Think about the Romantic period, and unless you’re midway through your English degree – and honestly even that is no inoculation – you’ll probably think of a figure of the landed gentry, lounging around and writing poetry while spending endless amounts of money and drinking wine. I mean, you wouldn’t be altogether wrong about some of that – they’d actually be off their faces on laudanum, that was a major take-home fact from a 9 month module – it’s an enduring image, that of the landed gentry and their endless time for leisure. We like to think that we’ve thrown this off, that TV and movies now represent a better mirror to our society than novels and poems ever could. Except we’re totally wrong, because our TV culture is obsessed with glossing over all elements of money. We keep getting served characters who are living way, way beyond their means.
Why does TV keep embracing this? I’ve just finished Master of None season two, and it’s a really good show. It offers a nuanced look at race relations, sexuality, modern dating, friendship, the lot. But I keep screaming, every episode, ‘WHERE ARE YOU GETTING THE MONEY FOR THIS?!’ I mean have you seen the apartment he lives in? It’s lovely. He lives in New York and is a mostly unemployed actor. ‘Ah but he’s a presenter for a TV show!’ I hear you cry, dear fictional reader. So, I decided to get incredibly wonky about the entire thing. There’s a case afoot, and I’m damned if I’m not going to work out how he does it. Join me then, on a fascinating financial tour through the world of Dev’s earnings.
So how much would Dev make? In 2012, a television host earned an average of $41,860 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those working specifically in cable television, where you’d find most cooking shows, earned much more, at an average of $59,650 a year, as of 2010. Now, let’s assume that he earns less than average, because it’s specifically referenced multiple times that the show he works on isn’t very good. So, he earns, let’s say, $52,000. In New York, if you make $52,000.00 a year, you will be taxed $12,728.55. That means that your take home pay will be $39,271.45 per year, or $3,272.62 per month. (Your average tax rate is 24.48%) Let’s deduct rent from that – which for a decent NYC apartment, can average $2,700 a month. So that’s $36,000 a year. That’s a lot – nearly all – of his take home pay! Almost all of it! Dev has $3,000 dollars, give or take, to last him the rest of the season, where he attends 3 parties, goes on at least 10 dates, and regularly eats out. And I don’t mean sort of Friends-tier eating out, where they order pizza all the time (I can sort of, maybe, see how that’s not hugely financially irresponsible. I imagine pizza is quite cheap in NYC, and if they’re all chipping in, then sure.)
But Dev eats at seriously nice places. In episode one, he eats at a restaurant that has a months-long waiting list. He eats the tasting menu, with wine. There’s no way that’s gonna come to less than €200. He rents a Vespa, which is probably about €60, a car which is probably €250, and his flight home was almost certainly around €300. That’s nearly €1000 – €810 to be precise. The Euro is currently stronger than the dollar, so in dollars that’s $885.61. Dev spent almost 1/3 of his entire yearly disposable income in Italy. And he hasn’t even bought groceries yet. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the average NY household spends $4,055 a year on groceries, but let’s say that Dev doesn’t buy much and only spends half of it, that’s still $2,000 a year. In other words, by the time he’s got back from Italy, the rest of the season should just be Dev sitting in, eating beans on toast and trying to sell his trendy clothing on depop; alternatively, 5 episodes of Dev trying to sort out his vast amount of credit card debt.
Now yeah, I’ve gone over the top with the financial analysis, but this matters, because we’re still culturally obsessed with consuming a media that gives its protagonists endless amounts of money. If the only representation we see of people like us on TV is them eating out, living in apartments we could never afford, and generally seeming to deal with a lot less stress than we do, what is that doing to us? I’m not saying I know; I’m just saying that I doubt it’s anything good. Nor am I coming out swinging for some odd sort of Soviet-style gritty realism as the only form of TV that gets made.
I’m not saying that every TV show needs to be a solemn reading of E.P Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class, but we need to at least stop kidding ourselves that these shows are progressive when it comes to class. I’m not saying that all TV needs to offer us this, but surely one or two mainstream shows dealing with what it’s like to deal with being young and getting by in a large city would be a great boon. Seeing the struggle of people like us is always nice, and there are shows that deal with this – Broad City springs to mind, and the best example of this is probably Donald Glover’s show, Atlanta, in particular the season finale. Neither of these, though, has cracked into truly mainstream appeal, and I can’t think of any shows that deal with how living in London is really fucking hard, emotionally and financially. Fact is, I love this city that I now call home, but there’s no denying that I sometimes feel like London is killing me, and not just because it’s incredibly polluted. Orwell’s Down and Out offers us an insight, as does NW by Zadie Smith, but it would be great to see some TV deal with the issue. It might even justify the cost of my Netflix subscription.