Grey’s Anatomy and Class

Grey’s Anatomy and Class

Like many others before me, I recently decided to start watching Grey’s Anatomy from the beginning for a second time. Now in its 13th season, Grey’s centers on a group of doctors in Seattle, WA and all the antics (medical, or otherwise) that happen in their lives. Because I spend so much time watching this show, I thought it would be interesting to look at it from an analytical perspective to understand how class plays a role in character development and the overall themes presented.

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The Basics

Obviously because the characters on Grey’s are medical professionals, it’s fair to assume that they are financially stable. Honestly, I’d probably go so far as to say that these characters are disgustingly rich. Especially considering that each character somehow has the reputation of being “the best in the country” for their respective specialties (shocker). But reputation aside, their salaries are never really mentioned in the show directly. The main indicator of financial success is via their living situations and spending habits. While the show is often set in the hospital, sometimes the characters are found at the bar across the street. Here they never seem to worry about spending money on drinks or food. Plus, anytime we get to see the characters’ homes, they are finely decorated and usually large. The images below show the interior of Meredith’s family home, and the exterior of her second home with Derek, respectively.

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Digging Deeper

Aside from the obvious fact that these people are doctors and therefore financially stable, some of the back stories tell us that this was not always the case. In fact, two characters in particular, Alex Karev and Jo Wilson, perfectly embody the concept of “the American Dream.” This idea claims that anyone in America has the opportunity to succeed and reach the top if they just work hard. It fails to take race, class, gender, sexuality, etc. into account and treats all Americans as if they are starting from a level playing field (as if!). While the American Dream doesn’t quite match up with reality, it is often commonly used in mainstream media, such as Grey’s Anatomy.

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In the case of Alex Karev, we learn that he was born from a mentally ill mother and a violent, drug-addicted, often absent father. He and his two siblings were passed around the foster care system a lot (Alex in particular was in 17 separate homes over the course of 5 years), and yet somehow Alex still managed to make his way to the University of Iowa and then to Seattle Grace Hospital’s residency program. How he paid for school or even managed to survive his home life is not mentioned. All we understand about Alex is that he “beat the odds” to become a successful surgical intern.

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Jo Wilson doesn’t come onto the scene until season 9, but her backstory is somewhat similar to Alex’s. She was left at a fire station by her mom as a baby, and was then passed around the foster care system until age 16. Then she began to live out of her car and support herself independently. Despite these struggles, Jo managed to be valedictorian of her high school, go on to graduate cum laude from Princeton University, be top of her class at Harvard Medical School, and then make her way to Seattle Grace’s residency program. We again see themes of the individual rising to the top of their own accord, using their hard-working, can-do, never-give-up attitude. Yet, this perspective ignores many of the external factors that played a role in Jo’s success.

Final Thoughts

It cannot be denied that Grey’s is a popular show, considering it has been on-air for 13 seasons and is still one of ABC’s top-rated shows with over 8 million viewers as of 2015-16. This isn’t surprising considering the formula for successful television since the early days has been to focus on a group of upper-class individuals in their day-to-day lives. Plus, any show that reinforces the American Dream ideal is usually very popular with those who see it as the “traditional” American way of life. While this analysis has not made me any less fond of the show, it has definitely shed some light on the fact that a character’s class is a very intentional decision that can be used to perpetuate typical American values.

Fake News

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What Is It?

Today I would like to discuss one of the top three most obnoxious trends* currently plaguing the world: fake news. This phrase has been and continues to be splayed across the internet all too frequently, and it begs the question, what even is “fake news”? For the majority of my life, I have interpreted it as basically anything published by National Enquirer. Stories about aliens, random celebrity deaths, and the occasional Sasquatch sighting, etc. Basically, any report that is published without a few reputable sources to me is fake. However, this past election cycle has ignited heavy dialogue about what fake news really is, and has helped me refine my definition.

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It seems to me that the key issue here is that the label is being tossed around in situations where it doesn’t belong. By this I mean that just because you do not agree with a certain article does not mean that it is fake. This problem of mislabeling appears to be more prominent in conservative media, as Princeton history professor David A. Bell explains in his article for The Nation entitled “Fake News Is Not the Real Media Threat We’re Facing.” Bell discusses how conservative media personnel have been using their power to delegitimize mainstream media like The New York Times or The Washington Post. This causes a vicious cycle where accusations of fallacy are made, those accused try to defend themselves with evidence, but then that defense is used as yet another example of fallacy. The implications of this issue are extreme, and Bell suggests that the media needs to take a more aggressive stance against those “commentators” and call them out for their false accusations.

Bell’s commentary on the delegitimization of real news is essential, but it is also important to understand that not all news is credible and fake news sources do actually exist. As NPR’s Wynne Davis reports in the article “Fake Or Real? How to Self-Check The News And Get The Facts,” many stories being published today involve the use of catchy headlines and out-of-context quotes to entice readers and then fill the rest of the piece with inaccurate or even completely false claims. I have to agree with Davis when she states that it is not only the platforms who should be held accountable for this outbreak, but the individuals consuming the media as well. People tend towards laziness when it comes to their media, and it is much easier to take something at face-value instead of digging deeper to see if what they’re reading/listening to/viewing is actually credible. Either that, or they just don’t know how to tell the difference. Davis offers some tips from communications professor Melissa Zimdars that can help audiences with their literacy, and I’ve selected a few of my favorites to share with you here.

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Tips, Tricks, and Hints

  1. CHECK THE SOURCE. If you see a link on Facebook or  Twitter or wherever you’re getting your news from, actually go to the site. Most of the time it is glaringly obvious which sites are reliable and which are not. For instance, sites like beforeitsnews.com or freedomdaily.com use strange fonts, clip art, and trigger words in their headlines. Whereas sites like npr.org or ap.org are less flashy and more put-together. Plus the .org domain is usually more reliable than a .com (although some .com’s are quality).
  2. LOOK AT THE AUTHOR. If there is no author listed, that’s a bad sign. If the author is listed, their description should be brief. Any intense, dramatic descriptions should be taken with a grain of salt. Plus, you can try looking them up to see if they have any other pieces out there and what the reputation of the company in general is.
  3. CITATIONS. Plain and simple, if a piece of work is to be trusted they should reference at least a few external, credible sources. If quotes are used, make sure they are in-context. Plus, make sure that anyone who is being referenced is someone with expertise in their respected field.
  4. BIAS. While it would be ideal for journalism to be free of bias, it is not practical. That being said, it’s important to be aware of the inherent biases of certain sources. For instance, it’s been pretty well-established that Fox News leans conservative, and MSNBC leans liberal. These outlets are usually credible, but understanding bias can ensure a healthy amount of skepticism when taking in the information presented.

Closing Thoughts

As frustrating as it may be to see and hear the phrase “fake news” plastered all over the media today, it does bring to light some important ideas. For one, it brings the ever-growing problem of discrediting mainstream news to light, and two, it should prompt individuals to brush up on their media literacy skills in order to avoid being duped. Hopefully with time the media will evolve from a chaotic space laden with conspiracies and hate speech to a forum for healthy skepticism and discourse.

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* the other obnoxious trends are children dabbing on camera during sporting events, and the bottle-flipping game