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Whether It's Sex Workers or CIA Agents, the Entertainment Industry Doesn't Portray the Truth About People's Careers

On stage and screen, most careers are either hopelessly romanticized or thoroughly demonized.
 
 
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There isn't much to recommend the Broadway revival of Glengarry Glen Ross, which, despite a stellar cast including Al Pacino and Richard Schiff, is slow, thin, dated and delusional, thinking itself naughty for the swear words (lots of "fucks"; two or three c-words), when, across the street, Book of Mormon nightly wows audiences with the suggestion that God be penetrated in every orifice.

Still. I saw Glengarry last week with someone who works in sales, which made it somewhat more interesting.

Mamet's play documents the feral end of the sales spectrum – men flogging units of Florida timeshare – and is faithful enough to reality to provoke a complicated reaction from those who work somewhere in it: from recognition – "always be closing", the play's mantra, is "something every sales person lives by," said my friend – to dismay, that it rests on a popular, sleazy image of salespeople:

"That we're predatory and out to hurt people, when we're just professionals."

Most industries, when depicted on stage or screen, are either hopelessly romanticised or thoroughly demonised, in such a way as to fill those who know the terrain with a pleasing sense of superiority. Aaron Sorkin's HBO drama The Newsroom was lambasted by journalists earlier this year, less on grounds of bad drama than of liberty-taking. Which seemed a bit unfair, given that no one pulled up ER, say, for absurdly gilding life in the emergency room. (Homeless man in need of immediate, multimillion-dollar treatment and all-consuming staff interest in how he got to be there: was it something in his childhood?!)

If people base their career choices partly on an industry's popular image, every career office in high school is battling the following:

Law

As everybody knows, becoming an attorney is a decisively leftwing gesture (Erin Brockovich, To Kill a Mockingbird, Philadelphia), in which case it will be you and your wits against The Man and his money. Even if you do find yourself working for one of those ritzy city law firms, you will almost certainly spend your time heroically defending the underdog, probably pro bono ( The Good Wife).

When you're a washed-up semi-alcoholic, someone will come to you in fear for his life and you will pull yourself together for one last dazzling courtroom appearance (The Client, The Verdict).

Very, very occasionally, a lawyer will prove to be untrustworthy, like the one in Jurassic Park who got eaten by a T-Rex while sitting on the toilet, having cruelly abandoned Richard Attenborough's grandchildren. But this really only happens once a decade.

Prostitution

Tricky, this. It could go one of two ways. You're either going to end up murdering someone and facing the death penalty (Monster). OR marrying an attractive wealthy businessman (Pretty Woman, Gigi) and turning your life around.

The only other possibility is that, with no particular drain on your emotional, spiritual or physical resources, you will use prostitution to pay your way through college (Belle de Jour) and, after it's all over, make a lot of money advocating for it as a charming post-feminist solution to rising tuition fees.

Journalism

Reporters are shabby, sleazy, alcoholic and badly dressed, but they do have the advantage of zealously pursuing the Truth (State of Play, All the President's Men, The Parallax View) – usually while someone is trying to kill them (Bourne Ultimatum). Often, they solve murders (Woody Allen's Scoop), unless they work for the gossip press, in which case they are straightforwardly evil (Harry Potter).

When faced with a moral dilemma over whether to put commercial and political concerns over ethical ones (The Newsroom, The Paper, Goodnight and Good Luck), they always make the right choice.