Code-switching is a common theme throughout the series. Much like Frank, many characters are forced to re-negotiate their identities as a tool for necessary survival. What soon becomes apparent are the moments these “switches” are made. Quite often, cornrows are appropriated to incite violence or intimidate outside groups. In the episode “Be a Good Boy, Come for Grandma”, the audience is taught that few simple braids can help establish a small, urban kingdom.
Frank Gallagher may be one of the finest examples of addict-patriarch-made-venture-capitalist. His commitment to scamming his way to security, however fleeting the reward, is often admirable. After making (somewhat) false claims to the Department of Child Services that your children are at-risk out of pure vengeance might out-perform your previous record of leaving your infants to fend for themselves in the cold Chicago winter. No, you never cease to amaze us Frank, which is why your choice to get some cornrows is no less shocking to us viewers.
Season six of Shameless brings tricky times for the more stable Gallagher members of the family. After Carl is released from his one year sentence in juvenile detention, he is left to re-establish his reputation in the streets. He begins to sell “protection services” to local service shops in exchange for weekly payments. Additionally, he manages a small firearm business that eventually supplies a small percentage of his middle school’s faculty and staff. But like any lucrative business, his partnership falls through when his partner, Lenny, is imprisoned for the brutal murder of a neighborhood adolescent. Carl, devastated and scared straight, decides to hang up the Game.
Insert Frank Gallagher: chalk full of disappointment in his son from removing himself from the “lucrative business” of street crime and ready to take his place. Frank then assumes his best role as venture-capitalist-evil-father and promises to take over the “family business”, but not before achieving the appropriate look. He then bursts in, with resistance from other customers, to the nearest Black barbershop and has his hair braided into cornrows. And with that a new Frank was born. Not surprisingly, this does aide the intimidation of his appearance and ultimately his production. He is able to earn enough money to gain the trust of the top drug lord keeping true to the Gallagher way..
So ultimately, whether the use of cornrows in this plot was meant for comedic relief or an important lesson in code-switching (and misappropriation), there is a great lesson to learn from Frank’s wise decision: whether you are down-and-out or on-the-rise, be sure you are always ready to corn-roll up.
Jenn St Sume