If you spend a lot of time watching movies, you begin to notice a trend: movies are about Average Joes. Unless the movie is about some guy going from rags to riches, there's not a lot of focus on the top 1 per cent in the average popcorn movie. Yet it seems Hollywood apparently would have us believe that John Q. Public has easy access to all the things people with money tend to be doing. Here's a list of five examples of pricey things that we keep seeing Average Janes doing on TV and in the movies.
5. Riding in Private Cabins On Trains. Quick, think of the last time you saw a movie where the characters in it had to take a train ride somewhere. Did they sit in their cozy little private cabin, staring out the window at the scenery? Of course they did. They always do. The number of movies where characters are seen actually sitting in the economy section is approximately four. Every other movie that features people on a train is filmed in that quiet little cabin, as the characters glance out the window and reminisce about their backpacking experiences across Europe. Nonsense.
Those private cabins cost as much as rent on a condo. A quick look at a one-way trip from Toronto to Edmonton in a private cabin for two came to $1,500 before taxes. You know who rides in those cabins? Rich people, businessmen on the company dime, and old people who have a Bucket List. You know who you never see in those cabins? Poor people and college students backpacking to hostels. If you see hippie backpackers riding in a private cabin, they are either trust-fund babies or they are camping because they spent all their money on that private cabin.
4. Big Apartments in Major Cities. Much has been said about the characters on the sitcom Friends and how they managed to have such amazing apartments despite being poor twentysomethings living in Manhattan. We were told the myth of "rent control." In reality, it's pretty much impossible for struggling young creative types to live in big apartments in any major North American city, let alone a NYC or Toronto or Chicago. These days, it's likely even Jerry on Seinfeld would have had a roommate, the cast of How I Met Your Mother would have one person living on the sofa, and the cast of Friends would probably all live in one apartment together...in New Jersey. And then there is the "artist loft." Every third movie about some struggling artist shows him living in a huge loft with a freight elevator and enormous windows. Because the tell-tale sign of poverty is apparently massive floor space. You know who lives in spacious lofts? People with money, like the actors from Friends. If you see a struggling painter living in one, he's probably a squatter.
3. Riding in Taxis. The waiter jumps in the back of the taxi after his bad break-up with that quirky girl who answers phones at the free clinic. "Just drive," he says. He wants to look out the window and clear his mind. Meanwhile, we cut to the quirky woman in question as she stares out the windows of the taxi that she's in. What we don't see is that, at the end of that cab ride, they each fork over half their daily salary to the guy behind the wheel. People in cities where there are no taxis must think it's just a cheap service we big city folk all get used to as part of our daily commute.
Taxis may be convenient, but they aren't something you take because you've got some spare change on you. The movies make it seem as if people are just flagging down those suckers for a ride home at the end of the workday. In reality, the three dollar subway underneath that street is jam-packed because riding in taxi cabs isn't the ideal use of disposable income. Waiters and receptionists are not jumping in taxi cabs on a regular basis. Not when, for the same money, you can buy dinner and drinks and then walk home. Besides, who can afford a taxi when rent is due on the artsy loft?
2. Professional Movers. Newly divorced and completely broke, our heroine moves into her new loft apartment in downtown Chicago. Before she begins her new job waiting tables, she has to get situated in her new place. The movers have showed up with her belongings that she shipped from Minneapolis. "Put that in the bedroom," she says to the moving company employee carrying a large box. Oh, moving is so hard. Well, you know what really makes it difficult? The fact that hiring those movers would cost that poor, divorced waitress a month's pay, that's what.
If you've ever hired movers, you know how it makes moving that much easier. Because it's not you and four of your jackass friends trying to shove your sofa up a flight of stairs all because of the promise of beer and pizza. That's how plucky, young waiters move. They don't hire movers, they trick their friends. Moving sucks. Professional moving companies know this. That's why they know they can charge you a boatload of cash to do it for you. When you see that truck parked out in front of that downtown apartment and the hired help lugging that microwave into the building, take a long look at the car the occupant is driving. It's not a 1989 Buick Skylark with four mismatched tires and an old rag for a gas cap.
1. Healthy Food. Our hero, having freshly moved to Toronto, is just settling into his enormous artist loft. Oh, he's so poor, he has to live in this 2,000 square foot empty space with no blinds on the floor-to-ceiling windows. Well, at least he knows how to cook. He's got tofu and broccoli and fresh bread and organic, free-range eggs. Oh, he's a struggling artist, but he's healthy and he knows how to eat organic food. Um...no, he doesn't. Because healthy, fresh, all-natural food is expensive.
There's a reason why poor people are often obese: Fattening junk food is filling and cheap as all hell. You know what isn't cheap? Free-range anything. There is no "Free Range" option at McDonald's, but there is a Dollar Menu. For a day's worth of organic food, a person can get a week's worth of delicious, filling, malnutrition. Soda is bad for you, yet cheaper than bottled water. And struggling artists are some of the unhealthiest people you will ever meet. They do not tend to be amazing chefs, concocting that fabulous organic dinner that they wash down with a bottle of fine wine. They actually tend to boil Ramen noodles and Kraft dinner in the same pot at the same time. The only items they splurge on are cigarettes and booze. Why? Because one curbs hunger pangs and anxiety and the other one numbs the soul. You know what doesn't keep you from hanging yourself from the exposed pipes in your apartment? The knowledge that a chicken died of old age before you ate it.
There you have it. A quick five examples of things that Hollywood pretends won't lead to bankruptcy. Anything you notice that people in the movies seem able to afford that you've never been able to enjoy?
Ward Anderson is one half of the talk radio program "Ward and Al", heard weekdays on SiriusXM satellite radio. Although he is a radio host and also has a novel being released next year, Anderson has never had an apartment like the one Frasier Crane had, and he rides the bus to work.