3 Bizarrely Specific Job Trends in Movies
Before I made jokes on the Internet, I used to hand out greasy popcorn in movie theaters. After that, I sold fishing and camping equipment. After that, I sold shoes. Then I was a camp counselor, and then I sold bowel cleanser over the phone, then I washed dishes, and then I was a bartender. And now I have this job.
No matter what job I had, I always thought, "Man, someday I'm going to write a movie about this. Someday I'll tell the world my story, as a 19-year-old who sells bowel cleanser over the phone to lunatics." Unfortunately, the world will never get to see my bowel cleanser movie, or my camp counselor TV show, or my shoe salesman musical, because Hollywood is very specific about what careers they will focus on. And my jobs just don't fit into any of their acceptable career categories.
Creative, Handsome and Funny Guys Are Architects
When I first noticed the overabundance of male architects in pop culture, I thought I must have been overreacting, seeing and reading into nonexistent patterns, all Beautiful Mind-style. After all, there's a finite amount of job types out there, and just because I might have noticed a few movies about architects doesn't mean anything weird was going on.
Then CBS debuted its new show Partners, which features two male architects in leading roles. That means CBS now has two ensemble comedy shows featuring architects in a row on the same night every Monday.
So I decided to reopen my investigation. Let's look at exactly how many architects are popping up in movies and TV. We've got Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer ...
... Zach Braff in The Last Kiss ...
... Keanu Reeves in The Lake House ...
... Matthew Perry and Oliver Platt in Three to Tango ...
... and plenty more, including Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle, Adam Sandler in Click, Luke Wilson in My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Matthew Broderick in The Cable Guy and Matt Dillon in You, Me and Dupree (and he also pretends to be an architect in Something About Mary). I just didn't feel like tracking down pictures of all of those.
Really look at that list. I'm closing in on 30 years old, I've lived on both sides of the country and spent at least a little bit of time in a dozen other states, and I have never in my life met a single architect (let alone a sexy one with a bunch of interesting and dramatic friends). I couldn't find an architect with a gun to my head, but when the aliens take over this planet and go through our records, they're going to assume that there was a long stretch of time where every single middle-class white guy exclusively built skyscrapers.
Plus one black guy!
It's a crazy specific trend. If your character is a cop, you're making an action cop movie about justice. If he's a lawyer, you're making a legal thriller about a more boring kind of justice. But if you don't want to make an action movie or a legal thriller, your protagonist is an architect, end of story.
Or at least what Hollywood thinks an architect is. A little research on the part of these Hollywood writers might go a long way. Hollywood isn't just writing about architects; it's writing about architect designers. These protagonists are always landing clients and designing elegant and functional buildings when, in reality, modern architects spend very little time designing and focus more on "construction detailing or project management." There hasn't been an accurate representation of an architect on film in years. It's not just that Hollywood screen and TV writers keeping making all of their protagonists architects; it's that their research seems to begin and end with "Architects have drafting tables and those ruler things, right?"
Why Hollywood Does It
Hollywood keeps making architects because they like the idea of what they think an architect is. They like that an architect has all of the passion and creativity of an artist, but without any of the "starving artist" stereotypes. They like writing characters with all the creativity of a writer but with the "groundedness" of a businessman. Of course, if they'd done any research, they'd realize that 53 percent of architects are out of work, most hate their detail-oriented, compromise-filled jobs, and you can find more articles about why one shouldn't be an architect than why one should.
But still, Hollywood seems to think it's the perfect average-white-guy job, so look forward to 11 movies starring Paul Rudd as an architect in 2013.
There Are Three Types of Jobs Women Can Have
I'd like to say right now that I'm not trying to turn this into a debate about sexism in Hollywood. That is a valid debate, but it should be handled by people who are smarter than me. I'm not bringing up the fact that Hollywood only creates a small number of roles for women as a way of saying "There's a disappointing lack of gender balance in Hollywood today." I'm only doing it as a way of saying "Hey, isn't it silly that Hollywood does this? Jokes!"
Now that the disclaimer's out of the way, let's get into the three sexist roles that sexist Hollywood forces upon women.
Something Vaguely Related to Journalism
The female lead in 7 out of 10 romantic comedies works in journalism, which is a statistic I just made up but still believe with all of my heart. Decades ago, someone came up with the archetype of the "plucky, ambitious female reporter," and instead of coming up with something new, every screenwriter who followed said "That sounds good, I'll just use that." These women need to be so ambitious and so just loaded with pluck that they get completely consumed by their jobs so that, when they reach 30, they realize that they never made time to find a man (which, it turns out, is what plucky, ambitious journalists really wanted the whole time).
To drive home the pervasiveness of this trend, not only am I going to list a bunch of women who played journalists in movies, but I'm going to do my best to Kevin Bacon the shit out of it and build a full chain of connections. Here we go.
Katherine Heigl worked for E! News in Knocked Up, and then Heigl played a morning show producer in The Ugly Truth. Rachel McAdams was a morning show producer in Morning Glory, and then McAdams played a spunky reporter in State of Play. Drew Barrymore was a spunky reporter who made herself the subject of her own story in Never Been Kissed, and then Kate Hudson made herself the subject of a story in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, a movie that featured Robert Klein. Klein played himself in Definitely, Maybe, which featured Rachel Weisz as an aspiring journalist and, speaking of aspiring journalists, that's what Tara Reid was in Van Wilder with Ryan Reynolds. And then Ryan Reynolds starred in The Proposal, which co-starred Sandra Bullock as the editor for a New York publisher.
Something Vaguely Related to Wearing Lots of Pantsuits
Speaking of The Proposal, it's one of the rare crossovers, in that Sandra Bullock is tangentially connected to the field of journalism but is also a no-nonsense businesswoman who wears pantsuits and is mad most of the time -- the second category of jobs Hollywood will allow women to have. They're just as career-focused as the female journalists above, but this time they are in pantsuits.
We've got Meryl Streep as a career-obsessed fashion ... something in The Devil Wears Prada ...
... Kate Beckinsale, the fancy ad executive in Everybody's Fine ...
... Sarah Jessica Parker as the cold, all-business something-or-other in The Family Stone ...
And more, but I've exhausted the movies I know off the top of my head, and "serious women in pantsuits" isn't something I'd like to add to my Google Image Search, because I'm not sure what impact it would have on the profile that the government is building on me based on all of my previous searches, and I'd rather not take the chance that it'll be a negative one. My point is, women be pantsuiting; you can't stop a woman from pantsuiting in a movie. Even in 2012, a pantsuit and ponytail is Hollywood's shorthand for an uptight woman who needs to, by the end of the movie, loosen up.
I don't know if this woman exists in real life, but that's because I work for a silly Internet website, and as such have never met a woman who wore a pantsuit in a non-Halloween context.
Founder and Often Sole Employee of a Cute Specialty Shop (Mostly Bakeries)
This is the third kind of job a woman can have in a movie -- owner of either a bakery or a specialty shop. Kristen Wiig started a cute bakery in Bridesmaids, but she wasn't the first woman to own her own cute little shop around the corner. Meg Ryan, in fact, ran a bookstore called Shop Around the Corner in You've Got Mail, and if that wasn't kitschy enough for you, Keri Russell ended up with a pie-focused diner in Waitress. Juliette Binoche ran a chocolate shop in Chocolat, Maggie Gyllenhaal owned a bakery in Stranger Than Fiction, Meryl Streep ran a bakery in It's Complicated, Andie MacDowell started a bakery in The Muse, Heather Locklear plays a single baker in The Perfect Man and holy shit that is a chocolat of women who own bakeries in movies.
There are exceptions, of course, because there are exceptions with everything. Some women play doctors and some play strippers and some play moms and some play ghosts. In general, though, these are the jobs that keep coming up for women.
Why Hollywood Does It
Giving a character a job with pre-established tropes makes writing so much easier. Each of these jobs is shorthand for a character type. There's only so much time in a movie; why waste 20 minutes giving a character a rich backstory when you can just give her one of these jobs and get the audience up to speed immediately? You could spend 20 minutes talking about Sandra Bullock's character as a child, growing up in a world dominated by men. You could show how that affected her, how watching her mother getting ordered around by men instilled in young Bullock a strong desire to never, ever be pushed around, especially by a man. You could show a whole montage of her growing up and getting tough, working her way through college, becoming self-sufficient and successful and powerful, all on her own, and you can show that, as a side effect of this enormous growth, she hasn't exactly developed enough social grace to hold down a relationship, because it was just never her focus. All of that makes for a great setup for a movie about a powerful, wound-up woman who is about to find love.
Or you could just put her in a pantsuit and establish absolutely everything you need to establish. Giving Sandra Bullock a ponytail and pantsuit makes her efficient and no-nonsense, and giving Kristen Wiig a bakery makes her quirky and charming, and look at that! You barely had to write anything at all.
It's Crazy Easy to Sneak into the Mob
(Hey, guys, working for the mob is a job, too. Don't be dicks.)
In The Departed, Jack Nicholson's character, Frank Costello, is supposed to be the crime boss to end all crime bosses. He's got money, drugs, women and moles in high-profile places, and the Boston Police Department AND the FBI have been trying (unsuccessfully) to bring him to justice for decades. He basically runs Boston and is either feared or admired by everyone.
Here's what Leonardo DiCaprio's character, Billy, does to join the biggest mob in Boston:
One crime, with his shitty cousin.
Then he beats up some guys in a place.
Then he beats up another guy in a different place.
BOOM! He's in Frank Costello's inner circle. It helps that his family had connections to the mob, but that doesn't change the fact that DiCaprio couldn't have been on the mob's radar at all for the first 24 years of his life.
In Donnie Brasco, Johnny Depp's Brasco infiltrates Al Pacino and Michael Madsen's wildly powerful mafia by running into Pacino at a restaurant and pointing out that the diamonds Pacino bought were fake. Then he beats up a guy and BOOM! He's a high roller in one of the biggest crime families around.
Hell, even in the first The Fast and the Furious movie, Paul Walker infiltrates Vin Diesel's car-racing gang (remember when that's what those movies were about?) by hilariously losing a car race and then running from the cops. That's all it took. Vin saw Walker sprinting away from police officers and thought, "Him. That's a guy you want on your side."
Why Hollywood Does It
A nice cocktail of laziness and efficiency. In reality, it would take years for someone like DiCaprio's Billy to rise up the ranks and get admitted into Costello's private circle, but this is movie life we're talking about, and we just don't have that kind of time. If you devote an hour to Billy gaining the trust of the mob, then you only have 45 minutes to spend on the rest of the movie. So, Hollywood shortens the whole "Wow, this guy has really proven himself and he clearly belongs in our mob, now that we've observed him for several years" process and condenses it down to "Wow, did you see the way that guy PUNCHED that other guy? Let's make him one of our best mob guys."