Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I have been watching too much Oprah recently, in between my increasing load of freelance work. I have always been fascinated by Americans but an episode last week left me intrigued rather than just the usual cringing at how they applaud every remark and guest who reveals a dramatic life story.

Oprah sometimes raises important issues and this particular show focused on class and how many Americans are struggling with downward mobility and social exclusion following job loss and financial strain.

Usually I’m laughing at the screen, promising to stop watching rubbish in my pyjamas all afternoon. However, I was amazed at how much emphasis the Americans place on their social class status. Guests were close to tears as they explained how losing their jobs had seen friends disappear from their lives. Invites for play dates with the kids and dinner parties were cancelled.

Surely a real friend wouldn't care if you are working or not?
Unless you are sponging off your friends, which none of these people was, it should not affect real friendships. The show highlighted the highly superficial social circles that the American identity is built on.

Thankfully, in my experience, we Irish aren’t as clear-cut with our class structure. The psychologist on Oprah clearly stated that if you earn a certain amount you belonged to a certain class. I think that it has become increasingly irrelevant to judge and label someone based on this sole factor.

People now go through life earning varied amounts of money perhaps in several careers. For me alone I would certainly be a social contradiction - a college graduate with no proper job, a northsider who now lives in D4, sister to a first-class graduate but also an unemployed brother who’s yet to figure out his path in life.

Nothing is simple any more – Ireland now has highly educated and qualified men claiming the dole while among the richest people are drug dealers and crime lords. This confirms why money should not be a marker of one’s status, or at least people should not be judged solely on their income.

Oprah’s show highlighted everything that is wrong with America perhaps but, on a lighter note, it does make me feel better about my own situation. Another episode had a couple who owed €90,000 on their credit cards, both unemployed.

I felt instantly better about my own debt and headed straight for Dundrum to buy something on my visa, proving for sure that American talk shows really are a bad influence.

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