By: Michael Sabatino
Over the last few months I have found myself binge watching Paul Abbott’s hit comedy show, “Shameless,” which airs on SHOWTIME. The show is about a family living in Chicago, on the south side that struggles to stay afloat financially, and rejects conforming to the way society on the north side thinks they should act. Many viewers and television critics might agree that the Gallagher family is quite possibly the most dysfunctional family on television to date. Watching this family and the things they do is laughable, intriguing, and yet also sad to think that some children do grow up struggling the way the Gallagher children do. Fiona is the eldest Gallagher child, followed by her brothers Ian and Lip, their sister Debbie, and little brothers Carl and Liam. The kids grow up essentially caring for themselves due to the lack of parental support and supervision from their mother Monica, and Father Frank who are alcoholic, drug addicts. If you put all of the profanity the show uses aside you can see that, Shameless” is taking a stance against multiple stereotypes, and engages its viewers with comedy and life lessons.
The show normalizes diversity by exemplifying a lower class, biracial family including a teen mom and homosexual son rather than a traditional heterosexual, Caucasian, middle-class family. The second oldest son, Ian, is homosexual, and he fears what his family might think. Contrary to his predictions, his family was totally cool with it and could care less whether he was gay or straight. Many young kids struggling with their sexuality and finding who they are worry about the day their family finds out they are ‘different’. Both Ian and his boyfriend, another local south side kid, Mickey defy the stereotype of what a ‘typical’ young gay man is like. Ian ran track as a kid, but dropped out of high school to enlist in the army under his older brothers name due to the fact he was still underage at the time. Many people look at gay men as all being feminine. There are some gay men who express themselves more femininely than others, but there are many that do not. Mickey would also be the opposite of this stereotype of gay men, as he is a rugged guy who acts like a stereotypical straight tough guy. Both Ian and Mickey represent the opposite of the stereotypical gay man, and this is beneficial for society to see. Yes, in a few episodes we see Ian dancing and bartending at a gay club, but that is also due to the typical things kids his age do. Society benefits from seeing gay characters in shows and movies be the opposite of their stereotype because it shows people that not everyone is a certain way. No one should be judged based on their sexuality because there are certainly manly and muscular gay men that act ‘straighter’ than a heterosexual man.
One of the family friends, Kevin, who lives next to them in south side is your stereotypical tough guy, and is comfortable with his sexuality and being around Ian. There is an unspoken appreciation viewers can tell that Ian has for Kevin due to him treating him like just any other guy, not taking into account he is attracted to the same sex. Kevin will joke around with Ian like he is another guy, from conversations regarding getting laid to just not sure what to do about a situation he is struggling with. Kevin is there for the Gallagher kids like a big brother, and he adds to the families dynamic as a dysfunctional, but dependable group of individuals. Lip, the eldest Gallagher son, runs into some trouble deciding about committing to going to college or backing out. Kevin was there to remind him that south side was not somewhere he should stay if he had the chance to get out by telling him, “This isn’t your home, it’s where you grew up. It’s not where you’re meant to be.” Kevin struggles himself, as an adult, and he does not want that for the Gallagher kids. Lip was fortunate enough to get into college, getting himself out of a toxic environment back at home. This goes to show that no matter where someone starts in life, that does not define where they will end up. Lip’s older sister Fiona also exemplifies this in season 7 of “Shameless” when she stumbles upon an opportunity to begin flipping properties. She had been her own worst enemy for quite some time, but then started to get her shit together after serving some time in prison, and becoming the manager of a local south side diner. Fiona tries her hardest to take care of her siblings and set a good example for them, reminding them to aspire to be better than their parents ever were.
When Fiona’s youngest brother Liam was born, the siblings and their father Frank believed that Liam was not his child. Come to find out, shockingly enough, Liam is in fact Frank’s biological son. This was a shock to many, myself included, because Liam is African American and the family is Caucasian. The Gallagher children still treated Liam the same both before and after they found out he was their full flesh and blood, and not a half sibling. On top of Liam being a part of the Gallagher family, there is also Kevin’s girlfriend Veronica who is African American as well. Kevin and Veronica are an interracial couple, that love each other deeply. Before having children of their own, the couple took in a white foster child to try and give her a better life. Moral of the story, “Shameless” creator, Paul Abbott, sheds light on the normalization that interracial families are common and acceptable in southside Chicago. The community on the southside is all different types of messed up with alcoholics, drug addicts, and homeless people. One thing these people all live by though is that southside residents stick together. This is a specific motto the Gallagher family lives by because no matter their differences, they are always there for one another to present a united front when times are tough.
“Shameless” does an exceptional job representing a lower class family, and how they survive. The Gallagher family may be an exceptionally dysfunctional family displayed on television, but they are a family that teaches their viewers a lot. Many people may not like the amount of profanity the characters use in the show, but they will most certainly benefit from watching. It can teach people how to be independent, not to feed into stereotypes, and accept others for their individuality without judging them by their appearance. This is very beneficial and needed in today’s society so we can put an end to stigmas about gender, race, and sexuality. As more seasons air, I hope to see the family succeed more and become a well off family coming out of poverty. It would be a positive message to send to viewers, not only that some people in the lower class do live like this, but that not all are helpless and unwilling to succeed like; breaking the stigma of people in similar situations.