“Revenge” and the Failures of Social Climbing

The hit ABC melodrama “Revenge” features a slinky, mysterious blonde seeking delicious, sweet, sweet revenge. Emily Thorne, who isn’t really Emily, changed her name from Amanda Clarke, the juvenile delinquent and mentally lost daughter of a convicted 9/11 terrorist. The classist stereotypes portrayed in “Revenge” are viciously ripe. Each class has social limitations keeping them from successfully climbing the social ladder. On the way up, they knock each other down with false witness statements and tampered evidence for a chance to get closer to the family at the center of it all, the Graysons.

The plot of “Revenge” follows Emily as she slithers her way into filthy riches, encountering law-evading citizens and suspicious characters. Emily’s main target is the Grayson family and Grayson Global, their economic empire. The Graysons are an extreme representation of the 1%. Victoria Grayson, wife of Conrad Grayson, was once in love with Emily’s deceased father before she falsely accused him of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Emily wants the one thing that means the whole world to Victoria, her naive handsome son, Daniel. With the help of her father’s good friend, Nolan Ross, Emily is able to live like the 1% without suspicion.

Outside of the Grayson circle are the leeches that crave wealth and fame. Ashley Davenport, a former prostitute, hops around from one Grayson to another as a personal assistant. She may not have money but she has the intelligence and dirt on the Graysons to keep them in line. Victoria smells the desperation on her breath to be rich and calls her out more than once. Mason Treadwell is an author who interviewed the Clarkes long ago and turned on Amanda for Victoria’s bribery money and promise of instant fame. Working-class public high school kid, Declan Porter, is a good guy running the local tavern with his older brother. He falls in love with Charlotte, Victoria’s daughter, and gets her pregnant. Even Emily Thorne’s abusive foster mother Meredith Hayward tries to manipulate her and the Grayson family for money. Everyone wants to be in the innermost circle. Victoria makes sure that no matter what, no one else can become a Grayson, whether it’s by marriage or an out of wedlock birth.

The economic inequality and injustice portrayed in “Revenge” is sickening, yet viewers cannot get enough. What is it about the top 1% that keeps viewers from peeling away from the screen? Wealth, beauty and status are everything. Superficiality and materialistic greed are cultural staples in pop culture media. In “Revenge,” money is everything. “Revenge” exposes the political influence and societal power that wealthy white families have in America.


Miki Nkemakonam Onwudinjo is a 22-year-old journalism major at Northeastern University in Boston. She has written for several publications including for her local town newspaper in Reading, PA, campus newspapers and magazines, an alternative newspaper in Rome, Italy while studying abroad and for an online IT media website. She has past experience counseling and facilitating workshops for young adults that centered on social justice and activism.

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