Shameless is the Malcolm in the Middle of this generation – and anyone whose read my analyses of TV shows how much I love (is worship too strong a word?) that show. Only take the family dysfunction to a whole new level and add a metric fuck ton of sex and drugs because it’s on Showtime. Actually, I’d say, in a way, the Gallaghers are more of a tight nit bunch than the (at first I thought I was slippin’ by not remembering Malcolm’s family’s name, but then I looked it up and found out they were never given a last name so I’ll just call them the Muniz’s) Muniz’s because while the latter often have feuds with each other and only occasionally rally together as a family to protect a single member, the former are in every episode sacrificing for the other or showing empathy that only occasionally appears in MitM. In some ways then, they’re radically different shows: MitM exposing the selfishness and egoism of either (or both) American culture and the human condition, while also being about the trials of a smart kid in a stupid world; while Shameless seems to be more about the anti-thesis. How poverty and hardships requires a family to sacrifice for each other while abandoning conventional (i.e. Christian) notions of morality via sex, theft and drug use. A very strange dichotomy, if that’s the right word. One show where the family is dysfunctional (MitM) and resentful of each other but has very bourgeois and moralist notions on stealing, vandalism and drugs. In that when the boys steal or vandalize the parents punish, and hard drugs are never referenced. Yet in Shameless the family is actually (and not in that bullshit Leave it to Beaver Full House way) strong, loving and united but completely abandon “common” moral notions and live almost as Nihilists regarding society but never each other.
One of the interesting aspects of the show is if it has any politically explicit message. Frank often spouts ignorant right-wing babble, but because he is the archetype loser we’re expected to see such idiocy for what it is. But not as ignorant or extreme right-wing sentiments are occasionally said by other main characters who we are supposed to empathize with and “root for.” It seems unlikely that the writers of the show are actually broadcasting these views as their own because of how they go against the main sociological victory of the show namely accurately and brilliantly depicting the lives of those who live in poverty as result of living in a capitalist country. As an accurate representation, it seems to wish to depict the political beliefs of the poor in this country, which as the show’s writer puts “are not blue collar but ‘no collar.’ Overall the political statements made in this show, asides from when Lip says the only way the poor can gain substantial capital is to either steal it or scam it, are interestingly enough the anti-thesis of one of the main essences of the show (acknowledging the effects of market structures on society) and also going along with it in depicting the ignorance of the poor and how their condition makes them so that they will never acknowledge and fight against those who made them so. However many films and movies accurately depict poverty and its effects, and this show has far grander truths that are seldom depicted in television.
One being that Frank is the exact definition of someone who the Cynics are railing against – a completely accurate portrayal of the unvirtuous man. Hedonistic, apathetic of others, constantly looking for a way to get the most of the simplest and most base pleasures possible with as little work as possible. He is the depiction of Schopenhauer’s argument that true joy and richness in life comes from within, not from outside sources. For he constantly is inebriated and intoxicated on one source or another – and though he may have moments of pleasure he is miserable in that he is constantly craving more and never content with himself, never able to occupy himself; seen most-of-all in the episode where he most go two weeks sober and acts as a decent father simply for a distraction. He is also somewhat a better example of Kierkegaard’s Aesthete than Kramer, though in other ways Kramer is a better representation.
Lip however could be regarded as a Cynical hero. Both in the colloquial use of the word with his pessimism and skepticism towards American Capitalism and social mores, but also in the philosophical sense of having reason for finding such mores groundless. He comes from a slum and begins the show as arguably a Hedonist but an intellectual one. He however always possessed a certain form of self-reliance that Frank never had, and once he enters college though he fails at-first he develops the determination and general character of virtue required to excel – resilience and work ethic being some of the main virtues in the Cynic-Stoic’s Virtue Ethics. Jimmy however was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. The first two seasons when money isn’t an issue and he’s living at the Gallagher’s mostly to fuck Fiona but also perhaps to feel like he’s slumming it (while in reality is living the high life stealing cars and can leave whenever he pleases) and it’s all good for him. But when he actually has to live like the Gallagher’s rather than with the Gallagher’s he crumbles from having to work a job and take care of kids. He wants to and does leave Fiona because he realizes he may love Fiona but cannot function or suffer enough to become functional in a slum. Lip however because he always had a drunken absentee parent learns self-reliance and taking only what he needs, and therefore can survive as either rich or poor – as the Cynics and Stoics mention in multiple times.
I think the final events of the first season show a distinction in poor states of being that I think deserve elaboration. Frank is a son of a bitch but until season three where out of spite he calls Child Custody on Fiona he has never done anything out of malice. He is willing to harm anyone if it gets him his next fix or a place to sleep, but he never intends on hurting anyone. However, at the end of the season Karen fucks Frank to hurt his father after she’s wounded from him (her father) calling her a whore. According to a moral sentimentalist Frank is better because apathy towards others creates less revulsion than malevolence. But to a utilitarian the only thing of consequence is the consequence(s) of the action at hand. Karen’s actions leads towards her father’s suicide and other’s hating Frank (arguably irrationally) so it could be argued that actions done out of malevolence are more harmful on average than those done out of apathy.
I would argue however that apathy can be just as if not more detrimental and devastating a state of mind for a community; for while malevolence has us respond in-kind typically and dislike or rally against hatred (against racism, homophobia etc) apathy, such as the apathy felt towards the poor of the world over, allows the criminals who profit off the poor (and act out of callow self-interest rather than hatred or contempt; though some of the bourgeoisie have feelings of disgust and moral blame towards the poor like a master does his slave) and apathy will ultimately be the damnation of mankind. For we millions are apathetic towards climate change while in their ignorance (both in terms of knowledge and state of mind) fear terrorism, “the gay agenda” and other non-sense.
The scenario also shows the double standard on consent and an incorrect interpretation of Utilitarianism. Everyone hates Frank for having sex with a minor, while he was on pain pills, being coerced into and explicitly saying “no” throughout. Yet he is in the wrong. This double-standard in sex is introduced again the episode a female pederast moves into the neighborhood. The guys get together to beat the shit out of a presumed him, only to meekly leave (except Lip – once again the shows intellect) while Lip sees their inconsistency. Also, false Utilitarianism is shown in people being angry with what Frank did (getting raped) rather than what Karen did (doing the raping). Someone could criticize Utilitarianism for saying than Frank did more of a moral crime for he caused more suffering. Firstly, it was Karen who initiated the joint-action, but also it wrongly is from a Moral Sentimentalist-Utilitarian standpoint of how people feeling in the moment being the main factor in the Utilitarian Calculus. One could argue that homosexuality is wrong on M.S. grounds, or legalizing it is wrong because it creates indignation. However, of course studies show homosexuality is not worse than bigotry, and overall, this is operating from the flawed reasoning and understanding of reality that how people feel is more important or is a accurate conduit to what is best for them. People may feel a way about science, but that has no bearing on its utility. The same goes for all other things.
I thought one of the best moments of the series (haven’t watched all the episodes, work in progress) and a perfect way to end season one was when Frank apologizes to his son for what he did (though for more reason than one it wasn’t his fault) and says that they’re both victims. What it seems he may be alluding to (most-likely without knowing it, and if he isn’t it still seems far to extrapolate this wisdom from the situation) is that as causal beings we are all victims of life and therefore should be responded to with sympathy and compassion rather than curses and moral condemnation. Something that shows that even the most wretched and ignorant can at-times have moments of wisdom though they act in the most heinous and idiotic of ways. Lip however, regardless of whether or not he agrees with Frank’s sentiments intellectually, rejects it (or fails to understand it) phenomenologically clearly through urinating on his father.
The end of season four is full of philosophic material (the majority of the series is actually, I however cannot write an essay detailing it all due-to the time it would take and through most of it being redundant and very shallow wisdom compared to the greater highlights I’m writing on). Frank standing with his son Carl and telling God he lost, that he’s still alive in-spite of God is much like Kierkegaard’s father cursing God. It also reminds one of the concept of will. Augustine considered willfulness to be specifically will against God. That when we do something “immoral” (according to his Christian standards) we do it not only because it feels good, but because (or only because) it feels good to be bad. To know one is doing wrong and do it specifically for that reason. I actually was originally introduced to this concept in Poe; and though I think both of them (and Nietzsche, who seems to more-or-less agree with Augustine’s conception of will but both says that it’s good to be willful and enlarges it to be not only just a motive of psychology but the force behind all biological functioning and existence) over-value its significance in human psychology and motivation it is true they highlight an aspect in humanity that the virtue ethicists leave out. But to see if this is so we must ask: does Frank drink because he enjoys being drunk or because he enjoys “living in sin?” I ultimately think the former has far-more sway. Pleasure is intrinsically valued in human beings and some are willing to do any form of harm to anyone to obtain. But they do not perform harm simply to do it. Some are mentally ill, yes. Some are sociopaths, yes. But overall I find the Christian notion of “sin” and immorality as an act of “revolt against God” to be one that does not understand human psychology nor ethics. Frank does not do ill because he refuses God, he does ill through refusing to live a life that is healthy (in the most broad sense) for both him and his family – and if this is also doing ill through God’s law, the two coincide only through coincidence.
It also is apropos that it is Frank that curses God, for I got a very Kierkegaardian or general Existential vibe from Fiona in the fourth season. It’s hard to put in words at this point, but overall I suppose it was in her despair in being addicted to “doing wrong” or being a hedonist in the most self-destructive ways. Her struggle could also be seen to be a struggle of identity which is typically associated with Existentialism, I believe Sartre in particular. Is Fiona living in Bad Faith when she considers herself a caretaker rather than a “free person” who chooses to be a caretaker? Sartre would probably say yes. But also she seems to psychologically be swayed towards Free Will or Radical Freedom in blaming everything she’s done on her fundamentally rather than believing to be a causal mechanism who acts as she does because of Frank, living in the ghetto and everything else.
Also I believe one of the most brilliant and accurate aspects of this show are its portrayal of the impermanence in our stages in life. In Seinfeld or any sitcom there’s a girlfriend they’d date either for one episode or for a few for some more laughs but when they’re gone they’re forgotten for more whacky hi-jinx. With this show, change is overall slow but noticed when it occurs. There was a time when Lip and Karen were lovers and thick-as-thieves. But that time is no longer. There was a time when Debbie was young, innocent and was kind and empathetic to everyone almost always. But that time has left and will not return. There once was a time when Fiona was the unshakable rock of the Gallagher clan, who never faulted. But that time too is gone and will never be again. The only thing that is constant is change. This sentiment is stated even in the theme song: You were willing once before, but it’s not like that anymore. This show expresses excellently the Buddhist sentiment of life being an ever-going series of events and changes. But not only do the things around us change – not only does the wardrobe and sets change like in most sitcoms – this is one of the few shows that effectively displays the truth that we ourselves change, not just the series of events that determine who we are in the moment.
The show can also be seen as an excellent argument for Anti-Natalism. For the horrors and suffering of all these people make any sane and honest person recognize that it is a crime to bring an innocent being into a world such as this. Overall, this is one of the best, if not the best, show in American history. Yes, I am willing to go that far. Smart, funny, sad, and powerful. This is what art should be and what great art is.