Created By: BlackbirdMizu on January 22, 2012 Last Edited By: BlackbirdMizu on November 17, 2012
Troped

Informed Poverty

When characters who are supposed to be poor don't really appear all that poor.

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In Real Life, poverty is a hard thing. People live from paycheck to paycheck, having to skimp on meals and healthcare, and having to live in poor conditions, if they aren't homeless entirely. In works of fiction, though, this isn't always the case.

Informed Poverty is when a character is stated to be poor, but in fact seems very well-off. In some works, if a character doesn't live in a mansion and have an expensive car, they can be considered poor. In works where a teenager is supposed to be in a poor family, it's common for this "poverty" to be shown by them not having cars (or at least not having new ones) and having to work to afford luxuries. It's rare for them to be shown working to pay for necessities like food and house bills. The viewer is usually expected to accept the character's status as "poor" because all the other characters are filthy rich. This trope is more common in works aimed at teenagers. From a filming standpoint, this trope is usually in play because it's easier to film in large homes and sets, though it still doesn't justify having a pristine interior and exterior, fancy furniture, or multiple cars. Poor characters are also often seen as more sympathetic, so the "poor" label may be tossed on for that reason.

There may sometimes be some Cultural Dissonance with this trope. What is considered poor for some places may be seen as normal or even wealthy for others. For example, in the United States, houses tend to be larger than in many other countries.

Related to "Friends" Rent Control, where characters live in homes they shouldn't logically be able to afford. Also closely related to Pottery Barn Poor, where characters have large homes and nice furniture even if they're supposed to be poor.


Examples

Anime & Manga
  • In universe example in Ouran High School Host Club. The fabulously wealthy host club members believe that Haruhi lives in abject poverty, but when they finally visit her home, it turns out she and her father live a fairly normal working-class existence. While they do talk about money being tight, they're not destitute.

Film
  • In Pretty in Pink, Andie is stated to be poor and even gets picked on for it, but she lives in a nice little house and even has her own (pink!) car. We're supposed to believe she's poor because all the other kids in the school are filthy rich.
  • In Some Kind of Wonderful, it's a similar situation to the above. The "poor" characters don't really have it that all that bad, and are really only considered poor because the other kids drive Corvettes and don't have to work for their college fund.
  • Done in She's All That. Lanley gets teased by the bullies with comments like "Isn't your dad my pool man?", yet when we see her house, it's actually very nice and could easily go for a good deal of money in real life.
  • A weird example in Life As A House, Kevin Klines character is a middle-aged architect who lives in a run down house and the movie takes place in a supposedly middle-class neighborhood. The problem is that kind of real estate on the edge of a cliff with a view of the ocean anywhere in California would be obscenely valuable.
  • Roger Ebert on Because of Winn-Dixie:
    "It is one of those parties you see only in the movies, where the people may be poor, but they have an unlimited budget for candles. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe, all over the yard outside Miss Gloria's house."

Literature
  • One of the problems given by critics of Eragon. The main character's family is supposedly very poor, but they are given money to waste on trinkets and are described with relatively lavish dinners.
  • Septimus Heap. Despite being called a poor Wizard family, the Heaps notably seem to lack any financial trouble.

Live-Action Television
  • The Chances from Raising Hope are poor, but get to live in a pretty nice house by taking advantage of their senile grandmother. What isn't explained is how they can afford many of the things they buy.
  • Maddie from The Suite Life of Zack and Cody constantly complains about being poor as dirt, but when you actually get to see the apartment that her family lives in, it's not bad at all. Likely supposed to be seen as poor because she's being compared to her crazy-rich friend who constantly goes on shopping sprees, while Maddie *gasps* has to work for a living.
  • Wallace and Veronica from Veronica Mars fit this trope. Wallace's house is huge and the worst Veronica has to put up with are cold showers, yet they're both supposed to be "lower class."
  • Gossip Girl: The Humphreys. They aren't upper crust, but they are definitely played up as being poor.
  • 2 Broke Girls tries to avert this trope by regularly pointing out that two waitresses have to spend all their money on rent and food and any additional spending money has to be obtained by working extra jobs or by selling a possession. The one area where the trope is played straight is with Caroline's horse which is a leftover from her days as a rich heiress. With their income they should never be able to afford to maintain and feed the horse. The horse ends up Put On A Bus and sent to a farm outside the city.
  • The Bundys of Married... with Children. A running gag is that Al earns next to nothing at the shoe store and drives a 20-year-old wreck of a Dodge, yet their house seems at least as nice as the Rhodes'/D'Arcy's home next door.
  • Mike and Susan in the last season of Desperate Housewives. They rent out their house to move into a cheap apartment, are prepared to do anything for extra cash, and claim to be in terrible poverty, but at the end of the day they're living in a large, comfortable, attractive flat and don't seem to have changed their lifestyle at all.

Western Animation
  • In an episode of Family Guy where Chris goes to an expensive, private boarding school, he tells his roommates that he's poor. While one could make the argument that he's poor compared to the other students there, it's a little jarring that he's so quick to call himself "poor" when his family has two cars and a nice, large two-story house.
  • A really weird in-universe example in American Dad!. Unlike other examples on this page, it doesn't try to make the viewer believe the characters are poor, instead hangs a lampshade on the characters viewing themselves as "poor". Stan Smith is very well-off and isn't afraid to show off, to the point where he invites his half-brother Rusty and his family over every Thanksgiving to brag about the stuff he has. Later he visits Rusty's home and finds out that Rusty is a billionaire: anything Stan has, Rusty has it times a thousand. Suddenly Stan and the rest of his family (excluding Hayley, who had run off a few episodes prior) start complaining about how little they had because they were comparing themselves to Rusty.
  • Done in The Simpsons. While many episodes claim they're in the lower income bracket and that they have many financial problems, (probably thanks in part due to Homer being a reckless spender) the family lives in a large, two story house, each child has their own (big) bedroom and the family has two cars. They also seem to be able to afford to travel a lot, even when taking out the trips they got for free.

Real Life
  • In Real Life, a 2012 British survey revealed the population thought a family of four needed 37,000 per year just for necessities. If you were to classify people living below that line as "poor", then some poor families are able to have two cars, a flatscreen TV, a house with the mortgage paid off, mobile phones for everyone in the family, and so on.
Community Feedback Replies: 54
  • January 22, 2012
    BlackbirdMizu
    Needs more examples, of course. I'd also like some tips to help expand and elaborate on the description. And if anyone can give info for WHY this trope exists, that would be great. (Hollywood Homely and Hollywood Pudgy exist because of the business' general unwillingness to hire actors who are actually fat or homely. But why does this trope come up? Do studios think viewers would be turned off by seeing actual poor living conditions?)
  • January 22, 2012
    nman
    • The Chances from Raising Hope are poor, but get to live in a pretty nice house by taking advantage of their senile grandmother. What isn't explained is how they can afford many of the things they buy.
  • January 22, 2012
    VyroPDragonIII
    • Maddie from The Suite Life Of Zack And Cody constantly complains about being poor as dirt, but when you actually get to see the apartment that her family lives in, it's not bad at all.
  • January 22, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    Name implies how Hollywood portrays poverty, not poverty that isn't really shown. Informed Poverty works much better.
  • January 22, 2012
    KJMackley
    A weird example in Life As A House, Kevin Klines character is a middle-aged architect who lives in a run down house and the movie takes place in a supposedly middle-class neighborhood. The problem is that kind of real estate on the edge of a cliff with a view of the ocean anywhere in California would be obscenely valuable.

    Seconding Informed Poverty, and is related to Friends Rent Control (which is about living well outside what you could realistically afford).
  • January 23, 2012
    BlackbirdMizu
    Hm, Informed Poverty does sound good. I considered it earlier when I initially wrote it. But then again, Informed Poverty sounds like a character is stated to be poor, but while it's never shown it's never contradicted either. But for the reason Dragon Quest Z stated, it is better than Hollywood Poor. I think I will change it.
  • January 23, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ Why can't this trope also include that as well?
  • January 23, 2012
    ginsengaddict2
    U.S. Politics:
  • January 23, 2012
    AP
    • In Friends, the main characters live in very nice New York apartments that should be quite expensive, yet there are some episodes in which one or more of them complain about being poor.
  • January 23, 2012
    nielas
    I think this might be the supertrope for Friends Rent Control, Improbable Food Budget, Living In A Furniture Store and Standardized Sitcom Housing.

    A lot of the time the large houses are there simply so it is easier to film. Other times it is Rule Of Drama since things like cars are needed to move the characters around from one location to another without having to slow the plot down.
  • January 23, 2012
    ArtyMorty
    Seems to be related to Pottery Barn Poor.
  • January 23, 2012
    shimaspawn
    It seems to be Pottery Barn Poor.
  • January 23, 2012
    BlackbirdMizu
    Pottery Barn Poor seems to just refer to characters with nice homes. Informed Poverty has characters who, despite being stated to be poor, may also have fancy clothes, jewelry, or cars.

    To Dragon Quest Z: Maybe this trope could include it. Are there enough examples, though?
  • January 23, 2012
    CharacterInWhite
    • Wallace and Veronica from Veronica Mars fit this trope. Wallace's house is huge and the worst Veronica has to put up with are cold showers, yet they're both supposed to be "lower class."
  • January 24, 2012
    ScanVisor
    Two Broke Girls.

    Seriously, a horse?
  • January 24, 2012
    Earnest
    Contrast No Poverty.
  • January 25, 2012
    BlackbirdMizu
    I haven't seen Two Broke Girls, you're going to have to clarify as to why it's an example.
  • January 25, 2012
    ZombieAladdin
    A possible explanation: There are a number of wealthy people in Hollywood (property values are through the roof, so you'd have to have a lot of money just to do business there), and what a working-class person may see normal or even well-off, some of these guys might see as unbearably impoverished.

    The other reason is that there are a lot of people who like to act rich in Los Angeles. The Bling Bling culture is a big part of it; hipsters also seem to like to accessorize themselves with expensive things. No doubt at least a few of these guys are writers, illustrators, directors, and/or executives, who may think that someone who doesn't attempt "Keeping Up With the Joneses" must be unable to and has the occupation to put their thoughts onscreen (or onstage).
  • January 26, 2012
    yogyog
    I can;t help thinking that, while they're the same trope, Informed Poverty is a much better name than Pottery Barn Door. What does Pottery Barn Door mean, exactly? Can you even make a barn door out of pottery?
  • January 26, 2012
    Oreochan
    It turns out that a year ago as a result to this TRS. Pottery Barn Poor was going to be cut and sent back to the YKTTW as Informed Poverty due to only having four examples and two wicks then. The old ykttw died appearently and Pottery Barn Poor is still here.
  • January 26, 2012
    nielas
    I think Informed Poverty would make a good supertrope and Pottery Barn Poor could be merged into it with Friends Rent Control and Improbable Food Budget being the main subtropes.

    • Two Broke Girls tries to avert this trope by regularly pointing out that two waitresses have to spend all their money on rent and food and any additional spending money has to be obtained by working extra jobs or by selling a possession. The one area where the trope is played straight is with Caroline's horse which is a leftover from her days as a rich heiress. With their income they should never be able to afford to maintain and feed the horse. The horse ends up Put On A Bus and sent to a farm outside the city.
  • January 26, 2012
    Rognik
    Gossip Girl: The Humphreys. They aren't upper crust, but they are definitely played up as being poor.
  • January 27, 2012
    deuxhero
    One of the problems given by critics of Eragon. The main character's family is supposedly very poor, but they are given money to waste on trinkets and are described with relatively lavish dinners.
  • January 27, 2012
    HaggisMcCrablice
    The Bundys of Married With Children. A running gag is that Al earns next to nothing at the shoe store and drives a 20-year-old wreck of a Dodge, yet their house seems at least as nice as the Rhodes'/D'Arcy's home next door.

    If you compare American standards of poor with other nations' level of poverty, we're actually fairly well-off.
  • February 17, 2012
    BlackbirdMizu
    Hm, so you guys think Pottery Barn Poor could get phased into this trope? Informed Poverty covers more of a range so I do think it (Informed Poverty) should stay.
  • February 17, 2012
    cityofmist
    Mike and Susan in the last season of Desperate Housewives. They rent out their house to move into a cheap apartment, are prepared to do anything for extra cash, and claim to be in terrible poverty, but at the end of the day they're living in a large, comfortable, attractive flat and don't seem to have changed their lifestyle at all.
  • February 17, 2012
    CrypticMirror
    This is just a repeat of Pottery Barn Poor.
  • February 17, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    Pottery Barn Poor is this, but judged from the appearance of a house.

    • Septimus Heap: Despite being called a poor Wizard family, the Heaps notably seem to lack any financial trouble.
  • February 17, 2012
    Sabbat
    As a response to why this trope exists, it's because poor people make better and more sympathetic protagonists.

    Also, averted/lampshaded in Ouran High School Host Club in an episode/chapter in which Tamaki imagines Haruhi living in a decrepit disgusting hole, but instead, she maintains an average, clean apartment, especially by Tokyo standards.
  • February 17, 2012
    BlackbirdMizu
    I'll say it again: Pottery Barn Poor only refers to "poor" characters having a nice house. Informed Poverty refers to "poor" characters being able to afford things they shouldn't logically be able to afford, not just houses but cars, vacations, fancy clothes and jewelry, etc.
  • February 18, 2012
    BlackbirdMizu
    How many examples must the page have before it's considered ready to launch?
  • February 18, 2012
    Oreochan
    ^ Three at least.
  • February 18, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    Septimus Heap should be in italics, Septimus Heap, by the way.
  • March 3, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    Bump
  • March 3, 2012
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    • Subverted by the Weasley Family in Harry Potter. Ron had to wear an awful hand-me-down formal robe from an uncle to the Winter Formal. The kids all get hand-knitted sweaters. Ron frets over his wand breaking. Arthur Weasley is the sole breadwinner for the family. And The Burrow is always looking like it's on the verge of breaking down.
  • March 3, 2012
    Treblain
  • March 4, 2012
    ClockStopping
    • The main character in Work It has apparently been unemployed for some time and is desperate for money, but you certainly wouldn't know from the spacious apartment, fancy suit, and fully-stocked fridge. This is mocked mercilessly by Natalie in Queereka:
      The plot conveniently informs us that he's been unemployed for a full year, and that he is just now getting his last unemployment check. Scanning the set, one can't help but feel "those must be some pretty damn impressive unemployment checks".

    Possible page quote?
  • March 4, 2012
    chico
    @ ginsengaddict2: Mitt Romney does not fit this trope unless you can provide examples.
  • March 4, 2012
    mdulwich
    Cyd Sherman (Codex) from The Guild claims to be poor, yet lives in a nice apartment with a fair amount of luxury items (frozen yoghurt maker...) and (to begin with) attends therapy sessions. She also doesn't have a regular job. The graphic novel prequel explains that her father ran off with another man and is paying for her therapy (an presumably everything else) out of guilt.
  • July 11, 2012
    BlackbirdMizu
    Man, I need to update this!
  • July 11, 2012
    Telcontar
    Something I saw on the BBC News a few nights ago; I don't know how well it fits.

    • In Real Life, a 2012 British survey revealed the population thought a family of four needed £37,000 per year just for necessities. If you were to classify people living below that line as "poor", then some poor families are able to have two cars, a flatscreen TV, a house with the mortgage paied off, mobile phones for everyone in the family, and so on.
  • July 11, 2012
    SonofRojBlake
    There must be a trope (can't find it) that conveys that this is partly a cultural dissonance thing - lifestyles portrayed in American television as blue-collar poor come across to Brits as being comfortably-off middle class. This is partly because of Informed Poverty, partly because it's easier to film in an unrealistically big house, and partly because the USA is just a much much richer country and some of the signifiers of wealth (spacious housing, a car, food) are objectively far, far cheaper there than in the UK. This is exacerbated by the fact that UK drama featuring the poor tends towards the grittily realistic with no regard for how easy it is to film - working-class characters in UK soaps generally live in realistically cramped, shabby homes.

    Example: in The Middle, we're supposed to believe that the Hecks are basically quite poor - she's an unsuccessful bottom-rung car salesperson and her husband gets laid off from the quarry. Yet even on this low single income they have a house which by UK standards is very large, and no apparent difficulties raising three children and running a couple of cars.
  • July 11, 2012
    SonofRojBlake
    Oh, another cultural dissonance type example: when "Neighbours" started being shown in the UK in the 1980s, a common comment was that the characters, mostly salt-of-the-earth working class types with manual jobs if they worked at all, were living in huge, beautiful houses with swimming pools of the kind only the super-rich in the UK could afford. It was diffidently pointed out that for that part of Australia, it wasn't that unrealistic...
  • July 11, 2012
    spellraiser
    Pottery Barn Poor is definitely this, applied to housing - so it's a subset of this and could be merged into this, especially seeing that Pottery Barn Poor has few examples and few wicks.

    Friends Rent Control is different though as it isn't really informed poverty; it's about people living somewhere that they would probably not be able to afford in real life, given the cost of living in their area and their income level. Informed poverty would be "It's discussed and otherwise established that Bob is poor in-universe, but this is applied inconsistently and doesn't really affect Bob." - but if it's never established that Bob is poor, Informed Poverty could never applied to him, even though Friends Rent Control could.

    So it's quite possible and even common that someone has Friends Rent Control with no Informed Poverty, while Pottery Barn Poor can never happen without Informed Poverty (From the description of PBP: "Pottery Barn Poor is when you see a family who are implied to be poor (or simply think they are), but the decor of their house does not even remotely match their claims." - there's no corresponding clause for FRC).

    Hope that's not too confusing ...

    P.S. I could see a supertrope such as Improbable Spending (or something like that) being applied to tropes such as Informed Poverty, Friends Rent Control and Improbable Food Budget, but that's a whole different discussion.
  • July 11, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • In Watchmen Ardian Veidt "gave away" his entire inheritance so he could build it all again and claim to be self-made. Or so he says - he still was able to go on a trip around world to find himself and his place in the universe instead of needing to work just to have food & shelter.
  • July 11, 2012
    NESBoy
    In South Park, the only reference to Kenny's povery prior to the Thanksgiving episode is during "Pink Eye", when Cartman makes a few jokes at Kenny's expense ("Kenny's family is so poor that yesterday, they had to pull a cardboard box out for a second mortage;" "Too bad drinking scotch isn't a paying job, or else Kenny's dad would be a millionaire"). In fact, Kenny doesn't sport the ragged, dirty look that the rest of his family has.
  • July 11, 2012
    fulltimeD
    I'm sure we have this already; I've seen it; can't remember the name.
  • July 11, 2012
    nitrokitty
    • In universe example in Ouran High School Host Club. The fabulously wealthy host club members believe that Haruhi lives in abject poverty, but when they finally visit her home, it turns out she and her father live a fairly normal working-class existence. While they do talk about money being tight, they're not destitute.
  • July 23, 2012
    spellraiser
    Why are all the hats gone from this?
  • July 23, 2012
    BlackbirdMizu
    Roger Ebert on Because Of Winn Dixie:
    "It is one of those parties you see only in the movies, where the people may be poor, but they have an unlimited budget for candles. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe, all over the yard outside Miss Gloria's house."
  • November 15, 2012
    BlackbirdMizu
    I'll be sure to update with these examples. I'll also be sure to add a disclaimer for cultural dissonance. Maybe I can use that Roger Ebert quote as the page quote.
  • November 16, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    Septimus Heap needs italics, since it's the show's name.
  • November 16, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    ignore this message, it was a mistake
  • November 17, 2012
    BlackbirdMizu
    Yay, five hats!
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=9tl6mlbxws8rvkclya1yctoq&trope=InformedPoverty