For the sake of clarity, I was raised in a small Idaho town, population less than 8,300. I had a mom and a dad, four brothers and three sisters, lived on eight rural acres of property, never went without food, did my fair share of raising my younger siblings, and have yet to run out of things to complain about.
For those of you who haven’t met the Gallaghers, the show is about five children struggling to survive in inner city Chicago. Emmy Rossum leads as oldest sister, high school drop out, make everything work Fiona. She takes turns keeping her younger siblings fed, clothed, and going to school. Fiona, I understand. It’s Frank, her father, that makes my skin crawl. He’s a drunk, drug addicted, self-pitying piece of trash of a father. When he isn’t stealing food and money from his own kids, he’s breaking the law in every manner possible and blaming everyone else for it. He’s an obviously intelligent man, broken by addiction and selfishness. He could have been so much more. Perhaps it is the point of the show, but it makes me uncomfortable. I think it’s written and acted very well, it’s just the subject matter that comes at me and mixes my emotions to the boiling point.
Shame is difficult for me. I’ve spent a lifetime being ashamed of just about everything I’ve touched. None of which could be termed nearly interesting enough for this show, by the way. Shame has shaped decades of my life, twisted events that should have been life affirming and learning experiences into heinous crimes against respectability. Shame has flogged me on in forcing myself to do the right thing, what I was raised to do, what I should do. And then I watch this show and see this family doing whatever they want irregardless of law or sense, because they want to, or feel they must. They are scavengers, rabid children willing to beg, borrow or steal to live another day. They have no time for shame, there is only survival.
This hit me time and again as I struggled through seven seasons of episodes, the total lack of shame. I can easily forgive the children for running about like wild animals, I’ve seen their parents. Watching these two adults deconstruct their children one greedy, narcissistic act at a time, I started to wonder is this fiction or the re-telling of a horrible reality?
I’ve seen the news stories, parents and grandparents passed out on the school run. Are feral children becoming more the law than the exception? Do these parent’s really have no shame?
How is it that being raised in a stable home, out in the country with both parents can produce a child so ashamed of herself that she readily gives pieces away for kernels of approval? And if you can answer that, then how does a reckless man unable to care for his children, unwilling to stop drinking or lighting up enough to stop, end up feeling Shameless?