Thrift Television: Narratives of Enduring, Saving, and Living Well. A Thematic Introduction


  • Alexa Faerber
  • Aneta Podkalicka Monash University



Thrift, television, thriving, home, austerity, TV series, dwelling


Concepts of thrift and dwelling are central to how societies live together. Thrift refers to a complex and morally-loaded set of economic practices that people engage with out of necessity, choice, or both. Whilst home-making or dwelling refers to social integration and self-representation. The ways in which social realms of thrift and dwelling relate to each other are historically and culturally specific, and media representations are an important intersection for reflecting and putting forward specific ‘imaginaries’ of thrift and dwelling. In this special issue, depictions of thrift in popular television are treated inclusively and span makeover reality TV, comedy-drama and documentaries, and target different national and international audiences. Contributions by researchers from the US, France, Germany and Australia examine how ‘appropriate’ ways of dwelling, involving thrift are negotiated in situations marked by material scarcity, precarity and aspirational lifestyles. These include: negotiating the harsh realities of housing in expensive cities such as New York in Insecure or Broad City (Perkins; Kanai & Dobson), make-over through decluttering and controlling debt in Tidying Up with Marie Kondo (Ouellette); Life or Debt; Raus aus den Schulden (Meyer), and are linked to specific historical and social circumstances in different national contexts. Suburban areas of post-war France are represented in 1967-1981 TV documentaries (Overney); gentrified British rural areas in Midsomer Murders (Zahlmann) and post-recessional New York City after the 2007-8 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in Broad City. Drawing on recent thrift scholarship and analyses of televised thrift in this special issue, we demonstrate how thrift and dwelling are articulated largely as a middle-class concern and a disciplining discourse and apparatus. Positive incidents of thrift are also revealed for example, in the comedy form and female voice in French post-war women’s documentaries. In other discussions there is much scepticism over the possibilities for protagonists to self-fashion themselves within the system of television series. This raises the question of whether alternative forms of imagining subjectivities and social relations in neo-liberal economies of dwelling can occur in entertainment television, or whether thrift imagined as what we call ‘televised endurance’ merely serves to reproduce the status quo as an irreversible condition.


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