One of the cool things about Tivo is that it allows you to add or remove channels at will. I know pretty much every television set has this function, but not with a cool-looking interface that makes neat booping noises whenever you push a button, so as far as I’m concerned, that doesn’t count. Anyway, the first time I plugged in my Tivo, I was like a kid in a candy store with the deleting of the channels. We have DirecTV, meaning there’s like a hundred channels continuously broadcasting DirecTV ads, and those were the first to go. Then the stations that broadcast nothing but music 24 hours a day and have names like “Sounds of the Season” or “Hungarian Folk Songs.” Finally, I had to go back through and get rid of all the Spanish and Chinese stations, because Tivo kept recording Spanish and Chinese soap operas for me when I wasn’t looking. So on and so forth. I have created what is essentially the perfect television bubble for myself.
Anyway, in my haste, I guess I removed the FX Channel from our lineup. I don’t think I meant to do this, but on the other hand, it’s been over a year and I hadn’t noticed up until now. Having no interest in watching Nip/Tuck or The Shield or Buffy reruns, I guess I’d never bothered to look. But that was before 30 Days.
The show is the creation of Morgan Spurlock, star and director of last year’s Super Size Me. If you haven’t seen the movie, it follows Spurlock through a month of eating nothing but McDonald’s. Pretty much every disgusting thing that you imagine happening to a person dumb enough to subsist on that crap happens to Spurlock, and then some. I thought it was okay — entertaining/awful, but not as powerful as Eric Schlosser’s book, Fast Food Nation. He’s a talented director, and he’s got an engaging screen presence. Basically, as a muckraker, he’s Michael Moore without the schlubby shtick and annoying need to insert himself into shots where he doesn’t belong; in other words, he can be an agitator without being overwhelmingly divisive. I believe that we on the left need more people like Spurlock and fewer like Moore and Al Franken. We need guys who can take lefty politics and present them as simple common sense. O’Reilly and Limbaugh, et al. do it on the right — nobody’s doing it on the left. Give him a few years, and I think Spurlock can, and hopefully will.
If the first episode of 30 Days is any indication, he’s well on his way. The show follows the basic conceit of Super Size Me — spend a month doing something that may not seem like such a good idea — and takes it on the road. For the debut, Spurlock and his fiancÃ©e decided to try living on minimum wage. It may not seem all that earth-shattering — everybody outside the Heritage Foundation probably understands that living on minimum wage is difficult, if not impossible — but understanding it and seeing it are two very different things. Spurlock, in my case, is definitely preaching to the choir; I expected to come away from the show sadder, but none the wiser. But no. Insofar as any television show is able to do so, 30 Days drives home the grimy despair that is the daily existence of the working poor.
Small detour: About ten years ago, I found myself “between homes” for a few weeks. I wasn’t broke, not jobless, and not really homeless, but for awhile there, I had to alternate between sleeping in motels, on friends’ couches, and in my car. For most of this period, I was just waiting for the room in my new place to open up, but still, if you’ve ever lived out of the trunk of your car for an extended period, you know it’s no fun. I remember moving into my new place and being surprised at how overjoyed I was just to have a closet again. I mean, a closet. I’m a guy — I doubt I’d ever given my closet more than a moment’s thought before that day. But there you go. Nothing like storing your clothes in garbage bags to remind you of the importance of the simple things in life.
I was reminded of this during a scene in the first episode of 30 Days where, having gone to the local free store for some furniture, Spurlock’s fiancÃ©e marvels at how wonderful it is to be sitting on a chair at a table in their kitchen. They’d been eating on the (ant-covered) floor in their apartment. She remarks that they may not be able to afford to eat anything besides beans and rice, but at least they’ll be doing it at a table. There’s other stuff in there — like the sequence in which both Spurlock and his fiancÃ©e have to visit an emergency room, and they discover that her prescription and his x-ray have cost them over a thousand dollars, including forty bucks for an Ace bandage — but for sheer “pow,” I don’t think anything drives home the episode’s message like the kitchen scene. The message is: if you are watching this show, you’re pretty damn lucky. You can afford a television set, and cable, and you’re home at night instead of working your second full-time job just so you can wind up $800 in the hole at the end of the month. I’ve been moping around lately, and as lame as this probably sounds, the show kicked me in the nuts a little.
Folks, poverty is a problem, and the money gap is a problem, and they haven’t been discussed much. In my quest to refine my ramblings here, I’ve mostly stayed away from political rants for awhile, but maybe that’ll change soon. For now, I’ll just admonish you to sign up with ACORN. These good people have been leading the fight for local “living wage” laws around the country — if Congress won’t increase the federal minimum wage, this is the best way of addressing the problem.
Oh, and watch 30 Days.