4 Old-Timey Jobs That Could Solve the Unemployment Crisis
Have you ever worked a job that's slowly slipping behind the curtain because society just doesn't need that particular function performed anymore? Maybe your gig as a professional cow tipper winds up in the gutter because tons of rural teens are willing to do that shit for free, or maybe your budding career as a Roman fire-breather was somewhat hindered by the fact that you set up shop in Pompeii circa A.D. 79. Sometimes entire occupations go under because the march of technology has rendered them obsolete. It's just the way it works.
Still, there are certain seemingly passe professions that we could totally use today, no matter how backward they may appear.
As we have told you before, there used to be a class of brave people whose sole job responsibility was to get you out of the bed in the morning. In the times before the alarm clock, the knocker-up was king. Tasked with the all-important mission of waking people the hell up so they wouldn't be late for work (a truly admirable quest during the Industrial Revolution, when everyone and their mom worked until they fell into a nightly coma), these everyday heroes drew their wages from going door to door and banging on peoples' windows until they woke up. Since the bedrooms were usually on the second floor, your average knocker-up was generally armed with a large knob-ended pole that could be used to reach the higher windows. Presumably this sturdy tool also came in handy when the inevitable guy-who-reacts-to-all-wake-up-calls-with-bloody-murder came along.
"Today, I beat your window. Tomorrow, I might beat your ass."
If you don't see why a guy whose only professional talent is to wake up the unwilling would find employment in modern times, just ask yourself: How many times have you hit the snooze button during the last couple of weeks? The answer is "well over a dozen," don't pretend that it isn't. Despite the fact that our modern gadgets feature a zillion ways to wake us up in a manner most pleasant, we are and remain a species of fuck-awful oversleepers. Not only is this snooze-induced lateness a massive pain in the ass for you personally, but it's also costing the world economy a whole bunch of cash. The U.K. alone loses $15 billion to chronic employee lateness every goddamn year.
Now ask yourself: Which one is easier to ignore at 6 a.m.: the smooth tunes of Kenny G from your iPhone, or a screaming man banging on your window with a large blunt instrument until you wake the hell up? Talk your community into hiring a few of these guys, and you'd never be late for a meeting/lecture/morning cartoon marathon ever again.
Hell, even if you're the sort of sleeper that will happily snore through a goddamn plane crash, chances are that the companies that would inevitably form to wrestle for control of this fledgling industry would be more than willing to arrange some more ... effective wake-up systems.
"Sir, this is your 5:30 wake-up call."
Just $15 a month, and you'll never want to sleep again!
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We all know the town crier as that asshole from historical movies who's wandering about the city in ceremonial garb, being all "Hear ye, hear ye!" and clanging a bell at infernal hours to precede whatever random "all's well" announcement or execution order he has to blurt out. These people still exist as an official ceremonial position in a handful of places around the world, but the advent of print media more or less killed them off as an actual profession.
Still, it's good to remember that town criers were way the hell more than just stupid-looking fops annoying people with news of new taxes and shit. They were an extension of the crown, and as such they enjoyed a good deal of protection. Know the phrase "Don't shoot the messenger"? These guys were the messenger, and that was less of a humorous saying and more of a direct threat from the ruler: Touch these guys, and you're fucked. Sure, this led into a certain amount of power abuse, such as criers "sampling" the ale in various pubs to make sure it was "of fine taste and not injurious to health." Still, even this led to the criers accidentally inventing both food standards control and pub signs, as they took to nailing approving messages on the doors of whatever taverns offered them a free flagon that didn't make them throw up too much.
Dudes might have been annoying as seven hells, but they sure could carry their weight, is what I'm saying here.
"In ale. We could carry our weight in ale."
Although it's easy to see town criers as relics of times o' bullshit that have no place in the modern day and age, I would posit an argument that there's a place for them in our society. Sure, we have access to all sorts of gadgets and tablets and smartphones that can offer us any news item in the world should we so desire, but be honest: How often do you use your information machines for actually seeing what's happening in the world? Chances are you probably use them mostly for social media and email and maybe some forums and Web comic sites you sometimes browse when you're not quite drunk enough to pass out. Or maybe you're the kind of person who does constantly scour the Internet for news and information, in which case you're probably getting incredibly frustrated in a ton of discussions, as half the people you know only browse the Internet for Facebook and pony porn.
Town criers would guarantee that we'd all be up to a certain level of knowledge of current situations. Sure, maybe they couldn't fill us in on all the details of all the stories and offer their own valuable insight on the issue, but is that a bad thing? I mean, Fox News likes to give us insight on news items, and look how well it's working for their reputation. Today, having a bunch of bell-swinging people scream the news headlines all around town would be more effective than ever, because once they make us aware of said headlines, we have all the information in the world on the subject, right in our pockets. As an added bonus, no one has an excuse to dance the "I'm not really following the news" jig at the coffee table anymore, so if they do it, you finally know for sure they just loathe the very idea of talking with you.
And if some people start giving shit to the town crier, I'm sure we don't even need to set up a whole "protection of the crown" thing anymore. We could just arrange the complainers' news to be delivered through more ... specialized means.
"Sir, this is your personalized 5:30 news, and incidentally I'm totally shitfaced from my ale-sampling tour earlier.
Mind if I sit on your lap for a moment?"
They don't exactly advertise the fact these days, but not too many centuries ago, barbers were in the habit of cutting a lot more than hair. I'm not talking about Sweeney Todd-style people-cuttin' shenanigans here, mind you. Hold on, that's a lie. That's precisely what I'm talking about, only without all that serial killer stuff. Mostly. Probably.
In medieval times, medicine was still in the stage where mercury was treated like aspirin and too accurate a diagnosis could get you burned as a witch. Warfare, on the other hand, was going places -- a ton of technological advancement in castle and siege technology made sure killing each other for some king or other stayed fresh and varied. This presented a problem: The finest military minds were busy injuring each other, but the finest scholarly minds were mainly focusing on doodling killer bunnies in the margins of manuscripts. What's more, surgery -- a medical profession that is fairly important in the field of battlefields -- wasn't really a thing yet. Doctors didn't want anything to do with cutting up human bodies, because it looks like you soldiers have got the monopoly on that shit, thank you very much.
At some point, someone realized that barbers, of all people, seem to be pretty proficient with cutting stuff that's in close proximity with the body. Then, that someone decided, "Fuck it, let's make those dudes rummage around in people's insides. It's basically the same thing, isn't it?" And thus the venerable profession of barber-surgeons was born.
"I still have the bone saw, but these days I only use it when someone jokes that I charge an arm and a leg."
It sounds ridiculous, but pretty much every culture where barbers have been a thing has at some point seen fit to hand them a bigger knife and promote them to cut masters supreme. From medieval Europe to China to ancient Egypt, a barber was your go-to guy if you had a toothache, or needed an amputation, or needed some veterinary work done. Their skill set was impressive even by modern multitasking standards: At one sitting, you could get your boils lanced, nails manicured, and errant testicles removed. I have no idea why you'd want to do that last thing, but if the situation ever arises, the barber-surgeon is your guy.
"Would sir prefer a ... lower shave?"
The reason I'm thinking these barber-dentist-veterinarian-surgeon-beauty technicians should be brought back is simple: convenience. We have smartphones that can do like 32 billion important functions at once, why should we be limited to a ridiculously expensive, inconvenient trip to the hospital whenever our gall bladder starts acting up? Barber-surgeons are a time-tested method that people have been using for close to three millennia -- surely they're good enough for our measly modern medical emergencies. Bring a few thousand friendly barbershops that also take care of your ruptured spleen back in the game, and you'll never need to see a hospital again.
(Of course, they should probably be licensed. You don't want to slump into the barber's chair for your pedicure/wisdom tooth removal/haircut to find you're about to be operated on by a 7-foot-2-inch meth addict called Chainsaw Bob.)
A simple trip to the nearest barber-surgeon would get all of your surgery-requiring medical emergencies taken care of in no time, styling you up like a right motherfucker as they do. Sure, you might still be dripping spinal fluid as you exit the store, and you're pretty sure you asked the guy to cut off the left arm, but at least you're going to look fabulous at the funeral.
Yes, I'm totally championing the return of the jester, arguably the most annoying character in the history of things that are not Jar Jar Binks. These fuckers were basically the Joker without the murder-y charm; their very existence was a thing of bells and puns and stupid faces, something that a modern dickjokesmith such as myself should hate with every fiber of his being.
Or was it?
The thing people often forget about jesters, fools, and the various other professions that used to serve the same function is that the job took some serious skill. A good funnyman (especially one who knew how far he could take the joke before someone with the power to order him killed took serious offense) was extremely hard to find, and potential candidates were scouted like NFL quarterbacks. As such, the "lowly" position of a court jester was a prime example of meritocracy: If your dick jokes could turn the air the right shade of blue, you were in, regardless of whether you were the bastard of a muckraker or a high-level servant of the court.
"It's a talent game, bitches."
This "best of the best" process obviously placed considerable pressure on jesters' shoulders, but it also gave them some serious power, if they chose to wield it. A court jester sat at the table of his lord and was pretty much the only person in his inner circle that was not only allowed, but downright obligated to spout out whatever bullshit popped into his head. This gave the jester unparalleled access to the lord, and if he knew what strings to pull, the crust of his antics could hide an iron fist. Basically, the best jesters could be the equivalent of a vice president with a diploma from the Tyrion Lannister School of Insult Hurling and the freedom to punch the president in the dick whenever he does something stupid.
"I'm counting 357 punches today."
"Is ... is this negotiable?"
With that in mind, it would be pretty intriguing to see what function a court jester could serve in the modern world. Everyone knows today's politics game is skewed in enough ways to give M.C. Escher a headache. Would the world not benefit if a mandatory jester was included in every "court"-government to lighten the mood and blurt out the inconvenient truths? Even if it wouldn't bring the ridiculously-removed-from-the-common-people leaders' ears closer to the ground, it would at least make press conferences a whole lot more entertaining.
And hey, if the politicians wouldn't listen, we could always tweak the fools to deliver their message in a slightly more ... effective manner.
"Sir, this is your 5:30 reminder of all the ways you've stepped on the nation's collective dick."
Pauli Poisuo is a Cracked columnist and freelance editor. Yes, he has this neat clown costume he's been dying to use. Why do you ask?