An alcoholic father, a bipolar drug addict mother, and living in an impoverished neighborhood on the south side of Chicago is not the ideal way for six children to grow up, yet the Gallagher family manages. The Showtime series Shameless shows struggles that most comedy-drama television shows would not dare to address, like not knowing where the next meal is coming from, or if they are going to be able to afford their home. The series gives the word shameless a new meaning by peering into the personal lives of the Gallagher family and how sexuality, race, gender and class resist dominant television stereotypes.
The Gallaghers have no shame and live with no rules. They are crude and rude and don’t care. Even the opening credits to the series show each character in the bathroom, which is one of the most private rooms in a house. Their mother, Monica, is only in the series for seven episodes and is never a positive role model, and Frank, their father, is always drunk and typically passed out somewhere around the city. The children rely on each other to support their family. All the children except for the baby, Liam, have a job so they can save money to make it through the year. Laws are more of guidelines to this family. Karl is ten and will causally drink a beer. Fiona the eldest dates a guy that steals expensive cars, and no one has a problem with stealing food if it will benefit the family. They are nothing like the typical American family shown in television shows.
Shameless portrays a new kind of poverty. “The Gallaghers are a level of poor we’ve never been exposed to before on the small screen. We’re talking steal-from-UNICEF, con-Social-Security-to-get-a-dead-aunt’s-money levels of poor. It’s not blue collar; it’s no collar” (Ektin, '”Shameless': Poverty Gets The TV Treatment, But What Message Does It Send?”). The series takes place on the south side of Chicago in an already rundown neighborhood. None of the Gallagher’s have a consistent job, but they somehow manage to make it, even if they have to beg, lie or steal. Throughout the summer all of the children work and save money so they have enough cash to make it through the winter months when everyone goes back to school. They do not have a car, health insurance, new clothes, or emergency money in case something goes wrong. When their water heater breaks, Lip and Ian, the two older boys, have to steal one from their dead neighbor's house. During one of the episodes Frank and Monica find the kids' “Squirrel fund,” which is the kids' money they save for winter. Instead of leaving the money alone because it is not theirs, Monica and Frank decide to buy cocaine and spend the money as fast as possible. The Gallaghers come from an impoverished family but find a way to stay out of foster care and still be their own version of a family.
|Mickey & Ian|
Ian Gallagher is the third eldest child. At seventeen years old he is struggling with being a teenage boy and his hidden sexuality, until his brother Lip finds a magazine stuffed behind the dresser in their bedroom. When Lip finds it, he does not know how to react and decides to confront Ian, who later comes out to their older sister Fiona. Ian works at a convenience store and has a secret relationship with his boss who is married to a woman and has two children. This continues until his boss’s wife finds out and forces them to stop. During this time Ian hooks up with the neighborhood bully, Mickey Milkovich. Mickey continuously picks on Ian and neglects to admit his feelings for him. He is known as a tough guy and refuses to accept anything else. Mickey fights with himself about his feelings towards Ian. And will not show any affection towards him. When Mickey’s dad walks in on him and Ian, he beats both of them bloody. He makes Mickey have sex with a hooker saying, “she’s going to fuck the faggot out of you, kid” and he forces Ian to watch. Most television shows about teenage boys show the awkward stages of going through puberty and starting their first heterosexual relationships. In shows like Modern Family and Will & Grace, the gay characters are adults and mostly flamboyant. Shameless is one of the only series that shows a teenager struggling with his sexuality. Ian prefers to keep his sexuality hidden from most people, and he tries to over compensate by being more masculine. He wants to join the military, and the few times he gets into physical fights with Lip, he has to prove that he is the stronger one.
Fiona is the oldest Gallagher and she is the most responsible one. She took on the “mother” role when her mom left. She dropped out of school and got a job so she could help support her family. She watches over her siblings like they are her own children, and in the third season Fiona gains custody of all five of her younger siblings because her parents are unfit. They “believe being poor together is better than living comfortable yet separated lives with different foster parents” (Rochlin, “The Family That Frays Together”). Shameless portrays the strong ties of a family that is living the rough life without real parents and lacking consistent money. They aren’t’ the average American family, the youngest, Liam is black even though both his parents are white. Liam’s race is only brought up when Monica tries to take custody of him with her new lover Roberta. The children have love and an older sister that does all she can to watch over and care for them.
The Gallaghers are not a typical family depicted on television. They do not have a nice home or live in a good neighborhood. Their parents are absent most of the time, one brother is gay, and another is black. They defy the stereotypical families shown on television. They are nothing like the Dunphys from Modern Family or the Matthews family from Boy Meets World. Sex, drugs, and alcohol are introduced into their lives at a young age, as well as poverty and misfortune. Shameless showcases sexuality, race, gender, and class in a way television has never seen before.
Etkin, Jaimie. "'Shameless': Poverty Gets The TV Treatment, But What Message Does It Send?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 05 Sept. 2012. Web. 27 Feb.2014.
"Photo Gallery." IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.
Rochlin, Margy. "The Family That Frays Together." The New York Times. The New York Times, 01 Jan. 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
"Shameless US Opening Credits." YouTube. YouTube, 10 May 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.