Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Cheers laid bare: in a bold and au courant gesture delayed only by the merciless determinations of seasonally-driven programming schedules, the fall premier of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia takes the ongoing US mortgage crisis as the principle point of entry into the fold of its misery. Synopsis: Frank Reynolds (Danny DeVito) ropes the gang into helping him flip a house purchased at a foreclosure auction. A study released earlier today by the Brennan Center for Justice (NYU School of Law) claims:
Over 1 million homes entered foreclosure in 2007. In 2008, over three million foreclosures were filed — an increase of more than 225 percent from 2006 — and one in 54 homes received at least one foreclosure filing during that year. Foreclosures were up 18 percent this August from the same month in 2008. At the current rate, nearly 2,900 families lose their home each day. The crisis shows no signs of abating. In the next four years, continuing foreclosures could mean the loss of 8.1 million homes. Although there was initial optimism that foreclosures would taper off in 2009, according to Jay Brinkman, Chief Economist of the Mortgage Brokers’ Association, “the effects of job losses and general economic deterioration make the 2009 outlook worse…”
Cheers is always already Cheers laid bare. It's a lie that never fails to disclose itself as such. It's Always Sunny on the other hand is something markedly different. In this case we find a narrative that masterfully disguises and reproduces the lie it pretends to critique by way of its own "edgy" speaking-truth-to-stupidity exterior. But It's Always Sunny can never not be Cheers. It's Always Sunny will always be Cheers. It can be nothing else:
Under monopoly conditions the more life forces anyone who wishes to survive into deceit, trickery and insinuation and the less the individual can depend any longer upon a stable profession for his living, upon the continuity of labour, then all the greater becomes the might of sport in mass culture and the outside world in general. Mass culture is a kind of training for life when things have gone wrong (Adorno, "The Schema of Mass Culture").
Recall the opening line to the theme for Cheers: "Making your way in the world today takes everything you got." We do not make things. We make ways (Heidegger would agree) and these ways are the intangible (but no less material) products of a labor with no conceivable end. Of course there are breaks to be taken, breaks granted, and time spent at the bar is time given to break. The bar in Cheers provides a neutral space, an almost Edenic garden-like space, for a thinking and dialogue exterior to the brute force of competitive market-driven economies. The bar in this way is the space of an aside, a note to self when self exists in the cultural imaginary as an internally differentiated and coherent community of people connected to one another through economic necessity: the neighborhood &c. To take a load off our feet. But (and this is the lie laid bare) the bar "in mass culture and the outside world in general" has always been a site of sport (competition), a construction site where ways continue to be made, where social relations are reinscribed and reproduced, where schemes to flip foreclosed homes are successfully hatched. The bar itself is never not a site of exchange or evidence of a way competing with other ways to be made.

But every lie metastasizes, extends to or creates the conditions for others. The lie in the Season 3 premier of It's Always Sunny is twofold: the "homeowner" living through foreclosure has legal representation; the gang's attempt to flip the house is foiled by their own greed. The thrust of the Brennan Center report focuses on the issue of legal representation in relation to the mortgage crisis:
By some estimates, 80 percent of the legal needs of America’s poor go unmet. The unprecedented foreclosure crisis has significantly intensified what has been a long growing and chronic shortage of legal assistance for low-income citizens.

Because lenders targeted low-income, Latino, African-American and other minority groups for subprime loans, there is also an explicit – and dramatic – race and class component to the current crisis. In these communities, a downward spiral can well be expected: the rolling contagion of layoffs and service cutbacks is hitting low-income and minority communities with disproportionate impact.
The report claims two-thirds of US citizens are homeowners, a shocking figure that, if we accept it, throws the concept of ownership itself (propriety; property; the appropriate) into sharp relief. Like bars, it seems sensible to suggest the shape of neighborhoods are determined by a confluence of factors (i.e. location, demographics, etc.). Cliff Clavin, whose apartment couch doubles as his bed, drinks at Cheers because it resides at the end of his postal route. His presence at the bar is contingent, even incidental. And he pays daily for this contingency through the constant devaluation of his labor and intelligence (Clavin is the only regularly-occurring blue-collar patron at the bar; a stock character framed as dim but loyal, unsophisticated but affectionate; his is a character willfully not developed). In other words, viewers recognize that unlike Frasier Crane (a psychologist) or Norm Peterson (an accountant), Cliff would not be at this particular bar were it not for the postal beat assigned to him. And within the frame of the narrative there's a direct relation between Clavin's intellectual capacity and his job which is immediately clear to the viewer. But the viewer might also recognize Clavin doesn't belong at the pub in It's Always Sunny either, a recognition useful in considering how neighborhoods and their bars ("real" or imagined) take shape. And in both shows, people of color reside beyond the pale.

According to the Brennan Center report providing legal representation for indigent Americans would effectively slow or even stem the tide of the mortgage crisis. But there appears to be a crisis in representation that shoots through the need for legal counsel — and through cultural representations of the unemployed and working poor — toward perhaps a culturally universalized ethos of sport that invests things like predatory lending practices with an unchallenged sense of fairness at precisely the same time it condemns the savage character of these practices once their results are admitted to vision.