How ‘Beef’s Cutting Commentary on Class Sets It Apart
**Minor spoilers for Beef ahead**
I find that most forms of media tend to ignore how classism factors into, well, most things, really. Unless the media in question is directly related to class, like the award-winning film Parasite, most creators try to skirt around the role classism plays in our daily lives.
What’s refreshing about Beef is it does no skirting whatsoever—it directly confronts how class has impacted its characters, their relationships, and their problems, over and over again. The most obvious correlation here is in the dichotomy between the protagonists, Amy (Ali Wong) and Danny (Steven Yeun). Amy is an incredibly wealthy entrepreneur with a small family, who lives and regularly shops in “high-class” places like Calabasas. Danny is a contractor who cannot seem to find work, and his problems with money have continually driven him to dark places in his life.
Though the two are similar in most ways, the ways in which they differ only serve to egg on their animosity even further, and their class differences might just be the most potent. In our capitalist world, the things we ascribe value (and, conversely, derision) to are often the ways in which our lives are made material. As such, classist disputes are some of the easiest for people to get into, and often the conflicts between Amy and Danny center around a violation of their “stuff” (physical or otherwise).
The first slight is the road rage itself. The provoking “incident” is Danny attempting to pull out of his spot, not noticing Amy speeding behind him, and therefore nearly colliding. Technically, Amy is the one who instigated the whole deal, as she makes a point of trapping him in that spot for a few moments and honking, before flipping him off as the cherry on top. No, Danny “shouldn’t” have pursued her, but ultimately that’s what he does—and ultimately, Amy gets the upper hand, as Danny’s afraid of people recognizing him and presumably thus jeopardizing his business, and she drives the nicer, more durable car. She threatens to back into him, which causes Danny to recoil, pleading for her to stop. And she does.
Amy drives away, thinking that’s the end of that. Until Danny enters her home and pees on her bathroom rug. Cue feud.
While the show isn’t heavy-handed in its portrayal of classism, the themes are fully present in each episode. Danny’s rage towards Amy is always egged on by the fact that she’s a rich woman who, from his perspective, has more to lose than him, so it boggles his mind that she continues to torment him. And Amy sees Danny as a parasite that needs to get stamped out before he can fully wreck her peace, which took so long for her to “acquire.” What’s interesting is this often makes Amy the instigator, as Danny truly can’t afford to retaliate as often as he’d like. First, Amy writes multiple negative reviews for his contracting business. Then, she vandalizes his truck by writing derogatory language on it, most notably “I AM POOR.” Perhaps most invasively of all, she catfishes his little brother, Paul (Young Mazino), and ends up having an affair with him.
This isn’t to say Danny is morally spotless: He consistently infiltrates aspects of Amy’s life in ways that put her and her family at risk, from attempting to blow up her car to memorizing her husband’s bike route with the intention of “befriending” him. Nobody is a saint in this show. Yet the writing’s on the wall regarding how class affects their behaviors, and when it comes to the way these two feud, I find it really telling that Danny—who is truly the most at risk because of his financial situation—often finds excuses not to continue the feud. Meanwhile, Amy, as the one with “things to lose,” is almost righteous in her defense of her castle, and therefore acts aggressively and seldom shows remorse in the way she “protects” it.
A scene in Episode 4 that stood out to me was when everyone ends up in Vegas: Amy’s there to give a talk about her career journey, Paul followed to hang out with her, and in the process he took Danny’s truck with “illicit materials” in the trunk, prompting Danny and their cousin Isaac (David Choe) to track them down. The entire episode, these characters weave between each other, but Danny doesn’t even know Amy’s there until he sees her name and photo on a sign leading to an auditorium—and even then, he doesn’t outright interrupt the show. He waits until he has a chance to hop on the mic and ask a question, and as he starts yelling at her, shouting about what kind of person does what she’s done, she’s in a position where she can just laugh it off and call in security. As Danny and Isaac are pinned down and handcuffed, she gloats, waving her finger disapprovingly in his face.
I don’t think either character is more absolvable than the other, and I never rooted for either of them over the other. Both Amy and Danny suffer from a severe lack of self-accountability that consistently makes their lives worse and the audience is arguably never meant to root for one of them to win, just for them both to stop. However, one would be remiss not to see how the differences in their social and economic statuses absolutely play into their power struggle. It would be all too easy to make Amy the “predominant victim,” being a woman disputing—often physically—with a man. But more often than not, I saw her as having a leg up over him because she was rich, and he was poor. The final, most bombastic conflict in the show (which I will not spoil, as it truly merits a viewing) is a violent, horrifying ordeal for all parties involved—and STILL, Danny ends up bearing more consequences than Amy.
I don’t think the show aimed to make any grand, definitive statements about classism in America, but I think it was smart to include these themes regardless. In American society, the rich are favored to the umpteenth degree, and most forms of media often fail to broach this subject intelligently, if at all. Yet Beef was able to adeptly tell a story about rage, repression, and regret in a way that was nuanced enough not to make heroes and villains, while remaining real about how one’s circumstances shape their consequences. More so, it did so in Los Angeles in particular—one of THE most expensive places to live in the country, as well as one of the most financially segregated metropolitan areas.
I almost hope they don’t renew the show for a second season, because I can only imagine what hell Danny in particular will be dragged through after everything that’s happened.
(featured image: Andrew Cooper/Netflix)
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