There are moments in every college student’s career, in which the impending reality of graduation collides with the present day privilege of academic excellence. For some, this collision occurs during a psychological discussion of human development. For me, it happened during Television class.
Yes, one of the requirements for my Cinema and Media Studies major is a course in American Television, Culture, and Society. In it, we study the historical, sociological, and cinematic emergence of the medium that marked 20th Century post-war modernity. Today’s class focused on images of African Americans in American television.
And, of course, The Cosby Show was the primary focus of discussion. A successful upper-middle class black family living in an adorable brownstone, likely in Brooklyn Heights or Cobble Hill, is a rarity in American artistic discourse. And yet, the show was incredibly successful.
Given the particular episode we screened in class, I understand why. In said episode, Theo, the Cosby son who underestimates the value of a hard-earned dollar, learns the unfortunate reality that follows graduation: poverty.
When I say poverty, I mean it in the very literal sense. He is unable to afford the basics required for everyday existence, including a mattress to sleep on. The final sequence of the episode depicts Theo sitting on the floor of his unfurnished sublet with just a modest sheet beneath him.
If not for the arrival of his parents with a picnic dinner and promise of electricity, the episode would likely have brought me to tears. With graduation less than two months away, I am suddenly struck by an incredible fear: I haven’t even saved up enough for a decent mattress.
Even assuming I can afford New York City rents, which is already an ambitious goal, where will I sleep? My mother has rejected my request to remove the mattress from my childhood room, and my father never even had a spare mattress for me when I visited.
The cardboard box metaphor is beginning to transcend its literary constraints. In fact, my latest Excel spreadsheet calculations have affirmed the near implausibility of making rent, furnishing an apartment, and consuming a minimum of one Starbucks venti a day. Goodness, why do spatulas have to be so darn expensive? A girl has got to caffeinate.
According to my television professor, I need not worry about finances. I am “savvy.” There is no $ in savvy, though, and so I fear her oversimplification of my looming debt is nothing more but a pleasantry designed to ease the impending blow.
Stated simply, in the upcoming weeks I need to begin the process of prioritizing my needs: a mattress, daily Starbucks– from my desires: a brownstone, the entire Kate Spade catalogue. In other words, I need to take a cue from Petula Clark, the woman who made Downtown (New York) look so darn attractive and avoid seeking shelter in the subway.