Shameless Gentrification Narratives: Towards an Understanding of the Ideological Underpinnings of Urban Restructuring Storylines on Television

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Wissink, Rebecca
Shameless , gentrification , textual analysis , class , carnivalesque , defamiliarization , television studies , cultural studies , ideology , Marxism , feminism , qualitative research , neoliberalism
This qualitative research project queries the representations of gentrification scenes in the United States (U.S.) version of Shameless to answer the research question: What do the storylines of gentrification on Shameless tell the viewing publics about the causes and consequences of gentrification? I review the manifest content of scenes alongside a multitude of latent ideologies that my textual analyses uncovered. My investigation reveals that Shameless both perpetuates and challenges hegemonic ideology and that at times the ideological subtexts conflict with the manifest storylines on urban restructuring. By narrating the stories of members of a large, normatively dysfunctional, poor, White family in present-day urban Chicago, Shameless articulates subjective positionalities of the working-poor and barely working-class. In choosing to tell stories from the perspective of economically disadvantaged protagonists, this series diverges from a normative, middle-class televisual representation. The show is also unusual in how it deploys the technical codes of television: Shameless toys with televisual conventions and articulates its own discursive logics about the Southside neighbourhood and its class. Further, the show deploys an us versus them binary predicated on class unpredictably; that is, this binary does not faithfully adhere to logics that a particular political stance would seem to demand. My key finding is that, despite its potentially subversive choice of protagonists and use of storylines that expose some of the causes and consequences of gentrification, Shameless leaves several structural causes under-illuminated. The reasons for this are twofold. First, Shameless’s unreliability as a text compromises its ability to offer a sustained critique of public policy, particularly as it relates to the urban restructuring process of gentrification. Second, Shameless individualizes the gentrifier and focuses on the socio-cultural aspects of the process. Thus, its narrative logics silence neoliberal capitalism’s role in gentrification.
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