Working Class Reality TV: The Final Episodes

Hard Earned – Episodes 5 and 6

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

The final episodes of Hard Earned (“Fight for Fifteen” and “New Beginnings”) reveal mostly positive outcomes for the five families – in part due to their resourcefulness and in part (in my view) to extremely good luck.

Chicago: DJ loses his union job because it requires a car and he can’t afford the expense and upkeep. He finds a new job as field director for a voter mobilization campaign.

Montgomery: The couple finally find a house and mortgage they can afford and refurbish it to enable Elizabeth’s parents to move into their basement. They have been paying the $1700 mortgage on her parents’ home since her father developed cancer. Jose finally passes his math class and starts a part-time internship at a radio station to supplement his full time job at the courthouse.

Silicon valley: Hilton quits his Google job after he learns enough English to pass a food handlers exam. However he is forced to take a second job as a busboy to pay their medical bills and higher housing expenses (they have moved out of the garage into a house they share with another couple). His girlfriend takes a minimum wage job at a market.

Milwaukee: Percy finally lands a full time maintenance job that pays $11.25 and hour, and his wife, who has severe arthritis in her knees, is finally able to retire.

Evergreen Park: Emilia finally finds a good-paying waitress job and receives additional income from speaking tours about her struggle with drug and alcohol recovery.


For earlier episodes see Fighting Homelessness: Reality TV That Depicts Reality and  Reality TV: More Truth About the American Working Class

Reality TV: More Truth About the American Working Class

Hard Earned – Episodes 3 and 4

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

Hard Earned episodes 3 and 4 (“Minimum Wage” and “Dreams Deferred”) follow the families introduced in the first two episodes (see Reality TV That Depicts Reality) as they make strenuous efforts to improve their life situation.

Chicago: DJ gets fed up with ongoing racial harassment (from his supervisors) he experiences at Walgreen’s and thinks strongly of joining the military. Fortunately his family dissuades him. He quits his Walgreen’s job and becomes a union organizer for the Fight for Fifteen Campaign* – where he makes twice what Walgreen’s paid him.

Montgomery: Jose and his girlfriend continue to move back and forth (on a weekly basis) between their parents’ homes when they fail to qualify for a mortgage on a new home. Jose struggles to pass a math class he needs to qualify for an associate degree in broadcasting.

Milwaukee: we learn that Percy and Marge have been forced to apply for bankruptcy to prevent their home from being foreclosed on. After 13 years of making payments on a 9% mortgage, they still owe the original $79,000 they borrowed.

Silicon Valley: Hilton, who works as a dishwasher for Google (through a temp agency), finds a better paying second job as an assistant restaurant manager. His girlfriend experiences pregnancy complications (which cost them $13,000) and loses her twins.

Evergreen Park. Emilia unsuccessfully applies for 48 better paying jobs in a month. Owing to the ongoing recession, the restaurant business is really slow. This drastically reduces her tips, which comprise over half her wages. (The Illinois minimum wage for restaurant workers is $4.95.) A friend helps her get a part-time evening job in telephone sales.


*Fight for Fifteen is a national campaign for a “living wage” of $15 an hour.

 

Fighting Homelessness: Reality TV that Depicts Reality

Hard Earned – Parts 1 and 2

Al Jazeera (2015)

Film Review

As it bears no relation whatsoever to modern life, so-called “reality” TV is clearly a misnomer. Most of what passes for reality TV are highly scripted popularity contests for physically attractive white contestants.

Al Jazeera’s six-episode series Hard Earned, depicting the bitter struggle millions of Americans face to stay off the streets, is my kind of reality TV. Although I myself found it riveting, I am high skeptical that any US media provider will ever carry it.

Hard Earned follows five working class families as they struggle to meet basic survival needs with minimum wage jobs.

The families include an African American Chicago couple who work full time jobs at Walgreens to support two preschool kids; an Hispanic Iraq veteran in Montgomery Maryland who works a graveyard clerical shift at the courthouse, his school counselor girlfriend and his school aged son from a prior marriage; a Silicon Valley Hispanic man who works two full time jobs to pay $300 a month to live in a garage with his pregnant girlfriend; a 66/65-year-old African American Milwaukee couple who face working indefinitely at minimum wage jobs to keeping from losing their home; and a 50-year-old white Evergreen Park (Illinois) waitress who works two jobs and survives on credit cards to keep from losing the house she bought while making $80,000 a year as a construction worker.

We are introduced to the five families in Episode 1 and 2 (“The American Dream” and “Rock Bottom”). You are immediately struck by how exceptionally bright, hard working, resourceful and above all (for the most part) physically healthy they all are. This, despite working non-stop and getting very little sleep. They are also (for the most part) extremely adept at budgeting and managing their money.

 

 

America’s 1.4 Million Homeless Veterans

Shelter: America’s Homeless Veterans

Al Jazeeera (Barbara Koppel) 2017

Film Review

This heartbreaking documentary is about the  1.4 million US veterans who are either homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness, due to poverty, mental illness, alcoholism and/or drug addiction. An American vet commits suicide every 61 seconds.

With the demise of nearly all Veterans Administration programs (eg GI Bill of Rights) that helped World War II vets reintegrate into society, veterans of America’s permanent War on Terror are mostly left to their own devices.

Owing to an extreme shortage of female shelter beds, homeless female veterans are the most underserved. Many homeless female vets were raped while serving, some multiple times. Those who report their sexual assault to superior officers are frequently kicked out of the military.

Living on the Street in Los Angeles

On the Streets – Los Angeles

Los Angeles Times (2016)

Film Review

This is one of the better documentaries I’ve seen on homelessness. Based on a 2016 LA Times survey, it mainly focuses on high functioning homeless people, many of whom hold full time jobs.

According to the survey, in 2016 there were 44,000 homeless people in LA county. The survey mapped their location and whether they were living rough or in tents, camper vans or cars. The number of homeless living in vehicles doubled between 2015 and 2016.

It’s common for women in tents to cluster in “family” groups for security. The filmmakers interview a Skid Row cop who monitors the welfare of homeless people on his beat. He talks about a big increase in rapes, robbery, assaults and sex trafficking – due to criminals who prey on the homeless.

For me, the most interesting part of the film is an interview with a UCLA graduate student who lives in his car and is working with other homeless UCLA students to establish a youth homeless shelter. In the US, roughly 56,000 university students are homeless.

Greeks Fight Back Against Austerity and Fascism

Love and Revolution

Directed by Yannis Youlountis (2018)

Film Review

Love and Revolution is about the growing anarchist movement fighting Greece’s deepening austerity cuts (which have cut salaries and pensions in half and ended health care access for a million patients). The film consists mainly of interviews with anarchists over the specific projects they are organizing. The documentary emphatically challenges the recent announcement by the IMF and the European Central Bank that Greek austerity has ended. After years of brutal austerity resulting in thousands of deaths, the Greek government is further than ever from repaying its debt to European bankers.

Among the projects that most impressed me are

  • a social kitchen that regular provides free meals on the street.
  • an anti-eviction movement that has been by occupying and shutting down eviction hearings at the District Court.
  • an ongoing squat that has provided accommodation to more than 6,000 refugees in the last five years.
  • an antifascist campaign that has shut down Golden Dawn* offices in Athens and established Exarcheia, a fascist-free zone that also effectively excludes Greek police.
  • a campaign to block the construction of a new airport in a pristine rural/agricultural area.
  • a YouTube channel dedicated to Greek news from the viewpoint of anti-austerity activists, rather than police and banks.

*See Greek Austerity and the Rise of Fascism

Tomorrow We Disappear: The Human Price of Development

Tomorrow We Disappear: New Dehli’s Kathputli Slum

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This is one of the saddest and most beautifully made documentaries I’ve ever seen. It concerns a 60-year-old artist colony in a New Dehli slum called Kathputli. The film follows the artists’ futile struggle to block government plans to evict them to make way for a shopping mall and high rise commercial and residential buildings.

The 1500 artists who have learned their craft from parents and grandparents, consist of magicians, puppeteers, musicians, carvers, acrobats, fire eater, dancers and jugglers. Most earn a meager living as street performers in the crowded streets of New Dehli. The documentary follows their fruitless negotiations with government officials and property developers.

In the end they organize a series of colorful protests featuringde giant puppets, stilt walkers, jugglers, acrobats and magicians in brilliantly colored costumes. Their goal is to call public attention to what is being lost.

Their colony was bulldozed in late 2017, and they were all moved to temporary “transit” camps (they look more like concentration camps) at considerable distance from Dehli.