Friday, May 6, 2011

CW White Trash: Depictions of Class

I’ve been thinking about class structure in America a lot lately. It started at the PCA/ACA conference two weeks ago when I inadvertently angered Supernatural scholars. When the Q&A began at a panel about Supernatural, someone asked the panel what they thought about Dean and Sam’s class position. The exact question was, "Are they white trash?"
Personally, I'd never thought about Dean and Sam’s class position. One panelist responded said she viewed Dean and Sam as "blue collar workers rather than white trash." I asked the panel if they see Dean and Sam as working class rather than white trash because Jensen Ackles and Jared Padelecki are attractive, they have a nice car and they dress well.
The ladies on the panel did not look pleased with me.

Oh dear.

One said that while Dean and Sam do not get paid for their work as hunters, they work full time and aren’t "welfare sponges and trailer trash". (She's right, they don't have welfare. They live off of pool hustling and credit card scams). I didn't debate the point, though I disagreed with her assumptions about the lower class. Much like when you think of a good comeback to an insult hours later, I feel like an idiot for not calling them out on their class privilege.

Later, I wondered why they were annoyed with me. I think I had a valid point about Dean and Sam. Nobody thinks about them as "white trash" because they’re pretty. Haley speculated it was because the question implied their interest in the characters was shallow, not to mention their own implicit class assumptions.

Does the label "white trash" diminish the appeal of otherwise attractive men? There's some interesting logic going on on that panel. There’s a “good” poor (working class or blue collar) and a “bad” poor (white trash/criminals), and those beautiful heroes and demon hunters couldn’t possibly be the “bad” poor.
Just your everyday blue collar guys
Since the PCA/ACA conference I’ve watched the entire series of Trailer Park Boys. It’s a hilarious show that follows a group of people who live in a trailer park in Nova Scotia. The main three characters are Julian, Ricky, and Bubbles and they are frequently in and out of jail. The seasons usually end with Julian and Ricky incarcerated again. When they're out, they spend their time with petty crime and dope growing schemes and the like. They drink a lot and smoke a ton of dope. Today while I was watching an episode I realized that Dean and Sam are frighteningly similar to the people in Trailer Park Boys.

Let me ‘splain.

Julian, Ricky, and to a certain extent Bubbles, are professional criminals. Someone on the Supernatural panel claimed Dean and Sam work full time as hunters, and Julian and Ricky certainly work full time at their criminal activities. Dean and Sam are also frequently on the run from the law and break the law as casually and often as Ricky and Julian.

Dean and Sam live a pretty similar lifestyle to Ricky and Julian, just with more demon killing and less dope smoking. Dean and Sam certainly are not blue collar workers or laborers; they are part of the criminal class.

So I realized that Dean and Sam are CW White Trash. They live like the criminal element, except they always wear nice clothes, keep their car in pristine condition (even rebuilding it after it's destroyed), and carry enough weapons for a small army. Plus, the cops never, ever catch up. If the producers were more accurate to the Winchester's financial and professional situations that car would look like the car that Ricky lives in, only with more demon gore. It would be covered in dents and scratches from fights with demons, the upholstery would be bloody and torn all the hell, and the passenger door would be missing.
Ricky's Car

The “good”/“bad” division of the lower class is still a working binary in Americans’ minds. Julian, Ricky, and Bubbles are the very epitome of "white trash" with their heavy drug use, heavy alcohol use, heavy smoking, queer identities, children out of wedlock, lack of education, and casual attitude towards crime, automatically thinking of what they can steal or scam in order to make ends meet. The show doesn't judge them, but the humor works best if you recognize the stereotypes. Dean and Sam share certain stereotypical traits, including heavy drinking, heavy drug use (Sam's addiction to demon blood), casual violence, casual crime, lack of education (Dean isn't as educated as Sam), and their casual attitude towards making ends meet with credit card scams.

Yet despite the similarities, Dean and Sam are blue collar and the Trailer Park Boys are "white trash." For some, it’s okay to valorize and be sexually obsessed with “good” poor, but not “bad” poor, and the directors of Supernatural cover the “bad” poor aspects of Dean and Sam’s life with a masculine working class façade, enhanced by Carry On Wayward Son blasting in the Impala.

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