Uncle Eddie, working class humor

Christmas Vacation depicts working class etiquette jokingly

Clark: …and an a**hole, in his bathrobe, emptying a chemical toilet into my sewer.”

This quote not only paints a picture of Cousin Eddie on the white, Christmas morning, but also it explains the lack of intelligence among the lower classes. Christmas Vacation is one of my all-time favorite Christmas shows due to my enjoyment of the family chaos. However, if we focus on how television shows and movies portray working class members, we realize that there are five criteria. The Working Class show: lack of taste, lack of intelligence, disinterest in politics, poor work ethics and dysfunctional family values. If we apply these criteria to Cousin Eddie, we see that his taste is indecent seeing that he dumps his fecal material into a storm sewer and drinks beer from a can. In doing this, it displays his lack of intelligence since Clark said, “he oughta know it’s illegal.”  This comment shows a class distinction between Clark, middle-upper class, and Eddie, working class. This clip does not discuss Eddie’s disinterest in politics, but based upon his poor education, we assume this to be so. We also see, throughout the show, how Eddie and Catherine, his wife, do not earn enough money to buy Christmas presents for their children. Thus, if we extrapolate Eddie’s depiction, the audience concludes his work ethic is poor because working hard, ‘pays off’. This poor work ethic exemplifies Eddie’s complacency to keep holding out for a management position – 3 years and counting.  Also, his family is dysfunctional since his son has lip fungus, the dog, named Snot, drinks half a quart of Pennzoil at home, his daughter is in a clinic being cured off a wild turkey, and the eldest son is working in the carnival. These experiences act as a boundary between the working class and the hegemonic, normalcy of middle class life. This stereotype acts as justification for blaming Eddie for his own circumstances. If he would have worked harder and “pulled himself up by his bootstraps,” Eddie would have achieved upward mobility. The idea of ”pull himself up by his bootstraps” is portrayed in the media to show how the “crème rises to the top”. Because of this depiction, it distracts society from the systemic issue of poverty and economic disparities. The media further distract us from these societal and policy issues through use of humor. While watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, I found myself laughing out loud at the stupidity. Therefore, I was blind to the idea of Enlightened Racism which relieves white viewers of responsibility for inequalities, hides and distorts the truth about working class life, passes the blame to those members of society and if they are white, the media labels them as a sub-culture or sub-group which deviates from the hegemonic norm. Analyzing the last point, we will find that being white does not always lead to privilege. So, the media justifies it through the open bashing of characters associated with said sub-group. Even though Cousin Eddie may look just like us, his actions denounce his privilege and counter-hegemonic lifestyle. This frame, where Cousin Eddie is the subject, would argue the problem is Eddie’s lack of education resulted in a low standard of living; therefore, we feel like his behaviors are idiotic and the treatment is to laugh at him. This promotes the systemic problem of class segregation and lower class members abilities to work their way up the corporate ladder. This problem of class segregation perpetuated by white, hegemonic power focuses on comparison by ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is negatively judging a different culture, or in this case a sub-culture, by the standards of the white, dominant group. Through this act, the media help to reinforce the middle-upper class person’s superiority over other groups and sub-cultures. It is plain to see in Christmas Vacation that Eddie’s presence in Clark’s house will destroy Clark’s cultural class of education, taste and lifestyle through damage to the cultural capital of cleanliness and decency.  Although the reaction to Eddie’s behavior is humorous, this humor functions as a façade to the personal and societal problems of poor and working class people. Instead, the media frames it as a threat to middle class values.

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4 thoughts on “Uncle Eddie, working class humor

  1. Christmas Vacation is also one of my favorite Christmas movies. While I obviously got the societal differences between Cousin Eddie and Clark, I had never really put together how Eddie is kind of challenging the hegemonic norm of Clark’s middle-class status. The entire point of the movie is to laugh, but that does blind us to the fact that working class life is hard and doesn’t really put working class people in a good light. Good example!

  2. rbschin thank you for your comment. The fact that we, as audiene members, do not recognize the class confrontations is a credit to the power of framing. That is why we have societal issues with poverty, sexual privilege, racial privilege and economic disparty because we allow entertainment to overpower the truth behind the humor.

  3. As an older adult, I saw the different classes within the movie; however, I can now relate to this movie within my neighborhood. My husband is a hard working, middle class manager for a major retailer. I’d say we live in a middle to upper class neighborhood. Also, we live on the wrong side of the street. Infact, the neighbors we get along with also are on the wrong side of the street as well as part of the working class. Then we have the other side of the street , the retired households. They do not associate with this side of the street. The only time they did, was to size up the newbies on the block. They don’t like kids, they don’t like dogs and they don’t like people having fun outside on their own yards! Why they even think that they should be contacted for approval for any landscaping plans for MY yard. I think that only lady uses her husbands prior job status, a doctor, to set herself apart from the entire neighborhood. She thinks she had the power to complain about everybody in the neighborhood, Also, I think this neighborhood bases whom they associate with based upon the make of your vehicle. If you drive an Audi, Land Rover or Cadillac, your in! Well, Sam Walton would be out. I’d rather drive my old beater truck that’s paid for than some $60,000 car that is for show. Finally, I leave you with this, “The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively .”-Bob Marley

  4. Robrienco thank you for your comment. It is interesting that you have personal experience with this dynamic within your neighborhood. It seems like there is a need to assimilate to the upper class lifestyle by purchasing high end cars. However, you seem to reject that lifestyle since you don’t mind driving an older vehicle. The neighborhood sounds like there is a class division between the upper class individuals, who are making aspects more salient, the cars, to justify their status. I would also be curious to know if these neighbors exhibit code-switching. Code-switching is a shift in dialect based upon the current situation in order to reestablish their higher status. In that sense they are establishing a hierarchical system. As far as contacting them about your landscape, I feel like their opinions about your landscaping could exhibit a form of micro-aggression where they say negative remarks about the landscape as a way to make you feel suppressed even that you are coerced into listening to them. In the television series Home Improvement, the neighbor provides Tim with information that Tim doesn’t know. This establishment of superiority, by the neighbor, is meant to belittle Tim’s intelligence. This is a zero-sum conflict example where every conversation the two men have leads to the neighbor gaining a sense of intelligence and power while Tim loses his intelligence and power. Thus, it is an ‘I win; You lose’ scenario. But, I think you have the right attitude based upon your Bob Marley quote because the hegemonic worth of a person is usually based upon wealth, but the true testament is to the person who has no wealth and provides for everyone. This idea is summed up well by Helen Keller, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

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