Maximum Rage

Back in 1994, at my first post-collegiate job, I earned a whopping $4.50 an hour. This was a whole quarter above the minimum wage so you could basically say I was living the high life.

I was an “online server” in a coffee house back when online meant actually being on a line and handling a variety of insane customers–kinda of like the Internet with less anonymity.

I fondly remember “scone man.” He would hand me two heavily-stained coffee mugs that likely never touched soap and spent 10 minutes selecting the best scone. One day, he gave me the honor of selecting the scone for him. I felt I had reached the pinnacle of my career. As I rang him up, he took the scone out of the bag, inspected it, placed it back inside the bag, swung the bag around his head and slammed it three times against the counter.

“Yeah, nice and soft,” he said and left.

Nearly 20 years later, the minimum wage is a whole $3 more, and many minimum wage workers are protesting that is not nearly enough to live on.

While a minium wage annual income is a couple of thousands below the poverty line, low-income workers are missing one crucial point:

We have way more choices on TV.

Back in 1968 when the minimum wage was at its peak and would have been the equivalent of $10.60 in today’s dollars, TV was kind of lame.

There was only a couple of channels. Nothing was 24 hours. News was actually news.

Boresville.

But now?

While low-income workers might not earn enough to have three decent daily meals, they can watch a buttload of cooking shows that almost makes you feel like you’ve eaten. There’s Top Chef  and the 4,000 other cooking shows that want to be Top Chef.

I wish I could take credit for this brilliant insight, but the credit is all due to Virginia Postrel, a writer and supposed human, who wrote a compelling piece for Bloomberg.com titled “Who Needs a Raise When You Have TV?”

Who indeed.

I mean just the other day, I was thinking my 14-year-old car with its 170,000 miles might not last another year and could I really afford a car payment and then I saw a clip of Miley Cyrus twerking on a three-day-old burrito and I thought….well, I forgot.

Because TV is awesome.

Postrel acknowledges that wages have stagnated over the last four decades, but for fuck’s sake poor people, you’ve got Duck Dynasty (slight paraprase). You don’t have to worry about how you’ve been left behind by the Kardashians because you can keep up with them on DVR.

Postrel reports we watch way more television now because what the fuck else are you going to do as you kill time between your first and second job? Or maybe you have the “ample leisure time” to watch hours of Fox News reports insisting a minimum wage increase will break the bank because your hours have been cut just before the holiday season or you were just laid off.

So buck up, poor person. Turn on that TV to that yuletide log burning in the fireplace so you aren’t reminded that you haven’t paid your heating bill and revel in the abundance.

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43 comments

  1. Thankfully, between my full time and two part time jobs and three kids, I don’t have much time or energy to watch the tv that I pay $100 a month for because god forbid anything worth watching be on free tv. Those minimum wage jobs are fine for teenagers in school, but maybe if nobody applied and they didn’t have workers, they’d raise the salary. Who knows?

  2. My first out of college job in 1999 was in a state legislature making $19,000 or about $5 a month after taxes and student loans. It allowed me just enough disposable income to sleep on a friend’s couch for a year. Can’t imagine how much better it would’ve been if I was earning even less and supporting a spouse and kids at the time. It’s really awesome that I fortunately got to watch the first season of Survivor that year or no telling how low I would’ve sunk.

    1. I remember another “brilliant” mind bitching about how poor people couldn’t actually be poor because they have refrigerators. Sometimes a zombie apocalypse sounds so good.

  3. I just read this delusional Postrel piece. I’m under the impression that there’s a relationship between being down on one’s luck such as earning piss poor wages or being unemployed, and watching TV to anesthetize the feelings of hopelessness. But that jaded observation is never considered by Postrel.

    1. It’s worth it though if it can drown out all other problems like paying for necessities and working dead-end jobs and realizing life is meaningless—hey look The Amazing Race is on!

  4. Is there even anything worth watching on TV any more? My TV’s play video games and movies. I had no idea that there was programming available that would make me forget I was poor.

  5. I can’t believe she didn’t mention (or maybe she did – I turned on the TV when I was about two sentences in to her diatribe douchetalk) Two Broke Girls. Poor folks working at fast food places can actually now WATCH poor folks working at fast food places on TV! “How dignifying!!” said Virginia Postrel.

  6. Ha, reminds me of when John Stossel said they shouldn’t make PBS free because there were high brow shows on there, and poor people don’t care about that stuff, but rich people will pay for it. John Stossel is a total asshat, so naturally he now has a show on Fox News. Yup, us poor people apparently just loooove shows about storage buildings, pretend survival, mechanics, rednecks, redneck wedding shows, teenagers having baby shows, people committing uterus abuse in the name of God, people who believe in aliens and hunt Bigfoot, dating shows, and pretend news / talk shows. I mean, with quality stuff like that, who needs food and shelter? Just get me a TV and a good ditch with electricity and yeeeehaw I’m set!

  7. Oh, yeah, and I like how the less money you make, the more leisure time you have – what the fuck? I work the same hours as the university president, possibly less – he makes 200,000 a year while I’m closer to 20 K. I love Republican logic.

  8. I was just saying something like this to Mr. Weebles the other day. That people might not be able to afford food, or rent, or whatever, but man, there is a LOT on television. That should be quite enough to sustain and enrich people, even if they haven’t eaten in a few days.

  9. Postrel sounds like a condescending corporate shill. I had to re-read the article several times, hoping that she was joking, or sardonic. A “new golden age of television?” Bullshit. Everything she lists is drivel, IMHO. It sounds like a Romanesque argument– give the poor masses their bread, water, and circuses.

    My wife and I are both on disability, very well-educated, but we couldn’t manage employment despite our very best efforts. Yet the corporate humpers and right-wing authoritarians still breathe out insults and suggestions that poverty is somehow a moral failure– or that there is “worthy” and “unworthy” poor, at best.

    Our kids already get Social Security payments because Cimmy and I are both on disability– but I’m also applying for my son to receive disability benefits. Why? Well, he has autism, and he qualifies, but it’s mostly so we have enough money to feed him and his older sister. $197/mo of food stamps is NOT enough. We can’t afford cable, not in the least bit. I got them a cheap media server so they’d watch YouTube on the television set (hand-me-down, btw) instead of the computers. They could care less about the reality TV Postrel cites.

  10. I remember that last time they raised the minimum wage. Public opinion polls consistently showed that 90% of Americans favored raising the minimum wage, so naturally, congress bickered about whether or not they should do it.

  11. Before I forget…because I have a lot of stuff on my PVR to watch and well you made me think of it…did I miss something? Are there 2 Speaker7s? Speaker7 is reblogging on Speaker7 and I am getting both. Not that there is anything wrong with that. The more Speaker7 the better. I just confuse easily.
    Minimum wage here in Ontario currently sits at $10.25 and hour. This is probably on par with your minimum wage considering we pay considerably more for things than Americans. This includes things made in Canada. It pays to cross the border into the US to shop Canadian. Cray,cray?

    1. No need for confusion. For some reason I wasn’t following my blog so I had no notification that anything ran and then I started to sweat and chew a bit at my fingernails, thinking “Did no one get my exquisite prose? Was it just sent out into the void?” So I had the brilliant idea to reblog, which I also couldn’t see and then realized what was up because otherwise you would have received 500 notifications of my blog–that’s just how needy I am.

  12. So basically you’re saying we should bring The Food Network to Ethiopia? It makes total sense. I would love to see Martha Stewart have her show there. I would watch that and feel as satisfied as a donut swimming in a pool of icing. Ethiopians could watch it and forget about their hunger…or they could just eat Martha Stewart: I would watch THAT every day for the rest of my life…

  13. I saw the title “Who needs a raise…” and words “Ronald Reagan” in the 1st line of Postrel’s article and didn’t have to read the rest of the article to guess that only the rich people need that raise.

  14. I like being poor.
    Wealth is a burden – I think. The truth is, i have no idea how it feels to be able to pay your bills and still have funds left over for luxuries like food.
    Man, my economic life sucks…

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