movies matter | criticism by maryann johanson
Fri Jan 01 2016, 03:56pm | 18 comments
Actually I’d have trouble taking seriously any aspiring artist who let his or her career path get decided by something as shallow as an Old Navy shirt.
But then that’s just me.
But that’s not really the issue. It’s not *just* a shirt. It’s *everything* in our culture that says that art isn’t important and that artists don’t have real jobs.
Our culture also encourages us to look down upon engineers, fast-food workers, retail clerks, grocery store employees, and a great many people who have “real” jobs. Yet — apart from an occasional exception like actor James Franco — I don’t see a whole lot of pushback against these attitudes.
Perhaps the real problem is that our culture is encouraging us to be more and more comfortable with having contempt for people in general. Which, of course, provokes the obvious question: If that is indeed so, why do we go along with it?
Who looks down on engineers? And why?
The other jobs you mentioned are often considered temporary employment that people take while they’re looking for something more satisfying, or something that pays better. So any contempt comes from the idea that a worker hasn’t developed the skills, resources, or initiative to move on to a more meaningful career. That idea may be unfair or untrue, but it’s a very different idea than the concept that art is useless and frivolous.
Cartoonist Scott Adams developed a whole career encouraging people to look down on engineers with his Dilbert comic strip. And apart from the Iron Man movies — which hardly represent a typical engineer — I have not seen much pushback on that front. We still seem to encourage the idea the idea that people who work with words — like, say, lawyers or politicians — are more important than people who actually build things.
And I wish I could pretend that it was only my imagination encouraging this idea but I don’t think so. After all, it’s not like the recent 60 Minutes story detailing the darker side of Apple Computers — including a story about foreign female workers who were so desperate to escape their working conditions that they were literally committing suicide — has produced a whole lot of outrage.
Then again most of the people I grew up with — and most of the people I’ve known who have had artistic ambitions — aren’t exactly the type of people you expect to see at Old Navy so I suppose you could always blame my class biases on my reaction to the above post. If you wish.
I have never, ever gotten the impression that “engineer” was a disrespected profession. Quite the opposite, in fact. Lawyers, doctors, and engineers are often mentioned in the same breath, as the kinds of jobs parents hope their kids get after college.
The Foxconn workers who were committing suicide at Apple’s China factories weren’t engineers, as far as I recall. But I *do* recall a lot of attention paid to it by the media.
You know the expression “You’re no rocket scientist”? A lot of the time, it’s making fun of the people who aren’t engineers.
There is plenty of pushback against the idea that we should look down on low-paid workers. Are you kidding? The entire labor movement is predicated on this. The recent living-wage movement is predicated on this. I see nothing but pushback against it.
And “engineer” is one of the fields we’re all “supposed” to go into if we want to live the good life. Isn’t everyone pushing STEM education and jobs as the supposed cure-all for our economic woes on every scale, from the personal to the national and global?
i don’t agree with your evaluation of Dilbert. if anything, Scott Adams is lampooning the bean counters and middle managers who don’t let engineers do what they’re best at doing. he also mocks the cubicle farm environment of today’s corporate setting. but not engineers.
People with STEM education make better soulless corporate drones than people who’ve been taught about poetry and art and stuff. (Given that modern education forces you to be one or the other quite early on.)
(Given that modern education forces you to be one or the other quite early on.)
You’re talking about the UK, I presume? STEM and the arts continue to be offered jointly in US high schools and colleges. I’ve never thought it was a good idea to push kids onto a track early and educate them ONLY in that track.
And ideally, a science education should teach you to be the exact opposite of a drone: to question received wisdom, to test things for yourself, to respect evidence rather than authority. But that’s ideally. Science can of course be taught poorly (just as the arts can; a bad liberal arts teacher can just as well force students to meekly accept “This book or film or painting is great because generations of academics say so” rather than to engage with the art themselves and make up their own minds).
Well, these days both streams are basically teaching you to pass exams. But there’s a right answer in science, which there isn’t necessarily in arts, though they do their best…
These days, the drones seem to be in the anti-science camp. They’re the creationists and global warning deniers who reject any evidence that doesn’t fit their ideology.
A good scientist may say there’s only one right answer, but that’s because there’s convincing evidence to support that answer. If schools are teaching science correctly, a teacher will say: Look at the evidence, even if it contradicts what you believe, or what I’ve told you.
Isaac Asimov pointed out that right and wrong are relative concepts even in science. Interesting that, in his telling, it was the English Lit major who tried to hold science to absolutes.
“Right answers” in science are, of course, provisional, and subject to refinement and alteration as the quality of the evidence increases. A good science education would teach that, but “teaching to the test” would emphasize “getting it right” over actual thought process and nuance. That’s a flaw in the teaching methodology, not in the nature of STEM.
Well, not so much lawyers anymore. :)
I never meant to imply that the Foxconn workers were engineers. They are far better described as factory workers. However, most of my relatives have been factory workers at one time or another so I obviously have a bit of bias here. And while the scandal has received quite a bit of attention by the media — as my reference to 60 Minutes makes quite obvious — it has yet to receive as much attention as the Nike sweatshop scandal did back in the late 1980s. Indeed, what was considered scandalous back in 1989 has since become common practice in the American business community — which is a depressing thought.
But I’m already dangerously off-topic so I’ll concede the rest of the points you made in your post.
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