Saturday, June 8, 2013

Hollywood and the Future of Work

Mick LaSalle makes some important observations about The Internship. He seems to be one of the few critics to have approach the film as something other than a self-serving advertisement for Google. I am not sure I agree with where he takes his reasoning, but I think his conclusion is worth considering:
If you were to believe "The Internship," all you need to thrive in today's economy is gumption and a willingness to travel across the country to work for free. Just think, with a little luck, you might be one of the 5 percent to get a permanent job from out of the intern pool! As for the other 95 percent, why think about them? They're not exactly going to be part of any happy ending. 
Was a movie like this ever made during any previous bad economy? The Great Depression equivalent might be the story of a pair of unemployed guys competing against hundreds to go work on Henry Ford's assembly line. But no, such a movie was never made - and could not exist - because in no previous America would turning yourself into a cog in somebody else's machine be considered an achievement worthy of celebration. 
And in no previous America would it be considered a victory if 95 percent of your fellows were still left on the street. Rather, the Great Depression cinema made heroes of gangsters, con men and fast-talking individualists - guys who chose survival by not fitting in. 
Still, hardly anyone will look at "The Internship" in such bleak terms. It's meant to be fun, and it almost is. But if you do feel a little queasy when you think about it later, the reason is simple: The movie just assumes, as a matter of course, that people are totally defeated, without energy or hope - and then it asks you to feel OK about that.
My primary point has to do with that "hardly anyone" phrase in the final paragraph. This will ultimately depend on who actually bothers to go see the movie. I suspect it will go down as fun for Google fanboys, both those comfortably ensconced in the Googleplex and those aspiring to get there.

However, I have to wonder if this was really the audience that Vince Vaughan and his production team have in mind. That would be those men and women who find themselves displaced from the world of work within which they had made their plans for the future. These people could care less about whether the economy is "good" or "bad," because they have lost all belief in the myth that improvement in the economy will lead to improved conditions for both finding work and the nature of the workplace that provides it. Those people will look at this movie and realize just how far things have fallen. They will probably also recognize that, in spite of that hopeless descent, that brief flurry of indignation known as the Occupy Movement has now given way to apathy and despair.

This movie can be approached as a cautionary tale about the destruction of the middle class. David Simon told that story previously and in greater detail in The Wire. The Internship delivers the message in a more easily digested message; but, to build on that metaphor, it is also more likely to make anyone in the middle class barf in disgust.

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