A “Shameless” look at the culture of corruption

One of the Showtime cable network’s many shows about horrible people is “Shameless,” which features a family of drunks and grifters so horrid that it almost plays like a satire of every other show about awful people.  The Pagliacci pathos of this dark comedy comes from the occasional efforts of the main character, twentysomething Fiona (played by Emmy Rossum) to live a better, more honest life.

Last week’s episode was a philosophical clash between Fiona and her brother Lip, who maintains that “the only way for poor people to get money is to scam it or steal it.”  Fiona rented out a nightclub for an evening, to prove her skills as a club manager and hopefully secure a full-time job.  Her effort collapsed in a cloud of corruption, including a crooked Chicago alderman dropping by to collect his cut.  But Fiona herself was cheating all the way through, writing rubber checks and scoring booze from the event from shady mobbed-up sources, and she was too high on self-righteous determination to listen to anyone who tried to tell her she was doing it wrong, pointedly including the club owner who could have told her exactly what to expect.  

That all of this was occurring in the city of Chicago, the new model for all American politics, added a certain ominous tone to the black comedy of the proceedings.  We all live in the corrupt world described by Fiona’s brother now.  The grifters unreasonably expect the benefits of honesty and the rule of law, while the suckers don’t realize they’re playing a game that can only be won by those with the right connections.