April 3, 2012

TELEVISION FOR THOUGHT: A Shameless American Family

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As its name implies, Showtime’s Shameless seeks to be nothing but that. It breeches subject matter that we as a society tend to leave swept under the rug, making the impoverished, both economically and morally, essentially invisible. By focusing on the unconventional and brutally honest Gallaghers, show runner John Wells re-imagines the British drama of the same name onto the streets of South Side Chicago. One of the more salient issues of the show is what constitutes a strong family structure. With an absentee mother and a drunken father, the Gallagher kids have learned to live on their own and fight to keep at least themselves together, at all costs. The one that has suffered the most of this family predicament has been little Debbie Gallagher, eleven years old, desperately trying to establish that white-collar, clean-cut definition of the family. In other words, girl is trying to make a Cleaver family in South Side Chicago. Everyone together now: Oh, honey.

Regardless, Debbie poses a powerful question for our society in general. Many, young and old, clutch onto this dream of a perfect little family with ever-present parents who love each other and are perfect. But this dream doesn’t exist in our society or any society, for that matter. The family is a personal definition and is allowed to break with the tradition always presented to us. In Shameless, Frank and Monica Gallagher are clearly not fit to take care of themselves, much less six kids. The oldest, Fiona, has taken the responsibility of providing the best care for her family, sacrificing her own basic needs as a young adult. But although this “kid” is taking care of a bunch of kids, this does not make it any less of a strong and supportive family unit. However, through the eyes of a little one who does not understand that it is better not to have mom and dad around, this family dynamic goes unappreciated.

But Debbie’s obsession with family is almost unhealthy. In the season finale that aired this past Sunday, Debbie joins Frank in breaking her bipolar mother out from the psych ward. No eleven-year-old should have to deal with those emotions just to have a semblance of happy parents. Worse yet, Monica drives away with her psych ward buddy, leaving Debbie and Frank alone on the street. Sure, we all know that life is better that way for Debbie in the long run, but she does not. Only next season will tell how Debbie acts out in response to seeing her mother leave her just after she helped her escape.

At least she has the rest of the clan to lean on while she deals with the heartbreaking reality that family life for the Gallagher’s really should not include their shameful parents (pun intended). It speaks to a greater reality in our society that not everyone is suited for parenthood and the detrimental effects it has on a child’s psyche. Families come in all forms and do not need a mom and dad at the head to establish that familial structure. All you really need is a group of people to take care for each other at all costs, to brave life together. It may not look like the image that we envision or are implanted with at a young age, but it does not make it any less of a family.  Luckily, we find comfort in the fact that the Gallagher kids have resolute willpower; they alone will forge the family bond needed to survive. Although they do not look like the Cleavers or the Cunninghams, they represent the growingly common, unorthodox American family that has been closeted for too long. And don’t worry Debbie; they’re the best you can have. They’re nothing to be ashamed of.

Natalia Fallas is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. She can be reached at nmf28@cornell.edu. Television for Thought appears alternate Wednesdays. 

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Original Author: Natalia Fallas

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