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


(permanent link) added: 2012-01-22 22:03:09 sponsor: BlackbirdMizu (last reply: 2012-11-17 10:42:56)

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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.
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