By Tim Stanley University of Oxford
BBC News, 26 October 2012
If all you saw of America was what you see on the news, you’d think it was an incredibly angry and divided country. The presidential election offers a stark choice between two different philosophies of government, and the polls suggest that the country is torn down the middle over which one is correct.
But there’s also plenty to be learned from America’s comedy output. Written to attract as many people as possible, US sitcoms don’t just succeed by being funny but also by being real. As a result, they do a good job of capturing the true complexity of people’s opinions.
On cultural issues, for example, they show that much has changed in the last 10 years. But some traditions and values remain that are as American as apple pie.
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After the “credit crunch”, the equivalent of an entire generation’s wealth was lost. The sitcoms have touched upon the new anxieties. ABC’s The Middle features a middle-aged couple raising three kids in middle-America, on a middle-income.
In one episode, the husband loses his job and the family have to downgrade their lifestyle. They go shopping in a budget supermarket that advertises, “Slightly Off Veal” and “Ronald Reagan Inaugural Jellybeans”.
When one of the kids asks if this means the family is now officially poor, the mum says, “No … we’re just trying something new called living within our means.” Horrified, the teenaged boy replies, “You mean we’ve been living outside our means?! Oh, God…”