Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, September 6, 2021
by Neil Senturia
One of the great benefits of writing a column that appears on Monday is that I always get a shot at trying to say something pithy on Labor Day. In the past, I have explored the history of the labor movement and have commented on the value and joy of having a job and an opportunity to “work.”
As many of you know, I spent 10 years in Hollywood as a writer. You might call it laboring, but mostly it was wearing black T-shirts, going to screenings, pitching to cretins and screaming at my agent who told me in no uncertain terms that I lacked any talent that was worthy of being paid for by any studio or producer.
So, it seems only fitting to turn to the movies on this day and see what insights they might provide to honor, acknowledge, praise, inform or make fun of labor.
“The Devil Wears Prada” Fabulous fashion, but at its core, it is about women trying to build their careers with the help of sisterhood. Overcoming obstacles and the men who can’t give up the patriarchal structure.
“Legally Blonde” Rampant discrimination, but at the center it is the story of a woman with an unshakable work ethic, self-confidence and the courage to take on the world.
“The Proposal” A powerful woman who earns the respect of all. No easy default to marriage and children, she remains the boss.
“Hidden Figures” Gender discrimination and arrogant men, but the three brilliant women refuse to cave and let their circumstances define their impact.
“The Company Men” Men in executive positions losing their job and their identities. Welcome to America, 2021.
“Up In the Air” An honest look at getting told in no uncertain terms that you are no longer needed. And it has the benefit of some real men and women getting to say what they wish they could have said to their bosses when they were terminated.
“Office Space” A jaundiced and contemptuous view of the modern office culture. Outside consultants implement cost-cutting. Humans get axed, but the protagonist gets promoted by being indifferent to the feelings of the others.
“Working Girl” A woman trying to make it in the business world, in the face of a difficult boss. She finally gets to own her ideas and be rewarded with the deal she deserves.
“Falling Down” A man crumbles under the pressures of modern life, dealing with having lost his job and his self-worth and finding he is no longer economically viable.
“Mr. Mom” Auto industry job loss and role reversal where the man finds that a woman’s work is not only never done, but damn hard to do in the first place.
“Glengarry Glen Ross” Deception, begging, burglary and welcome to the world of kill-or-be-killed. “First prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Second prize is steak knives. Third prize, you’re fired.”
“The Full Monty” Six unemployed men in the dying northern English steel town of Sheffield take it all off in a Chippendales-inspired scheme to meet their respective financial obligations. Again, marriages, self-worth and self-respect are collateral damage.
The powerful themes here are that for both men and women, a job, a place to go, a chance to earn money and respect and have a community are central to the human condition. However, the world of work, what a job looks like, what a boss looks like, and what an office looks like has forever changed because of COVID-19, #MeToo and a dozen other memes.
For sure, a pension and a gold watch are dinosaurs, but the work ethic has changed also. There is increased mobility and the labor dynamic has shifted. Some workers just leave, fed up with the rat race.
Today, there are jobs available and not enough people seem to want them. Restaurants, hotels, retail are begging for workers and paying increased wages, but still not enough takers. Remote work in some fashion is here to stay.
And one category of worker, moms in particular, operates on the very narrow balance beam of child care, school, family and earning an income. A very difficult trick even for Simone. Over time, perhaps we will be able to add a few more inches to each side.
Rule No. 678:
Real life at 24 frames per second.