Kin Ties: Coal, Coupons, and Conception

It's no secret that I love reality television. I don't really discriminate, I pretty much enjoy it all, which is likely the ethnographer in me. Three new shoes that have entered my rotation are Coal (on Spike), Pregnant in Heels (on Bravo), and Extreme Couponing (on TLC).

What could these very different shows possibly have in common? Kin ties. All of them demonstrate just how important kin, or family, connections still are in this country (Family connections have also been a topic on Lisa Belkin's Motherlode Blog this week, where the topic is whether or not it is fair that family ties can help young students secure coveted internships).

In the second episode of Coal (click here to see "No Easy Way Out" in its entirety), a "red hat," or apprentice coal miner, joins the night shift. The foreman is very skeptical about this new addition and gives him a hard time about his clothes, shoes, and ability to multitask. But the attitude changes considerably when the red hat, Jeremy, reveals that his father is Ricky. "Oh, you Ricky's boy?!" The foreman suddenly smiles and his body language changes as he says he went to school with Ricky.  Suitably connected to the other men, Jeremy heads off into the mines with them, now part of the coal mining family. You can watch the scene at the link above; it starts at 33:54 and lasts about a minute.

A world away, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, kin ties also remain important. In the first episode of Pregnant in Heels Samantha Ettus and her husband Mitchell Jacobs hire Rosie Pope, a maternity concierge, to help them name their son. They pay her to assemble a panel of experts, a focus group, and a dinner party with their friends so that their son can have the right "personal branding" from the start. All that work, but in the end the couple dismisses the feedback from others and goes with the name they like best-- Bowen Asher Jacobs (they also dismiss Rosie Pope, the star of the show, as "the help"). I looked up the mother, Samantha Ettus, who advertises herself as a personal branding expert, and came across Samantha and Mitchell's New York Times wedding announcement from 2005.  Really, is there anything more antiquated than a wedding announcement in the NYT? (Full disclosure, my husband and I had a wedding announcement in the Times this past May.) I mean, essentially, the purpose is to show your lineage, both your family's and your own credentials. If you haven't read David Brooks' discussion on the Times' wedding announcements in Bobos in Paradise, I highly recommend it.  In any event, all this shows that from the mountains of West Virginia to the concrete mountains of Manhattan, kin ties remain important as a way to connect to people and quickly place them in context, deciding if they are worthy or not.

What about Extreme Couponing? Well, all I've got here is that last night's episode featured identical twin sisters bargain shopping together, and a son with his mom. So why include it in this post? Honestly, I'm OBSESSED with this show. Can anyone teach me how to be an extreme couponer, buying $800 worth of groceries and only paying $10?! You don't even have to be related to me!