of his family’s loyalty (Season 1, Episode 1). Debbie is the youngest daughter and also shares Fiona and Lip’s need to care for others. In the first episode, we see Debbie put a pillow under a drunk Frank’s head and give him a kiss good night. Debbie is often asked to take care of neighborhood kids and is seen heading up Fiona’s home day care in Season 2. Debbie’s nurturing nature is evident when she cares for Frank’s girlfriend, Sheila, who faces issues with her estranged daughter, Karen. Although Karen has a casual relationship with Lip in the first three seasons, her promiscuity and lack of commitment leads her to get pregnant. She has a son with Down Syndrome, who is eventually taken away by the biological father’s family, much to Sheila’s dismay. Debbie reassures Sheila, “I’ve seen crazy and I’ve seen bad for kids. You aren’t either of those things” (Season 3, Episode 9). Carl, the second youngest son, struggles throughout the series with delinquency in school, gang affiliation, and going to juvenile detention for trying to smuggle drugs. Carl also follows in Ian’s footsteps when he gets an opportunity to go to military school. He is innovative when it comes to moneymaking schemes. For instance, in Season 8, he sets a trap to catch a local drug addict who is robbing houses in the area. When the addict gets clean, he brings more addicts to Carl and offers to pay him to help rehabilitate them (Season 8, Episode 5). Throughout the series, all the Gallagher children share the responsibilities of raising Liam, the youngest Gallagher, and as a result, he lives a very different childhood from his older siblings. He is a biracial child, a fact that is often ignored until Season 9.

Dysfunctional Gallaghers Despite stepping into the parental role, Fiona still wants to party and enjoy life as a twenty-something single female in the city. Amidst all the dysfunction in her life, Fiona still steps in and petitions for legal guardianship of her siblings when Social Services receives an anonymous call (from Frank) about child neglect and comes to remove the children from the home (Season 3, Episode 6). Fiona is granted guardianship, but it is not long before she gets involved with the wrong type of guy and parties with cocaine, leading Liam to overdose while everyone is enjoying a good time (Season 4, Episode 5). Fiona violates the terms of her probation and ends up in jail.


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Fiona does not singly mirror Frank’s negative values; the other Gallagher children exhibit many of Frank’s proclivities for substance and alcohol abuse, promiscuity, and the like, and most of the behaviors of moral degradation first rise in Seasons 1 and 2. Lip has his own issues—including serving as the primary support to Fiona and taking over as caregiver when Fiona is unable. Because he engages in academic dishonesty (i.e., taking SATs and writing essays for other students), Lip is eventually busted by an evaluation investigator who evaluates him and discovers his remarkably high intellect may afford him the opportunity to attend college, an option that until this point Lip had not considered (Season 1, Episode 6). Lip undergoes a tumultuous journey in the first three seasons (e.g., engaged in selling drugs in Season 2), but by Season 4, he cleans up his act and is in college. Lip’s dysfunction is manifested through the women he is attracted to. He gravitates toward women who suffer from “daddy issues” and whose behaviors seems to compensate by either exhibiting extreme commitment phobias or control issues. Lip’s relationship with Karen and, later, his college girlfriend—both who perceive their fathers as weak—shows his codependency tendencies. Eventually, this dependence on dysfunctional women come to a head when Lip falls in love with one of his college professors. When this relationship ends, Lip’s avoidance of issues (past and present) becomes evident as his anger and abuse of/reliance on alcohol escalate. Lip works hard for the first two seasons and it seems he may achieve upward mobility, but his reliance on alcohol to avoid dealing with his loss of a lover and the overwhelming burden of caring for his siblings during Fiona’s absence hints at a continuation of the intergenerational cycle of addiction. Lip hits rock bottom when he attacks Professor Youens, his college professor’s (and mentor’s) car, while drunk, yet the professor, a struggling recovering alcoholic himself, steps in to help him (Season 7, Episode 8). Early on in the series, Ian struggled to keep his sexual identity secret from his family but feels accepted once he is “outed.” Ian also shares Lip’s avoidance of issues. When things go wrong with his first love, Mickey, Ian runs off without telling his family and enlists in the Army under his brother Lip’s name. He quickly goes absent without leave (AWOL). Ian resurfaces working at a gay bar and making money as a prostitute (Season 5, Episode 5). The family discover Ian’s desertion of the Army when military police show up to arrest Lip because of Ian’s fraudulent enlistment (Season 5, Episode 10). Fiona realizes that, like their mother, Ian suffers from bipolar disorder. Despite his wishes, she tries to intercede on Ian’s behalf as his legal guardian to discuss how bipolar disorder is the cause of his erratic behavior, similar to their birth mother. Ian, in denial of his

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diagnosis, initially refuses to take medication and it appears he is also in denial of his own personal issues. Although Ian is wary of Fiona’s interference, he eventually gets the help he desperately needs. However, his recovery is short-lived; his birth mother, Monica, resurfaces and convinces Ian to run away with her under the guise that she is the only person who will truly understand him (Season 5, Episode 11). For Debbie, her mother’s absence and her father’s sporadic presence during her childhood conversely created almost overwhelmingly nurturing, emphatic behaviors. In the first two seasons it is apparent how lonely Debbie is, despite living with five siblings and occasionally her father, Frank. This loneliness is evident in her rapid attachment to an elderly woman chosen to impersonate her dead Aunt Ginger (Season 1, Episode 3), as well as the subsequent kidnapping of a three-year old boy in the neighborhood (Season 1, Episode 4). Debbie carries this loneliness when she tricks her boyfriend and gets pregnant (Season 5, Episode 10). Fiona’s stance is firm—she wants Debbie to get an abortion. But, Debbie sees her baby as a blessing; and, importantly, a good way to surround herself with her own family, one where she can make a difference. Debbie ultimately defies Fiona and the birth of her daughter, Frances or “Franny,” leads Debbie to realize that teenage motherhood is not all she thought it would be. Her need for parental presence is evident, however, simply by the fact that she named her daughter after her mostly absent, mostly drunken father. Carl is probably the most dysfunctional Gallagher in the traditional sense as he has a propensity for violence. In Season 1, he is on the verge of being expelled from school because of deviant behavior (e.g., slamming peers into lockers, dunking heads in water, and urinating in public places). When asked to create a paper mache about what he likes about himself, Carl makes a pile of excrement, indicative of his self-esteem (Season 1, Episode 6). By Season 5, Carl is selling drugs on the corner to help the family squirrel fund but also to gain material possessions. Carl is sentenced to time in juvenile detention for taping drugs to his cousin Chuckie to smuggle across state lines (Season 5, Episode 8). After Carl’s time in juvenile detention, he resorts to more extreme deviant behavior by selling guns for a local gang. Carl’s love of the gangster life comes to a swift end when he witnesses the murder of a kid who stole his friend’s bike (Season 6, Episode 6). Afterwards, Carl wants to get out of the gun running game with the help of Fiona’s boyfriend at the time, Sean. (Season 6, Episode 7). Of all the Gallagher children, Liam is the most functional, with the opportunity to attend private school for a period of time. Liam is the only Gallagher not seen engaging in criminal activity or trying to scam the system. In fact, when Frank tries to rob the home of one of Liam’s friends,


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he gives Frank the wrong security code so he cannot steal (Season 8, Episode 12). In the first few seasons, the Gallagher children engage in raunchy sexual escapades, substance and alcohol use, and criminal behavior such as stealing milk and butter to get by. However, as the seasons progress, viewers witness a change in the Gallagher family. The juxtaposition of parental roles in the Gallagher family leads the eldest daughter to perform as the parental figure and as a result, she undergoes an evolution in the construction of her social world. Fiona starts the series as a party girl, meeting one of her first loves in a night club. She is working part-time jobs and earning money sporadically as opportunities arise. Over time, she begins to look into fulltime permanent jobs (i.e., World Wide Cup), and eventually entrepreneurship to build a legacy. This is the polar opposite of Frank, who only briefly tries to follow the straight and narrow after Monica passes away. Frank continues the generational cycle of drug and alcohol addiction, money scams, and vagrancy. As Fiona’s reality shifts, so do those of her siblings, and ultimately, the family begins striving for better lives. They each encounter people who invest time and wisdom to help them create their own legacies and break inter- and intragenerational cycles.

Pursuing the Dream Berger and Luckmann (1966) first introduced the notion that reality is socially constructed. Specifically, they argued that people behave according to the norms, values, and beliefs of the society around them. Overtime, those behaviors become reality themselves through habitualization. Habitualization describes how “any action that is repeated frequently becomes cast into a pattern, which can then be … performed again in the future in the same manner and with the same economical effort” (Berger and Luckmann 1966). Robert Merton (1955) introduced a similar, although more individualized, concept: self-fulfilling prophecy. According to Merton, self-fulfilling prophecy occurs when actors behave in ways that bring about the very consequence they predicted would happen anyway. For instance, Frank frequently laments that the system is always hardest on men and there is no sympathy for single fathers (Season 1, Episode 1). However, Frank consistently lies, cheats, and takes advantage of the system. As a result, Frank is notoriously untrustworthy—by those who know as well as those who do not. The Gallagher children initially see their reality in such a way they, too, create the expected consequences through their behaviors (i.e., producing the self-fulfilling prophecy).

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Early in the series, the way the Gallagher’s perceive their social reality is skewed, as is typical of young children who have a narrow perspective of life. Without present and nurturing parents, the initial values and social realities of all the Gallagher kids are based on their experiences with absent and/or neglectful parents. They see themselves as unworthy and doomed to continue the seemingly perceptual cycle of struggle and desperation, a foundation established by Frank and Monica’s irresponsibility and selfishness. However, as they grow older, we watch their perceptions of the world around them shift. As they navigate numerous challenges and are forced to come up with solutions, their parental absence becomes less of an influence over their choices. Each child learns what role s/he plays in society, and whether that role is one s/he wants to continue or not. Each of the Gallagher kids have at least one epiphany throughout the series, where they eventually learn the cycle can be broken, that they have the power to control and transform their lives. It is those moments that help spur selfaccountability, guiding them to change their class status. Fiona’s childhood of neglect and subsequent parentification are pivotal contributions to how Fiona’s social reality is constructed early on in the series. A conversation in the pilot episode between Fiona and Ian reveals this: Fiona asks Ian about getting money for a field trip from Frank to which Ian replies, “I’ll pay my own way.” But Fiona disagrees and pulls change from drunk Frank’s pockets, who lays passed out on the living room floor. Ian asks if Fiona gets tired of thinking for everyone, but she sees it as being needed. Ian jokes that if being needed is all Fiona wants, she has a “job for life with this joker” (i.e., Frank). After Ian exits scene, we see Fiona begin to cry and then kick Frank and yell “GET UP!” Afterwards she pulls Frank’s hand to her shoulder and says “Good job, Fiona” (Season 1, Episode 1). Clearly, Fiona is overwhelmed with her caregiver responsibilities, but she knows very well that Frank will never step up and be the parent her siblings need. Since her social world revolves around taking care of her brothers and sisters, working to keep child services at bay, and keeping her family together, she has built her own social reality. Furthermore, Steve, a man who tries to rescue Fiona’s purse in a bar when it is stolen, confronts Fiona about her feeling toward men in past relationships and how they have treated her (Season 1, Episode 1). Fiona is not used to finding good partners for herself but instead is attracted to the proverbial bad boy who is similar to her father in their partying ways and laissez-faire nature. Indeed, Frank’s absence has shaped Fiona’s world and her value system. His early influence has also profoundly shaped her attraction to a specific type of man—a narrative that plays over and over again throughout the series.


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The social roles that people play also serve as evidence of the ways in which reality is socially constructed. All the Gallagher children suffer from role conflict as they age, with each child enduring challenges as s/he navigates through various roles in different stages of life (e.g. caretaker, parent, mentor, service member, and entrepreneur). After Fiona’s stint in prison, and help from a forgiving probation officer Gail Johnson, she gives up partying and begins working on ways to improve her class status— including pursuing a management job at Patsy’s Pies in Season 6. It is here that Fiona meets Margot Mierzejewski—another female with no formal education who has become a successful real-estate developer in the neighborhood. Drawing on Margot’s inspiration, Fiona buys a failing laundromat and upgrades it to start earning a profit. Not completely letting go of her Southside Gallagher roots, though, she steals money from Patsy’s to help renovate the laundromat, ultimately replacing it before she gets caught (Season 7, Episode 8). Still, she is able to turn around and sell the laundromat shortly thereafter, making a hefty profit (Season 7, Episode 10). Her next move is to purchase a neighborhood apartment building in Season 8, where her character slowly evolves from the lower-class “street” girl to a landlord often trying to extend mercy to those she can empathize with, recognizing the similarities of their situations. Fiona plays a central role in pushing Lip to go to college, even earning her GED as a motivation to inspire Lip (Season 2, Episode 10). After Professor Youens extends a hand to help Lip, he begins a process of healing from the years of neglect and parentification. But, he is still compelled to take care of others—including Professor Youens, and Brad, Lip’s Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) sponsor. It takes a new AA sponsor, Barb, for Lip to realize that he too wants to take care of everyone else rather than deal with his personal trauma (Season 8, Episode 8). This shift in Lip ultimately leads him away from trying to game the system (e.g. taking tests for other students, selling drugs) to take care of his family, to trying to improve the system through legitimate, socially sanctioned ways. By Season 9, Lip is ready to step into a father role when he impregnates the girl with whom he is involved. Ian’s pivotal moment of role transformation, thereby reshaping his social reality, comes in Season 5. After running away and living briefly as nomad with Monica, he comes to the realization that he can do more with his life (Season 5, Episode 8). He returns home and encounters an accident where he rescues a woman trapped in a burning car. He not only saves her life, he saves his own. It is this critical moment, as he chokes on the smoke, that he realizes ending his downward cyclical trend of self-destruction is within his control and spurs him to volunteer to help others in need (Season

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6, Episode 3). He meets Caleb who was the on-call emergency medical technician (EMT) at the scene of the accident. Caleb is responsible and stable—unlike anyone Ian has been with before—and inspires Ian to work toward an EMT certification. As Ian begins to settle into daily life as a medic in Season 7, he continues his volunteer work and meets and develops a relationship with Trevor, a transgender youth counsellor. This relationship guides Ian toward lesbian, gay, and transgender advocacy, specifically working to help teenagers facing harsh punishments and conversion treatments by their parents. Fiona provides healthy doses of tough love by not helping Debbie with Franny and not employing her at Patsy’s Pies, yet hires Debbie to work in her laundromat as a folder so she can start earning money for herself (Season 7, Episode 10). The build-up toward working and becoming selfsustaining is a catalyst for Debbie—soon after, she decides to attend welding school, pursuing a career that will allow her to make the money she needs to support herself and Franny. Ironically, it is her daughter, Franny, who contributes to Debbie’s refinement and change in value system. The moment of change for Carl comes when he meets Officer Luther Winslow, his girlfriend’s dad. He encourages Carl to become more than a neighborhood thug. With the help of Officer Winslow, Carl applies and is accepted into a military school for boys and we watch as Carl begins taking pride in what he is doing (Season 7, Episode 5). In Season 9, Carl applies, but is rejected, from West Point Military Academy. However, his girlfriend, Kelly, convinces him that, despite this setback, he is meant for more than the Southside life and that his goal of joining the military does not have to be over (Season 9, Episode 14). Throughout the series, we watch each Gallagher child evolve from dysfunctional and unproductive to refined and responsible working adults. Indeed, the character developments are reflective of the gentrification happening in their Southside neighborhood. In fact, the process of gentrification that takes place over the course of the series can be seen as analogous to the characters, and the family as a whole, as they slowly struggle to climb each rung of the social class ladder.

Gentrified Gallaghers Sociologists view gentrification as a process in which middle- and upper-class displace working and working-class people because those at a higher tier of the social ladder see prospects of economic and/or social gain in dilapidated neighborhoods and seek to increase the value by buying and renovating residential and commercial properties (Open Education


Gentrifying the Gallaghers

Sociology Dictionary 2019). However, if we look at the same concept applied to people instead of property, one could argue the Gallaghers are gentrified themselves through experiences with influencers (i.e., people who invest time and money in them), eventually undergoing a type of renovation and thus improving their overall social status and value system. Fiona starts the series working at sports concessions and odd jobs where she can find them. But several people invest time and effort to help Fiona improve her circumstances: Gail Johnson and Margo Mierzejewski, for instance. After Liam accidentally ingests cocaine that is left over from one of Fiona’s parties, she gets a rude awakening when she is charged with two felony counts of child endangerment and cocaine possession. Once she is released from county jail, her probation officer, Gail, confronts her with the harsh reality of Fiona’s limited options as a now-felon. Fiona takes a hard self-evaluation and realizes she is not a victim of unfortunate circumstances and there are very real consequences to her actions, consequences that affect others as well as herself. Set upon improving her life, she seeks the advice of Margo, the owner of Patsy’s Pies and self-made entrepreneur, who gives Fiona real-estate advice. Both these women, among others, play a role in helping Fiona refine herself, improve her status, and introduce more acceptable values, even when it seems Fiona will succumb to her family’s generational cycles. Consider Fiona’s fall from the social ladder in Season 9: she loses her apartment, other real-estate holdings, her relationship, and all of the money she’s earned. She contemplates stealing from Patsy’s to get herself out of trouble, but a pivotal moment happens for her. Instead of stealing money to fix a problem—a decision she would have made easily in earlier seasons—Fiona puts the money back. In one season, Fiona goes from her highest point to her lowest and it is then that she experiences what life could be like if she were, in fact, to follow Frank’s footsteps. Instead, because of the help of others who guided and supported her, who saw value in her and invested time and money into “gentrifying” her, she began to envision herself in the same light and finally see her own self-worth. As Fiona evolves and her social reality shifts in her new guardian role, her siblings evolve, too, learning along with Fiona how to be accountable for their decisions. In Season 9, Lip steps up to be a father to his unborn child and Ian takes responsibility for his role in committing a crime. Debbie takes over as the primary caretaker in the Gallagher household. But, beyond this, we also see Debbie maturing and evolving in other ways. When she injures her foot in Season 8, she does not try to “scam” the system or seek out disability (in the classic Frank Gallagher

Kristen Pitts


way). Instead, she finds a way to get treated and get back to work as a trained welder. Meanwhile, Carl is preparing for military enlistment. Throughout nine seasons, we watch the Gallagher children grow and evolve. From the dysfunctional children, with similarly dysfunctional family values, who rely on crime, deviance, and duplicity to take care of family needs in Season 1, they are transformed into productive, working adults by Season 9. But, they do not accomplish this change by themselves. The people they have encountered who saw value in them helped with their transformations. Youens mentored Lip through his alcohol addiction, and AA sponsor Barb does not hold back some powerful truths that Lip comes to accept. Ian is inspired to become an EMT because of Caleb and becomes an advocate for others because of Trevor. Debbie learns how to care for others because of her sister Fiona and grows as a person because of her daughter Franny. Carl betters himself because of the encouragement from Officer Winslow and Kelly. The dysfunctions they experienced, the obstacles they faced, and the people who invested in them are the very things that helped them become the functional adults they are by the end of the series. However, this shift in the Gallagher family’s reality is not a scenario typically faced by most low-income, generationally dysfunctional families. Over and over again, the media has told the story of how families and individuals can go from a life of poverty and working-class status to one of wealth and privilege (Little Orphan Annie 1932; Rags to Riches 1941; A Star is Born 1954; Charade 1963; Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory 1971; Trading Places 1983; Pretty Woman 1990; The Pursuit of Happyness 2006). But the real-life likelihood of social mobility—where one moves from a lower rung on the class ladder (e.g., lower-working-class) to a rung that is two or three steps above their current position (e.g., upperworking-class)—does not support the rags-to-riches phenomenon present in many shows and movies. Even Roseanne, the classic series heralded for its realistic portrayal of the working-class, ended the family winning the state lottery (Barr, Blasband, and Halvorson 1997). For decades, media has perpetuated this idea that one can easily climb the socioeconomic ladder; however, research refutes this phenomenon. As Bourgois (1989) points out, the connection between inner-city violence and “culture of poverty” ideology contributes to the toxic generational cycles. Ihamon (1976) points out that media (i.e., books, cartoons, and other stories) perpetuated the idea that it is easy for people to move from the lowest classes into the upper echelons of society if they work hard and adopt bourgeoisie values. However, it is not quite that easy. There are systematic obstacles in place like access to quality education and


Gentrifying the Gallaghers

resources to get into management jobs. These stories “soothed guilty feelings” of the middle-class rather than inspire the working-class to reach for the upper-classes (Ihamon, 1976:26). MacLeod (1987) found that youth in working-classes had rather pessimistic views of their occupational potential. In fact, the youth did not believe that education would lead to stable employment and, because of this view, the youth gravitated toward a culture of drugs and alcohol, thereby introducing the self-fulfilling prophecy that they could not escape their generational cycle (MacLeod 1987). Still, I argue that Shameless does provide hope for social mobility, without falling prey to the unrealistic rags-to-riches trope. Through evolving character developments, challenges faced, and lessons learned, we see that there are realistic ways to get out of poverty. Lower-class families do not have to accept their status; there are a few escape hatches: finishing school and joining the military like Carl, learning a trade/skill like Lip and Debbie, becoming a public servant like Ian, or just getting away from the environment altogether like Fiona. As the characters evolve throughout the series, their very nature is gentrified in that they evolve from a lower-class, criminal, shameless, raunchy family to lower-middle-class, mostly lawabiding, working family ready to establish their own families at a better starting point than their parents. Despite the Horatio Algiers classic myth and the sporadic nature in which low-income families realistically experience intragenerational social mobility, watching the Gallagher family succeed throughout the series offers a glimpse of hope. It plants the possibility that one’s life can drastically improve, which is inherently the American Dream, if only a slightly different version of it.

References Barr, Roseanne and Allan Stephan Blasband (Writers) & Gary Halvorson (Director). 1997. “Into That Good Night [Television Series Episode]. Tom Werner and Marcy Carsey (Creators). Roseanne, May 20. Hollywood, CA: CBS Television City. Berger, Peter L. and Thomas Luckmann. 1966. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Doubleday Anchor. Black, Todd. 2006. The Pursuit of Happyness. Boszormenyi-Nagy, I and Spark, G.M. 1973. Invisible Loyalties: Reciprocity in Intergenerational Family Therapy. New York: Harper and Row.

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Bourgois, Philippe. 1989. “In Search of Horatio Alger: Culture and Ideology in the Crack Economy.” Contemporary Drug Problems 16:619-649. Byng-Hall, John. 2008. “The Significance of Children Fulfilling Parental Roles: Implications for Family Therapy.” Journal of Family Therapy 30:147-162. Dahl, Ronald. 1971. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Harris, Timothy and Weingrod, Herschel. 1983. Trading Places. Hart, Moss. 1954. A Star is Born. Ihamon, W.T. 1976. "Horatio Alger and American Modernism: The OneDimensional Social Formula," American Studies 12(Spring):11-27. Kane, Joseph. 1941. Rags to Riches. Lamothe, Cindy. 2017. “When Kids Have to Act Like Parents, It Affects Them for Life.” Retrieved from June 1, 2019 ( Lawton, J.F. 1990. Pretty Woman. MacLeod, Jay. 1987. Ain’t No Makin’ It. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Merriam-Webster. 2019. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster. com/dictionary/gentrification on May 1, 2019. Merton, Robert K. 1955. "A Paradigm for the Study of the Sociology of Knowledge." Pp. 498-510 in The Language of Social Research: A Reader in The Methodology of Social Research, edited by Paul F. Lazarsfeld and Morris Rosenberg. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press. Minuchin, Salvador. 1967. Families of the Slums. New York: Basic Books. Open Education Sociology Dictionary. 2019. “Gentrification.” Retrieved May 15, 2019 ( Selznick, David O. et al. 1932. Little Orphan Annie. Stone, Peter. 1963. Charade.


N. J. Akbar serves as Assistant Dean of University College at Kent State University. His research interests revolve around Black male success, first generation student success, and parent engagement. He has co-taught and guest-lectured in Multicultural Education Policy graduate course and Education in a Democratic Society course. Erin Andro is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at Kent State University. Her research interests include employment, exploitation, class inequality, and mental health. She is currently working on her dissertation about the perceptions of the adjunct faculty experience. Sheldondra J. Brown is a Southeast Missouri State University graduate in psychology and a minor in sociology. Her primary area of research is the media’s influence on racial and cultural identities. Other areas of interest are social psychology, cognitive psychology, and mental health awareness. Kayla Cagwin is a graduate student at Kent State University. Their research interests include gender, consent culture, and positive deviance. They are currently researching consent culture within deviant communities and how this functions as positive deviance. They are also considering the broader implementation of educational tools used to teach consent within these communities. Tyler Flockhart is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Viterbo University. His current research focuses on how using emotion work to preserve interpersonal relationships has the consequence of also reproducing inequalities. Erin Rae Fluegge is Associate Professor of Management in the Harrison College of Business and Computing at Southeast Missouri State University. Dr. Fluegge’s research interests include workplace fun, affect and emotions, leadership, and experiential exercises. Her work has been published in Journal of Management Education, Management Research Review, Personnel Psychology, Journal of the North American Management Society, and The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Behavior.

Shameless Sociology: Critical Perspectives on a Popular Television Series


Alexis P. Hilling is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at Kent State University. Her research interests include race (whiteness), gender, and deviance. She is currently researching the media and political leader's portrayal of inequality, with a co-authored chapter appearing in Advances in Gender Research. In addition, she is currently working on her thesis analyzing overt and colorblind rhetoric in Donald Trump speeches. Pamela M. Hunt is Professor of Sociology at the University of West Georgia, with teaching and research interests in emotion, social psychology, and deviant behavior. Much of her research examines how members of subgroups give distinct meaning to the elements of their social environment. Dr. Hunt has conducted research in the jamband music scene as well as in the area of same-sex parenting. She has published her research findings in Social Psychology Quarterly, Deviant Behavior, and Journal of GLBT Family Studies. Additionally, Dr. Hunt is the author of Where the Music Takes You: The Social Psychology of Music Subcultures (2014, Cognella Academic Publishing). Eric Jordan is a PhD candidate in applied sociology at the University of Louisville. His work focuses on how racial tropes, narratives, and controlling images in popular film and television reinforce hegemonic discourses that shape people’s perceptions of various racial groups in the United States. He has co-authored an encyclopedia entry about the white savior trope, and a book chapter about the presentation of black masculinity in the film Moonlight. Ran Keren is a doctoral student in sociology at Northeastern University. He currently studies humor and comedy, examining stand-up and political comedy. His research interests include sociological theory, media, gender, theories of humor, and semiotics. Robert J. Leonard is a master’s degree candidate in sociology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville specializing in political economy and social theory. His research is broadly oriented toward the political economy of culture and aesthetics. His master’s thesis investigates the meaning of nature and how it is contradictorily consumed and dialectically perpetuates— and is perpetuated by—the logic of capital in the context of the United States. Kyra Martinez is a doctoral student in criminology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She earned her master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice from Eastern Kentucky University in 2017. Her research is



centered on abolitionist perspectives, critical-carceral and feminist studies, social movements and resistance, and transformative justice. Marisela Martinez-Cola serves as Assistant Professor of Sociology at Utah State University specializing in race and ethnicity, comparative/historical sociology, and culture. She earned her BA from the University of Michigan, J.D. from Loyola University School of Law, and PhD from Emory University. Lisa McManus Rodriguez is a doctoral candidate at North Carolina State University in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Her primary research explores prosumption and how technology impacts worker and customer interactions. Additionally, she is a research assistant at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Bioethics and Department of Social Medicine. Her work has been published in AJOB Empirical Bioethics and Sociation Today. Leslie Miller is a doctoral candidate at the University of Oklahoma. Leslie’s research examines health disparities for stigmatized patient populations. In particular, Leslie’s project examines the stigmatization process for people with an ostomy and whether providers’ communication may contribute to feelings of stigma for this patient population. Her research project has twophases and is titled “Peoples’ Experiences With Pouches (P.E.W.P.) Study.” Kimberly Murray is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Texas A&M University-Texarkana, previously earning her PhD at the University of Oklahoma. Her research focuses on how gender and family operate within social institutions and groups. Tiffany A. Parsons is an applied sociologist and Lecturer of Sociology at the University of West Georgia. Her areas of engagement and research are ethnoraciality, social class, and the intersections of race, sex, and class. She engages in varied ways of doing sociology, including visual sociology, institutional ethnography, and community-engaged research. In her applied capacity, Tiffany is the co-founder of a faith-based, nonprofit organization, Impact West GA, which assists homeless men returning to the housed community, provides veterans access to healthcare, and serves immigrants, children, the un- and underemployed, as well as the community at large, through education.

Shameless Sociology: Critical Perspectives on a Popular Television Series


Liz Piatt is currently Director of the McNair Scholars Program at Kent State University, where she also teaches part-time in the Department of Sociology. In addition, Dr. Piatt holds a faculty appointment in family and community medicine at Northeast Ohio Medical University. Kristin Pitts earned her BA and MA in sociology from Auburn University. She has worked on several research projects while in graduate school, two of which were published in academic journals. Kristin worked for eight years collecting survey data and evaluating Army training and education. She is a member of the National Coalition of Independent Scholars and is working on several independent research studies. Kristin also works as an independent consultant providing advice for research methodology, survey design, and evaluation plans. Monica Bixby Radu is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Southeast Missouri State University in the Department of Criminal Justice, Social Work, and Sociology. Dr. Radu’s research interests include family social capital, school safety, bullying, intimate partner violence, and juvenile delinquency. Her work has been published in American Behavioral Scientist, Child Development Perspectives, Sociology Compass, and The Journal of Public and Professional Sociology among other scholarly journals and edited books. Abby Reiter is Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Her research interests lie in the complex ways that various and intersecting oppressions work through interpersonal exchanges and within institutions. She studies power dynamics associated with race, sex, social class, sexual orientation, and other categories of oppression within education, healthcare, media, and other institutions. Her current projects include an examination of the perpetuation of white privilege through interpersonal exchanges in college, a qualitative study of racialized health disparities, and an exploration of student experiences with race and racism at a majority-minority university. Marshall Schmidt serves as Assistant Professor at Montclair State University. Marshall’s research interests include criminology, white-collar crime, social psychology, and the family. Marshall’s current work examines how offender and case attributes of white-collar offending affect criminal perceptions, and, in turn, attitudes and opinions on crime, including sentencing recommendations.



Jennifer Beggs Weber is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of West Georgia. She is also the director of the Women’s Studies Program at UWG. Her primary research interests include youth and family. Her work has been published in Gender & Society and Men and Masculinities. Leslie Welch is a third-year undergraduate student in the Department of Sociology at Texas A&M University-Texarkana. Her areas of interest include mental health and illness, gender, poverty, and politics. Randall Wyatt holds a PhD from Wayne State University and is a Visiting Assistant Professor of sociology at Oakland University. His work concentrates on race, gender and class inequality. Specifically, he focuses on intergroup race relations and the political attitudes of Blacks, whites, and Latinx Americans.


abortion 150, 151, 164-165, 169176, 248, 254, 275 addiction (see also, substance abuse) 20, 48, 77, 112, 180, 254, 271, 274, 276, 281 Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) 77, 195, 278 American Exceptionalism 31, 4546, 49 assault 17, 44, 120 sexual 117-120, 149 bipolar disorder (see also, mental health/illness) 1-2, 99-100, 102, 184-185, 243, 247, 274 boundary maintenance 8-25 capitalism 46, 233, 246, 257 caregiving 72, 74-75 concerted cultivation 199, 232 controlling images (see also, stereotypes) 89-94, 102-103 critical theory 30-31, 33, 45, 48-49 cultural capital 10-11, 17, 20-23, 25, 55-57, 63, 199, 223, 231 deviance 210, 212, 214-216, 225226, 281 emotional 206 sexual 149 edgework 233-241 effeminacy 131, 134-139, 143-144 emancipation 30-31, 33, 49, 249 emotional labor 242 emotion management 8-9 emotion work 131, 139, 140, 207, 225-226, 233, 235, 241-245 enlightenment 45-46 Enlightenment, the 31, 45-46 eviction 2, 34, 36, 40 family 67-68, 71, 73, 75-76, 78, 8081, 123, 131, 133, 165-166,

176-177, 180, 185-186, 193195, 197, 200-202, 246 fatherhood (see also, parenthood) 74-75, 79, 118, 150, 168, 177 femininity (see also, gender) 134136, 166, 236 feminism 152 first-generation college student 5255, 57-58, 60-63 gender (see also, femininity and masculinity) 8-9, 53, 56, 93, 113, 115, 130, 141, 144, 148, 150-151, 166, 176-179, 233234, 236-237, 243, 245, 262 gender roles 133, 148, 169, 177, 245 gendered expectation 149, 160, 242 gentrification 18, 30-31, 34-36, 3839, 47, 89, 95, 109, 190, 254283 homelessness 10, 16, 18, 20, 34, 106, 180, 222-223, 260 homophobia 109, 130, 132, 139, 142-144 hustling 9, 10, 16, 18-19, 24, 233, 237, 239-241 identity 2, 30, 49, 95, 116, 122, 125, 131, 136, 152, 168, 184-193, 202, 208, 238-239, 264 American 46-47 gender 74, 137, 144 Native American 95 racial 91 sexual 136-137, 144, 149, 240, 274 social 92 identity work 131 immigrants 123, 149, 248 inequality 8-25, 103, 110, 121, 226, 242, 245

290 intimate partner violence 77 Latinx 57, 125 marriage 67-73, 75-81, 91, 114-115, 131, 154, 158-159, 165-166, 168, 170, 172, 194-198, 202, 218, 242 masculinity (see also, gender) 102, 117-118, 133, 135-137, 144, 149, 237, 245 media 8-9, 16, 25, 30, 92-94, 109128, 132, 149-150, 176, 255, 257, 281 mental health/illness 59, 75-76, 78, 99-100, 120, 240, 242 motherhood (see also, parenthood) 71, 73, 77, 164-180 single 40, 68-70, 72-73, 78, 185, 198 teen 275 working mothers 72 murder 120-122, 240, 275 natural growth 199, 200, 232 othering 8-9, 11, 13, 16, 18, 24, 139 defensive 13, 16, 24 oppressive 11, 14-15, 24 parenthood 76-77, 165, 170-171, 270 adoptive parenting 245 childbearing 67-70, 75, 79, 81, 150, 173, 176, 194, 198 childbirth 77, 166, 197-198 child custody 222 foster parenting 15-16, 245, 248 neglect in 174, 199, 232, 238, 271, 273, 277-278 single 67-71 parentification 271, 277-278 poverty 8, 16, 29-30, 53, 68, 78, 93, 95, 117, 123-125, 148, 150, 156-157, 166, 169-170, 172, 175, 179-180, 189, 208, 223, 235, 255, 281-282 pregnancy 164-180 teen 70, 100, 120, 155, 159, 170

Index unplanned 68, 150, 166, 216, 248 prostitution 2, 35, 74, 154, 157, 274 queer acceptance 130-144 racism 63, 93, 109-125, 143 rape 23, 99, 118-120 relationships (intimate) interracial 113-115 same-sex 96, 133-141, 138 risk 41, 54, 79, 116, 152, 196, 231, 233-237, 240-243, 245-249, 254, 263, 267, 272 risk manager 233 sexuality 10, 102, 110, 114, 130144, 148-161, 174, 185, 241, 272 social capital 55-57, 71-72, 81 social mobility 281-282 stereotypes (see also, controlling images) 3, 9, 233 class-based 149-152, 158, 160161 gender-based 149-152, 158, 160-161 race-based/racial 88-103 sexual orientation (based on) 132, 135, 140-142 stereotype threat 63 subculture 9-11, 16-18, 24-25, 257 subordinate adaptation 8-13, 16-24 substance abuse (see also, addiction) 76, 231 suicide 31, 109, 124, 159 TRIO programs 53-64 tropes 46, 92, 258 class-based 282 racial 89-90, 92, 110-111, 125 welfare (social) 69, 73, 78, 88, 90, 94-96, 125, 149, 159, 232, 237 welfare state 109, 246 Whiteness 88, 93-95, 102-103, 109125 White privilege 88, 98, 102 work (paid) 18, 37, 67-85 low-wage 32, 68-75, 80