28
Nov
08

who we are and what we do

A notion occurred to me yesterday while reading the Christmas gifts supplement that came with The Irish Times. Aside from the self-serving fantasy that I (or seemingly anyone else) can actually afford such wonderful things, I was forced to contemplate our jobs and what the say about us. Towards the end of it they had a vox-pop feature where they ask people what their ideal gifts are, and what they’re going to buy, etc. It was a typically fluff piece to end a typically fluff free magazine.

What I found interesting was that each person interviewed was identified by name and job. It was all “John Murphy: IT consultant” and so on (I can’t give precise examples as I left the rag in my sister’s car when she gave me a ride home. She’s going to be pissed at me now for leaving shit in her car again). The use of people’s careers as a measure to judge them suddenly stuck in my craw.

I don’t think I have ever read a vox-pop type feature where they don’t point out what it is that each person interviewed does. Along with their name, their job is almost certainly referred to, and I’m asking myself why the job? Why not one of the many other facets of a person’s life, such as marital status, how many brothers or sisters they have, or even their yearly income. On occasion ages might be used, but this is almost a rarity. There might also be occasions where the publication in question is aimed at a specific audience, and mentioning the respondents’ job is redundant, but these are really the exceptions that prove the rule. When I was involved in student media we regularly ran vox-pops in the campus newspaper. Obviously, it was pointless for us to mention that interviewees were students, but we would always mention what they studied.

The reason for this isn’t hard to work out. More so that their age or marital status or annual income, an individual’s job is the most useful – if unfair – measure for strangers to assess their personality. When someone expresses an opinion, it’s natural to want to what perspective that opinion stems from. And if someone tells you they’re spending €500+ on their wife’s gift they must expect you to be curious as to what made them so affluent.

The problem with this is that in conveys a sense that a person’s job is a measure of their values. This in turn creates a further problem for the thousands that have been hurled on the dole queues. It used to bother me when women on Winning Streak would say, “he’s unemployed at the moment,” when asked what their husbands do. It seemed to imply they might find a job by the end of the episode. But I understand it now. If what we do is seen as a measure of our worth, those of us doing nothing have to face the prospect of worthlessness.

On a cheerier note, the interview on Wednesday went well, so it looks like I’ll have a couple shifts every other weekend. I don’t really consider it a “job”, but for now it’ll do.

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1 Response to “who we are and what we do”


  1. 1 gem
    December 7, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    I think we do judge people by their job, and that means we also begin to judge ourselves by what we do….which is why so many find the current level of unemployment depressing. Suddenly being without a job can make you question yourself..and what it is you should be doing etc. Hopefully the recession will allow people to concentrate more on other aspects of their lives too. Hope your new job is going well, Best of Luck 🙂


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