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In developing television shows today, the media has been able to create a world where tragic problems of society can be dealt with in a minor 30 minutes. In reality, our problems may seem very serious, but they can be taken away very easily by television. The cause of this is mass media’s influence on how these serious problems are resolved in “TV Land.” It is warping society’s idea on how problems can be resolved, or even given the idea that these problems of society are not needed to be worried about because of the way that they are treated as minor problems.
The television show Popular takes place at Kennedy High School in Los Angeles, California. The plot centers around two cliques of teens, the “in” crowd and the “out” crowd, led by Brooke McQueen and Sam McPherson, respectively. Although the show consists of conflicts regarding members of each clique, the main plot involves the never-ending disputes and rival between Brooke and Sam. Sam does not feel as though it is fair that equality between the two cliques is present and so she takes it upon herself to see that the “in” crowd pays for the way that they treat anyone that is not of their status. Sam struggles to gain equality with those of the more popular crowd within the school. By showing both types of crowds, it expands the viewing audience because everyone can relate to either on of the two crowds.
Walking down the hallway of Kennedy High School, one can easily spot out who the members of each of the two crowds are just by their appearance. Anyone who is blonde, beautiful, and looks as though she can be a model for the cover of a magazine can easily be a candidate for the popular crowd. What verifies the status of being apart of the “in” crowd is being a member of the cheerleading squad and by virtually dressing the same as Brooke McQueen. Every girl in the popular crowd strives to be the equivalent of Brooke. She seems to have mastered the art of being popular, beautiful and smart so easily, that she gives her peers a reason to believe that being able to accomplish all of these characteristics is of an easy task. For this reason, she is the perfect representation of the “in” crowd. Although she seems to be a sweet and kind person, Brooke’s attitude towards Sam and her friends show just the opposite. Brooke hates the fact that Sam tries whatever it takes to lower the pedestal that Brooke and her cohorts believe they stand upon. This is why Brooke seems to show a rival attitude towards Sam. Unlike Brooke’s rare occurrences of being seen acting arrogant, her friends are seen reminding others that only those of the popular crowd may rest upon the pedestal of which they stand, by ridiculing anyone that is not of the same social status of their own. They all speak very lowly of anyone that is not of their status. They only look out for their own kind, and only care about what is best for them. They want to make sure that those who are not of their crowd know that they will never be able to gain such a high status.
The members of the popular crowd are not the only people that strive to be the equivalent of Brooke. Any student attending Kennedy High School would love to be parallel to Brooke. The only difference between the students is in the way that they attempt to accomplish this. There are those that remind Brooke and her friends of how much people want to be like them, by the way that they act towards the group. They are seen acting in a manner that shows they some how believe that if they are nice enough to those more popular than they are, they too can be accepted into a higher social status. This type of conduct is exactly what girl such as Sam dispise. Sam believes that the only way for people like her to become equal to the popular crowd is by breaking the imaginary boundary between the “in” crowd and those that are not in the “in” crowd. To do this, Sam thinks that those in the popular crowd must be given the type of treatment that will bring them down on the popularity scale. If this entails showing others the arrogant and mean side of the popular crowd, than she will do whatever it takes in any situation to bring out their true identity. Sam is a representation of those seen as ordinary teenage girls. She has dark hair, just as her friends do, and dresses in clothes that she wants to wear, instead of wearing whatever those around her do. Unlike her friends who only talk about their feelings of the popular group, Sam actually takes action on her feelings about the way that the “in” crowd is treated. This is why Sam and no other character from her crowd can be the primary representation of the “not-so-popular” crowd.
The episode “Truth or Consequences” is a perfect example of how Sam tries to bring down the image of what others think about the “popular” crowd. Sam is able to record a conversation she overhears of some of Brooke’s close friends talking about the fact that the only way those in the popular crowd were the only ones that passed the exam was by stealing the actual test before the midterm. Sam thinks that this type of behavior is obscene and should be dealt with accordingly so that the curve on the test would actually be fair to those who did not cheat. Being the lead journalist of the school newspaper is just the edge she needs to accomplish her goal. Sam writes an article consisting a description of those who cheated, which also happens to be an exact description of anyone in her biology class that is considered popular.
While at lunch, Sam is overheard by Brooke’s friends talking about the article. The only problem with this is that Brooke’s friends didn’t think that this was right because for one thing, they would get into trouble, and they didn’t think that it was fair that Brooke would be accused of cheating considering she did not take up the offer of receiving a copy of the midterm. Brooke’s friends tell her about the article, and how she too would be accused of cheating, because like her friends in the class, she fits the description given of the cheaters.
Sam runs into her crying in the bathroom. She pleads to Sam not to run the article, and Sam agrees not to as long as she admits to cheating on the exam, and admits that she is not everything that people think about her. Brooke agrees, and admits that while everyone was at lunch before the exam, she stole the copy of the midterm out of her friend’s locker and memorized it. She then goes on to tell Sam about all of the problems that had been going on at home and how she had been so stressed about trying to keep up with all of the expectations of those around her. She new the only way to keep her image of being everything that her parents wanted her to be was to steal the copy of the exam and memorize it. Sam tells Brooke that she is not going to run the article because she does not want to add to Brooke’s misery. Brooke then tells Sam that she was wrong about her and she apologizes to her. Sam then decides to goes to the printing press to try to get the templates for the newspaper back so that she can remove the cheating story. The man there informs her that Mr. Grant, who is in charge of the newspaper being printed, told him to run the paper early and that she is too late. The paper ends up being printed with the cheating story still in it and Brooke becomes enraged at Sam because she thinks that Sam did not try to get the story out of the paper at all.
With the consequences of no one coming forward being a new and harder exam taken by the whole class, the Biology teachers asks that the guilty party come forward. Just as Sam thinks Brooke is going to admit to cheating, Brooke’s friend that actually stole the exam in the first place comes forward and admits that she is the one that cheated and will face the consequences of her actions. The episodes concludes with a food fight breaking out during lunch, with Sam and Brooke being the cause of it all.
The dilemma involved in this particular episode of “Popular” is a reflection of everyday social conflicts between the upper and lower class. Just like Sam, the lower class strives for equality, and resents the fact that those on the higher social scale receive special treatment. We see examples of how those in the higher social status look out for their own through the way that Brooke’s friend steps up and takes the blame, so that Brooke does not have to be humiliated, and lose her image that everyone else has of her. Everyday situations are condensed into this episode and are dealt with in such a way that by ending the show with a food fight, it becomes comedic and natural to laugh the problem away. By resolving the problem in this way, the television show gives a delusion of how reality may actually be able to work that way. Even if reality does not turn out to be like this, the television show allows viewers to more easily push away very serious problems into the back of their mind, and forget about them, at least for the thirty minutes that they are watching the show. It also gives us a sense of hope that our everyday problems can actually be able to be worked out in reality, just as it has in the television show. By laughing at the conflict in the show, the pressures of the viewer’s problems are lessened, and make it seem less serious of a problem.
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