Identity Discrepancy According to the Audience

Iconography, as Wikipedia helped me to understand it, “studies the identification, description, and interpretation of the content of [an] image.” It includes all of the visual clues that help a viewer understand how to locate an image (or TV show) with respect to their own identity groups. Because American culture has been painted as classless, Julie Bettie, among others, points out that the American audience does not have the language to properly articulate class differences. This is clear in the public’s definition of class in According to Jim. Jim is a foreman who works on a construction site. He has a loud, manly, and gregarious exterior, and hardworking, penny-pinching values. These markers mesh together to paint him as a Ralph Cramden-like working class guy which is probably why Kelli Marshal at the University of Toledo references According to Jim as a working-class sitcom. But According to Jim also leads the audience to believe it is a middle class sitcom. They have a beautiful house in the suburbs, time to volunteer for the PTA and are happily married with three children—two girls and one boy. Even the general public on Wikipedia can see that. So which class does Jim’s family belong to? Illustrating what Roseanne Barr meant in Bettie’s article, the disagreement between popular analyses makes it clear that there is a tension for the audience in deciding whether class is value-bound, monetarily-bound, or both. I don’t believe that this language truly captures the family’s class at all, but there are not many more options available.

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3 thoughts on “Identity Discrepancy According to the Audience

  1. Annie, I agree that we don’t have a working language for how to talk about class and that it is instead embedded in other axes of identity that we have a better handle on talking about (race, gender, etc.) I haven’t seen many episodes of According to Jim, but do you think there’s a conscious reason why the producers/writers of the show leave Jim and family’s class open to interpretation? Might this be a way to attract more viewers in the sense that more people can identify with the family by reading their own class status in the show? Or are the producers/writers trying to comment on or highlight the fact that we in fact don’t have a language for talking about class–OR is it that the producers themselves don’t have the language to accurately and directly direct class issues (like Roseanne does, for example)? Maybe you could think about analyzing the time spent showcasing Jim outside of his workplace vs. time spent at work to answer these questions.

  2. Pingback: The Doctor is Jim | TV Families

  3. It’s actually quite interesting to me that popular analysis and scholarly analysis here seem so contradictory, and I think Allison’s asked some smart questions about why this might be the case. You should also think about how ATJ is playing in this historical moment – how might class “read” differently now than it did in the case of Roseanne or even The Honeymooners? (I would also note that construction foreman likely do live middle-class lives in terms of income, but that the culture they navigate may be much more complex.)

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