Updated: Jul 3
This is the second part of a two-piece article in which we take a look at the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode Mac & Charlie: White Trash and what it can teach us about American attitudes toward social class. The first part can be found here. Onto the show...
Following Dennis and Dee, the subsequent scene opens with the same attendant from the first scene, turning Dennis and Dee away from the exclusive pool. They attempt to convince the attendant that they’re of his class, as well as try to bribe him – which he declines.
Upon rejection, Dennis and Dee begin to call the attendant “elitist” whilst claiming they never even wanted to get into “some exclusionary pool club”. Upon the attendant’s recommendation to try the public pool, Dennis tries to maintain his high-class nature by saying that he’s happy to go to the public pool because having class means you’re happy to mix with those beneath you. Dee then undermines their high-class assertions by spitting in the attendant’s face before they leave.
The next scene sees Dennis and Dee at the public pool, which is clearly too busy and is largely filled by ethnic minorities. Dennis and Dee acknowledge the culture shock they’re feeling, being in a lower-class setting. They’re then approached by Frank, who seems perfectly at home in this environment, stating that his fringe class lifestyle allows him to fit right in.
Next, Mac and Charlie are attempting to clear the rubbish from their newly seized, but still empty pool area. They discuss how they want Dennis to serve them beers and how they’d exclude him from the pool, only allowing him to serve them because that would make him ‘lower’ than they are.
Mac descends into the pool to help Charlie throw a mattress out, they take pride in their physical prowess, only to slowly realise they’re now stuck in the empty pool. You could argue that this thoughtless masculinity embodies the liberal conception of the ‘white trash’ American; a stupid meathead, bitter about their station.
Back at the public pool, we find Dennis and Dee huddled together in a corner of the pool. Dennis complains about the abundance of children and his inability to swim lengths, whilst Dee steps on shards of glass at the bottom of the pool. At the same time, Frank, embodying his carefree, classless attitude, begins playing a game called “greased-up watermelon” with the kids at the pool (I don’t need to explain the game, the name says enough).
Dee then proposes that she and Dennis call Mac and Charlie to see how their pool is coming along. To which Dennis refuses, saying that he doesn’t want them finding out they too were refused entry to the exclusive pool. Dennis is essentially saying that he can’t bear the thought of conceding his perceived class status to people he sees as lower than him.
Regardless, Dee puts out a ‘feeler’ to Charlie, who’s still stuck in the empty pool with Mac. Here, Mac tells Charlie not to let on that they’re stuck in the bottom of the abandoned pool because that’s “extremely low class” – afraid that Dennis will mercilessly mock them.
Both groups attempt to maintain a façade of enjoyment; Charlie saying that their pool is “super private” and Dee saying that the attendants at their ‘private pool’ are playing Mexican music whilst serving them free drinks. The call ends with both parties thinking the other is at a much better pool when in reality one group is trapped, and the other’s in a filthy municipal pool.
Mac then realises that, because they’ve got a phone, he can call for help. Though, when Charlie tells him it’s his burner phone, Mac tells him that’s lower than low-class; it’s “felon class”. Accordingly, they’re unable to call the police, so they order food, thinking the delivery guy can help them out.
Later, the delivery guy arrives to find Mac and Charlie throwing rocks at one another, attempting to catch one another in the eye. When neither Mac nor Charlie has the money to pay the delivery guy, he leaves them in the pool without helping them.
Resultingly, Charlie tells Mac he’s calling Dennis to come and get them out. Mac then says “Don’t you understand? This pool is our bootstraps & it’s lifting us up into the middle-class” – a reference to the commonly spouted and oft-criticised right-wing mantra: ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’.
The two then begin to go back and forth, pointing out features of each other that make them white trash – which all absolutely fit the description.
Back at the public pool, after Dee is hit in the head by a rock thrown by a kid, she and Dennis decide to take another run at the private pool – still refusing to surrender their high-class status to go to Mac and Charlie’s ‘superior’ pool.
At the private pool, Dennis and Dee corner a family in a somewhat threatening manner, harassing the family for their sponsorship. All the while, completely undermining their perceived class’ characteristics.
The pool attendant them moves the cornered family on, before screaming at Dennis and Dee that the pool is, indeed at capacity, and even if they did have the requisite sponsors, they wouldn’t be allowed entry.
To which Dennis and Dee attempt to rush past the attendant into the pool, saying that they’re going to urinate in it too. They are both promptly tackled and removed from the premises – though not without causing a commotion.
The ensuing scene, clearly taking place several hours later, shows Mac and Charlie still stuck at the bottom of the pool. In the meantime, they carved some drawings into the wall in memory of the kid who died at the pool, before beginning a prayer to ward off his spirit from haunting them as they sleep in the empty pool.
Their prayer is interrupted by Dee, Dennis and Frank, who turns up talking about how awful the place looks. They then find Mac and Charlie at the bottom of the pool. Mac tries to maintain that they’re just hanging out down there, but Charlie interrupts him and tells the others that they’re actually stuck.
Dennis begins saying that their situation is pathetic and that the word ‘trashy’ doesn’t even do it justice. Mac tells Dennis to go back to his “fancy pool”, before Dennis, clearly lying says that the fancy pool got old. Mac, sussing them out, asks if they ever managed to get into the private pool, to which half-hearted denials don’t suffice in deterring suspicion.
The ‘gang’ launches into accusing one another of being trash and lower-class before Frank offers the solution to all of their heat-related problems; they crack a fire hydrant and play in the street.
Ultimately, what can be learnt from this episode of It’s Always Sunny? Well, it gives us a comedic look into class and more specifically, aspirational classism.
Mac and Charlie are playing the average, white, lower working-class men of America, who just want enough social mobility to move into the middle-class and enjoy a better standard of living.
Conversely, Dee and Dennis are playing the more aspirational, liberal middle-class, whose focus is around maintaining their current class status through private clubs and socialising with peers also of their class.
Finally, Frank’s engagement with class is both non-existent, but also significantly defiant. He identifies as classless but also incorporates sections of all class life. His role in the episode is one of comic relief, rather than any real social commentary, but it is interesting to see a light shone on the idea of a classless individual living outside the realms of a highly regimented class system.
The people of the United States, unlike their UK counterparts, don’t acknowledge class very much, if at all. That could, in part, be down the limited historical success of socialist and left-wing political movements, which inherently shine a light on class structures. Also, it could be argued that because the U.S. never evolved from a feudalistic society into a capitalist society, the shift from aristocrat to bourgeoisie, or serf to worker, was less pronounced.
That is not to say that class doesn’t have a profound impact on the fabric of American society. Of late, Bernie Sanders has broken ground in American politics by approaching issues through a kind of pseudo-Marxist class-theory lens. Not to mention the clear differences between the voting intentions of the electorate in different areas where class conflict is more profoundly experienced.
In short, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Mac & Charlie: White Trash, takes a brief, comedic look, at some of America’s complex and intricate class relations and attitudes. I’m sure you’ll get a lot more from watching the actual episode than you will from my description, as a lot of the jokes and general humour are difficult to describe in brief paragraphs. Be sure to keep an analytical eye out as you watch it too because whichever political angle to come at this from, there is something interesting to ascertain.
During the COVID-19 Crisis, we all need to remember to stay indoors and stop the spread of the virus. During this lockdown period, we all have an obligation to observe the official government advice in order to overcome this virus. Aside from enjoying all of the content provided to you on The Politician, I thoroughly recommend giving It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia a watch. At a time like this, all you can do is try to remain positive and upbeat.