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Is it REALLY a

SHAME

TO be sour?

Exploring the cycles of poverty shown in Sour Heart and Shameless


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E N T S HORIZONTAL 1 The part where the two primary sources, Sour Heart and Shameless are introduced 2 Poverty of one generation caused by the socioeconomic status of the previous generation 3 The groups that human can be divided into based on common ancestry and physical traits 4 A style, especially in the arts, that involves a particular set of characteristics 5 The part where the summary of this essay is given and the possible follow-up discussions are mentioned 6 The part where all the citations of the works cited in this essay are given

VERTICAL 2-a Money or other liquid sources of a government, business, group, or individual; Poverty is caused by a lack of this 2-b The science of mind and behavior; In this essay, this term is used to describe one’s mindset and attitude towards life 2-c The process of receiving a systematic instruction; One may not get a proper this when they are financially insufficient 4-a The transfer of the message from one group to the other

The definitions were taken from Cambridge English Dictionary and then modified to fit the purpose of this essay. The words in purpler are hyperlinked.

They will let you explore the contents in more depth.


Introduction: Sour Hearts and Shameless ↓Click on the posters to explore more!

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang is a collection of stories about Chinese-American immigrant girls. On the other hand, Shameless directed by Paul Abbott, is an American television comedy that follows a dysfunctional white family in the ghetto of Chicago. At first glance, the two narratives seem to share no similarities, however, the one link, lies in the poverty they both live in. Zhang asks America to question not only what they think immigration looks like but also what they think poverty looks like in America.

“Sour Hearts combines ingenious and tightly controlled technical artistry with an unfettered emotional directness” - Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker “Shameless is a funny-sad series about six cash-strapped, coupon-clipping youngsters who believe that being poor together is better than living comfortable yet separated lives with different foster parents” - David Nevins, President of Showtime

Through these narratives, it can be seen that the image of a poor black family in the ghetto should not be the first thought when one thinks of American poverty. Both Zhang and Abbot challenge this stereotype. There is one clear difference between these two pieces of fiction, and that lies in the outcome. Regardless of the work put in, in Sour Heart, we never see the upward climb that almost always promises of those who are white and poor, as we see in Abbott’s Shameless.


Introducing Sour The Hearts Cycle and of Shameless Poverty

The Cycle of Poverty

Lack of Job Opportunities

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Lack of Income

Lack of Education

Poverty is cyclical. As shown in Figure 1, lack of income causes lack of education, which then leads to lack of job opportunities that decreases the income. Named ’The Cycle of Poverty’, this vicious goes on and on unless there is a break. Although education is being used as a tool to break the cycle of poverty, the problem of financial instability of individuals in America still remains unsolved (Bonilla-Santiago).

Figure 1. The Poverty Cycle

Figure 2 is a graph that further illustrates the disparity in the United States compared to the other developed countries. The data presented is a percentage of a population living under the poverty line in each respective country. As shown in this figure, United States is one of the countries with high rate of poverty. In this essay, the cycle of poverty shown in Sour Heart and Shameless will be discussed. Figure 2. Poverty Rate “The United States has the second-highest rate of poverty among rich countries” (Merelli).


Intergenerational While Sour Heart and Shameless both tackles various themes such as familial love, girlhood and relationships, intergenerational poverty is the common theme between all six stories. Intergenerational poverty refers to a ‘poverty transmitted from one generation to another, with poor parents having poor children, who are more likely to become poor adults themselves’ (Intergenerational).

Examples from Sour Hearts

Examples from Shameless

The American Dream. The allure of the success brought

Shameless, a comedy freshly adapted from British Television was introduced to

families from one impoverished life to the next. The

American viewers in 2011. The Gallagher clan, six people deep, nonnuclear and

false hope made the parents immigrate to the States,

white, effectively challenges the ideas of what it looks like to be from the South Side.

and make sacrifices for their families. Sadly, their hard work turned to utter nothing. For example, Christina’s

Frank the father, with his drunken antics, albeit entertaining, provide no care for his

mother, even when she is exhausted from work,

five children. And with no mother in sight, this leaves Fiona, the eldest daughter to

“dragged the desk down twenty-something blocks on

step up to take the role of mother to her four other siblings. Lip, the eldest son, never

her own” for her little daughter, which led to her being

needs to cheat on a test but often uses his wit to slight others, and Ian is struggling

late to work and getting fired (Zhang 8). The little steps

with his sexuality and identity. The next youngest Debbie steals from her Unicef

the parents make did not significantly improve the status

collection to help pitch in. She’s closely followed by Carl who has habits that can

of the families, which then forces their kids to share the

point towards either sociopathy or ingenuity and finally the baby Liam, who despite

burden. Not enough food to eat, not enough place to

being biologically related to the rest of the family is somehow black - a fact that has

comfortably lie down and almost no personal spaces;

yet to be explained. Fiona has a responsibility of handling every and any need each

these are what the little ones had to endure.

child has while struggling to make ends meet.


Poverty Poverty affects all other factors such as psychology or education. A study proved that there is a positive relationship between income and happiness up to a certain level of income, which means that money plays a significant role in determining the quality of lives of low-income earners (Kahneman). As a result, the poor tend to choose $7.25, the minimum wage, over anything else, which makes their only focus in lives, money (“Minimum Wage”). Sour Heart and Shameless shows how the attitudes towards life and the level of education can get handed over to the next generation along with financial instability.

Mindset is also transmitted from one generation to the other

Christina’s dad, who used to teach poetry, had no faith in his students’ future (Zhang 23). His pessimistic yet realistic mindset illustrates the ‘reality’ the girls are exposed to. The girls in Sour Heart never had the chance to be kids; kids who believe in tooth fairies and Santa Claus, and think of their own parents as heroes. The girls had to be grown-ups, despite their lack of education. Christina had to move schools multiple times, which resulted in her repeating a year (Zhang 13). Lucy and her friends did not receive a proper sex education, which made them to learn the opposite sex on their own in a wrong but awkward way (Zhang 54). The socioeconomic status affected multiple aspects of the girls’ lives. Now, unlike other children that dream of becoming something incredible like a firefighter, an astronaut or a musician, the girls’ only dream is to get out of the poverty they were trapped living in (Doyle).

In Season One, Episode 9 viewers see the return of absentee mother, Monica Gallagher. Monica’s absence left little room for the Gallagher children to be exactly that children. And upon her return she not only disrupts the family balance she wishes to take the youngest Liam, in a bid to make it right for one of her six kids. This clip highlights all that Fiona has done for her younger siblings, despite living below the poverty, with few to rely on other than herself. Fiona Gallagher defied the norm as they were still successful despite the trauma of a parent leaving an alcoholic father. When watching the scene, it is important to remember what Rochlin states: the Gallaghers reality is one of “people[that] aren’t ‘the other’ — they’re people who live four blocks down from you and two blocks over” (Rochlin).


The current economy of the U.S. gives different opportunities to different races. Statistics show that White Americans have the highest net worth, followed by Latinos and Black (Amadeo). However, net worth alone is not enough to gauge the economic mobility of the races. This study shows the economic mobility of different races in the U.S. Similar to the statistics, white people have the highest mobility (Isaacs). Shameless, in the later seasons portrays this characteristic clearly. Fiona becomes the manager of the local diner and has enough money to purchase properties and become a landlord. Ian becomes an EMS who mentors local LGBTQ teens. Carl is accepted to a military academy where he will be able to put his skills to use, and Debbie goes to welding school to learn practical skills. Liam is awarded a full scholarship to the new prep school. While some depend on luck, these changes that the characters bring to their lives are surprisingly realistic. A white family living in poverty can mobilize and escape poverty.

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However, in Sour Heart, the Chinese immigrant families face a different situation. They are adjusting to the life in the U.S. and have to make a living in a system that is working against them. The first generation has to build their life from scratch with no help while struggling to learn English. The second generation is not so much better off. They were raised by the first generation who don’t have much to pass onto and were taught to not trust the system. This can be seen in Sour Heart, when Christina has no appreciation for the education system and often skips school whenever she wanted. The second generation might lack budget management skills, and some might still struggle with English, especially if they weren't properly educated. It is hard to imagine that the family in Sour Heart will gain the same mobility as the family in Shameless. If this family was white, then they could have been just as successful as the Gallaghers with the amount of work that they have put in.

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Christina, Chinese-American

Fiona, White American


Genre, the Way the Story is Delivered After closely looking at the how race and poverty operate in Sour Heart and Shameless, one must also acknowledge the way each narrative is distributed to the public and how delivery through different medium affect the reader or viewer’s experience. The goals of both a novel and TV shows are the same; each writer wanted to deliver their story to a wide audience, just with a different emphasis.

A novel allows the readers to visualize the situation themselves. Zhang, by depicting what poverty looks like in details, leaves a room for the audience to put themselves in Chinese-American immigrant families’ shoes. What would happen if Sour Heart was distributed as a TV show? Since what the audience first see from the characters are the ethnicity and how the characters are different from them, most of the non-Asian audience may find it hard to relate to the show. Considering that Asian-American is a minority in the States, novel may be the most efficient way to let the audience to have second-hand experiences.

Readers may feel disgusted imagining cockroaches (Zhang 3)

On the other hand, TV shows provides the audience with pre-made visuals. Abbott showcases the raw, yet oddly relatable nature of the Gallaghers through their daily struggles with an incredible casting and a hyperrealistic script. Every scene in Shameless is made with the director’s intention, which means that what the audience see is what the directors want them to observe. The characteristics of the TV shows make it easier for Abbott to emphasize certain themes. The audience are directly shown the obstacles Fiona faces (Abbott)


Conclusion

“Over 48 million Americans live in poverty” (Gillespie)

When interviewed by Lindsay’s Magazine, Zhang expresses her concern. “Maybe Sour Heart is the only fiction book someone who knows nothing about Chinese-Americans reads. I wouldn’t want them to form all their ideas about Chinese-Americans through my book. First, it’s fiction. Second, it’s not a textbook. Third, you’re not supposed to form any generalities about a group of people until you’ve done extensive research” (Cha). Even with extensive research, it is important that you are careful with what you take away from Sour Heart, Shameless or any other fictional commentary on society. Each story was meant to introduce something the American population had yet to see, but maybe not what the population was ready for. Only with a keen eye, an open mind, and full acknowledge of the fictionality of each narrative can only truly appreciate and comment on the artistry that is Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart and Paul Abbott’s Shameless.

Sour Heart and Shameless, regardless of what the other themes are, have their basis on the cycle of poverty. Through their narratives in different medium, Jenny Zhang and Paul Abbott successfully showed the reality of the American poverty: it is intergenerational and is correlated with other factors like education. Now, the audience is more aware of the lives of the poor in the States. However, this should not be the end of the discussion. American citizens should be provided with more information on poverty and think about the solutions to the issue. Mark Rank summarizes the reason why the poverty has yet to be fixed. “First, there is a need to recognize that poverty affects us all, rather than seeing it as germane to someone else. Second, poverty is largely the result of failings at the economic and political levels, rather than at the individual level. And third, the moral ground on which poverty should be understood is one of injustice and the need for social change, rather than that of individual blame” (Rank).

It is now the time for a change to be made.

Siyeon Park, Taryn Edwards


Works Cited Abbott, Paul, director. Shameless. Showtime, 2011. Amadeo, Kimberly. “How to Close the Racial Wealth Gap in the United States.” The Balance Small Business, The Balance, 6 Nov. 2018, www.thebalance.com/ racial-wealth-gap-in-united-states-4169678. Annaece. “Shameless US | Fiona's Speech to Monica.” YouTube, YouTube, 7 Mar. 2011, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykUTh9cVuJs&t=9s. Bonilla-Santiago, Gloria. “Education: Key to Breaking Cycle of Poverty.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 Jan. 2018, www.huffingtonpost.com/ gloria-bonilla-santiago/education-key-to-breaking_b_14369716.html. Chua, Shu-Ling. “The Short Stories of Another New York: An Interview with Jenny Zhang.” Lindsay Magazine, 12 June 2018, lindsaymagazine.co/an-interview-with-jenny-zhang/. Doyle, Alison. “Top 15 Dream Jobs for Kids.” The Balance Careers, Dotdash, 10 Oct. 2018, www.thebalancecareers.com/top-kids-dream-jobs-2062280. “Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty.” CPRC News, Chronic Poverty Research Centre, www.chronicpoverty.org/page/igt. Isaacs, Julia B. “Economic Mobility of Black and White Families.” Brookings.edu, The Brookings Institution, 28 July 2016, www.brookings.edu/research/economicmobility-of-black-and-white-families/. Kahneman, D., and A. Deaton. “High Income Improves Evaluation of Life but Not Emotional Well-Being.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 107, no. 38, 2010, pp. 16489–16493., doi:10.1073/pnas.1011492107. Merelli, Annalisa. “The US Has a Lot of Money, but It Does Not Look like a Developed Country.” Quartz, Quartz, 21 Mar. 2017, qz.com/879092/the-us-doesnt-looklike-a-developed-country/. “Minimum Wage.” United States Department of Labor, www.dol.gov/. Park, Reda. “ENGL 1102 - The American Dream.” YouTube, YouTube, 20 Nov. 2018, youtu.be/VFR4tOyyvsg. Gillespie, Partick. “Over 48 Million Americans Live in Poverty.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network, 16 Oct. 2014, money.cnn.com/2014/10/16/news/economy/48million-americans-poverty-census-bureau/index.html. Zhang, Jenny. Sour Heart: Stories. Lenny, 2018.

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