The Work/Life Trap

Great Britain, Observatory

TimesThey say great minds discuss ideas, ordinary minds discuss events and small minds discuss people.

That’s how we go from the Washington Post and the New York Times (task: to enlighten and inform) all the way down to Rupert Murdoch’s wreckage of The Times London edition.

Once called ‘The Thunderer’, the former newspaper of note now headlines child murderers, recycled PR and and pieces about internet cats. All three feature on today’s front page, and it’s an indication of how far the fall has been when you start thinking the Daily Mail is sometimes smarter.

There are some great writers at the Times, but all journalists are guided by their subs and end up having to conform to house style. Former pressman Keith Waterhouse wrote a terrific book about different newspaper house styles, especially The Mirror’s.

I have a feeling that if you complained to the editors, they’d tell you that ideas don’t sell. But if there’s no line drawn between selling and informing, newspapers might just as well print porn, gadgets and celebrity gossip. Oh.

What I don’t understand is how people live with themselves when they coldly consider how they make a living. ‘Someone has to do it’ and ‘I do it for the money’ aren’t enough. Knowing that you could do better is one thing, but knowing that you’re actively making the world worse is another. I left advertising because I was uncomfortable with requests to trick potential customers. My bosses had the same attitude Enron showed to their end-consumers.

Why should moral emancipation automatically lead to economic destruction? In my old company, we plotted out an ethical mission statement. We would only work on films that had no racism, no sexism, no homophobia. It felt like signing a death warrant. To our surprise, word quickly got out about what we were doing, and soon we were fielding calls from potential clients who asked ‘Are you the people who won’t work on offensive exploitation movies? Can you work on my film? I hope it will meet your standards.’

This was not entirely altruistic on our part. We figured that by claiming the moral high ground we’d get better quality work at the same profit margins. What we had was the luxury of choice, and I know that. There’s a vast swathe of young people now who are forced to take what they can; nobody works at McDonald’s because they want to.

If this sounds a little censorious, it’s not intended to be. The young are in a vicious trap. Either they conform or they starve – so the system reproduces itself, and we’re back in the Victorian times of Old Tory values. To be young today is to be endlessly, relentlessly judged.

This comes home today with a front page article in the Guardian about Aaron Swartz, the internet genius who passionately believed in free information. After he ‘liberated’ online articles the US authorities threw the book at him, and the 25 year-old faced 35 years in jail. He hanged himself, and so they lost one of the best minds of his generation when he could have been given a mission to do good in the world.

Rupert Murdoch at one end – Aaron Swartz at the other – and the state stands squarely behind the former. I guess it’s time to rethink that ‘Don’t Be Evil’ slogan into something more realistic.

10 comments on “The Work/Life Trap”

  1. Ken Murray says:

    I was going to comment but found I couldn’t for a number of reasons. And sadly that’s the point really. We are now in a society that demands we ‘Shop-front’ our personas, as to give a true representation of our beliefs, opinions or feelings will likely be detrimental to our future welfare. So now we strive to create a carefully worded a imaged store front, where the world only sees the user-friendly format of ourselves. Think that’s too cynical? This week I heard of a new company that will review and clean up your online (Facebook etc..) presence, so as not to scare future employers…

  2. Helen Martin says:

    I have never before been so glad to be retired. I have always said what I thought, but I suppose that might be dangerous if I were looking for a job. Perhaps it’s the role of those of us with nothing to lose to be honest in public and speak up for the rest. Even Queen Elizabeth I didn’t want to pry into men’s minds. (She’d have them racked till they revealed it themselves, though.)

  3. Steve says:

    One of my favorite characteristics of Arthur Bryant is exactly that – he says what he thinks, which often ends with others having their eyes bugging out and hair standing on end. Some would call it curmudgeonly; I just call it honest. I can’t even say “Yes, I know he’s a fictional character” because like all of Admin’s creations, he’s based on a real person. I’d like to think that this “in-your-face” attitude was a real part of the real Arthur. So if it wasn’t Admin, please don’t spoil my illusion by saying so.

  4. pheeny says:

    Ah one of the few benefits of age – not caring what people think of you. 🙂

    Having said which I do think that some people take “I speak as I find” as a licence to be needlessly rude, ironically that sort of person is the first to take offence when given a few home truths to digest.

    And you are bang on about the Times which has been on a slow decline since the 1980’s IMHO

  5. Helen Martin says:

    They keep saying that old people feel free to say what they like, but “old” is definitely subject to refining these days. At one time 70, my age, would have been really old but not now. A death notice that says aged 73 gets a “died too young” response. I’m not sure what defines “old” these days, but possibly appearance has something to do with it. John May is supposedly close to Arthur Bryant in age but John isn’t considered as old as Arthur, so possibly attitude is part of it. Arthur looks old and often talks old while John doesn’t and doesn’t. I changed my hair style and everyone said how young I look (especially since I haven’t gone gray) so I suspect it will be some time before I have the freedom of age but in the meantime there is the freedom from economic constraint that hamstrings people who are working. Politeness and minimal restraint is never a bad thing in public discourse.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    They keep saying that old people feel free to say what they like, but “old” is definitely subject to redefining these days. At one time 70, my age, would have been really old but not now. A death notice that says aged 73 gets a “died too young” response. I’m not sure what defines “old” these days, but possibly appearance has something to do with it. John May is supposedly close to Arthur Bryant in age but John isn’t considered as old as Arthur, so possibly attitude is part of it. Arthur looks old and often talks old while John doesn’t and doesn’t. I changed my hair style and everyone said how young I look (especially since I haven’t gone gray) so I suspect it will be some time before I have the freedom of age but in the meantime there is the freedom from economic constraint that hamstrings people who are working. Politeness and minimal restraint is never a bad thing in public discourse.

  7. Steve says:

    Yes, well, at 61 I certainly “feel” old enough to be as curmudgeonly as I like. It helps to truly NOT give a flip what other people think. And I HAVE gone gray….ish.

  8. pheeny says:

    Yes Helen – nowadays you and Steve are just spring chickens 😉
    It won’t be long before we hear that 90 is the new 70

  9. Dan Terrell says:

    I like the idea that 90 is the new 70, but somehow doubt that that will be seen very soon.
    During a recent visit to a new doctor a bit older than myself, I was told several times: “What you have is an older person’s condition which you can manage with skin cream.” There were several varations on this theme, until I finally said: “Doctor, why can’t one of you medical people ever say ‘Dan, may I write this up for the medical journal? You have a far younger man’s condition.'”
    Now, there are several younger men’s conditions I’d like to take a pass on, but still.
    The good doctor replied: “Sorry, you’re not going to hear that in this life.” I mean really! Where is the warm doctor to patient manner?
    If I’ve written this before – I’m out of town and have forgotten. Also, a sign of advancing age, or a good story, is to repeat a tale. If you’ve read it before: cut me some slack. Bryant could be told the above and react as poorly as I may have. Or better yet the youthful May.

  10. Steve says:

    Eh? What’s that you say? Spring chicken? Is that a Chinese dish?

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