Thrift, TV and the self: Perspectives on TV programs in Germany, US and Australia // Ein Kommentar zum Vortrag von Silke Meyer und Aneta Podkalicka // I. Fronhofer

While the connection between the two terms of thrift and self might not seem evident, since they are usually seen as being part of two differing broader topics, namely monetary-practical and a more theoretical-philosophical level, they are in fact a rather productive combination when understood in a context of TV shows. Let’s see how thrift in connection with other terms such as lifestyle and/or self-fulfillment can enrich TV shows on debt on the one hand and DIY building practices on the other.

In the one context, which was outlined by and is one of the foci of Silke Meyer, the concept most connected with it was debt. Meyer postulates that in the TV shows she chose to focus on, such as „Raus aus den Schulden“ (GER) or “Life or Debt“ (USA),  debt occurred due to people being non-thrifty. At the same time, the skill of being thrifty is depicted as a class bound value, only honed by the middle class and not accessible to the classes lower in the social strata. The most important aspect mentioned by Meyer is that of the individualization of problems regarding debt which are in need of individual solutions rather than demonstrating that people are in fact up against a rigged system since there are structural reasons for why people become indebted.

In the other context, which Aneta Podkalicka focuses on, thrift is interconnected with the choice of low-cost materials, the concept of DIY, up- and recycling as well as transformations of buildings, and in turn also of the self. Her approach is that thrift is the common practice of making do while using money and other resources in a sensible way. While her focus lies on the TV show called Grand Designs, her approach can also be applied to other formats that have been popular on TV for a while or have only been gaining traction rather recently. One such format, which can be seen as being directly opposite to Grand Designs is that of Tiny House Nation in that the houses are much smaller than those shown on Grand Designs. Nevertheless, some similarities in various aspects are also present. One of them is, that the usually never easy journey of creating the building is documented in detail while intertwining it with the personal, often tragic or dramatic story of the people involved. The focus on the transformation of the self is even heard in the intro of the show: “We’re seeking out families facing huge challenges and offering them a tiny solution.” The personal stories and focus on the transformations of the self are evident when examining themes of the episodes. There are those where it is attempted to rebuild or repair relationships between family members, where relationships are tested, where being thrifty enables children to attend college, or where the loss of a house due to a wildfire inspires a firefighter to rebuild, only this time in very small.  Some of these approaches go hand in hand with what Podkalicka also mentioned in her presentation in that often, thrift can be seen as a long-term approach whereby being smart and thrifty in the present means saving money in the long run.

>> The main goal of both shows, Grand Designs and Tiny House Nation is that of getting better, of aspiring to have a better home than before while incidentally constructing a better version of the self. <<

The fact that, according to Podkalicka, representations of thrift can reveal a lot about conditions and meanings of contemporary consumption not only holds true to the emergence of such trends as constructing tiny houses but can also be applied to other topics covered in TV shows which focus on completely different topics. One example of this are TV shows such as Auction Hunters or Storage Wars whereby selves are also constructed through the concept of thrifting things from abandoned, auctioned off storage units. It can thus be said that in contemporary TV formats often times the concept of thrift is used to construct or rather aids in the construction of a self, a self that is new, that differs from the previous version and is often seen as an improved, a better version than the old version of the self. Therefore, although it usually does not seem obvious from the get-go, the terms self and thrift share a connection that is rather productive since it creates the possibility of various angles of interpretation as well as investigation.

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