Tuesday 18 October 2011

Brilliant Careers

“How do I make a living as a fine art photographer? Generous father.” Times interview with US billboard artist/activist Ron English August 06

Stow Crats traditionally worked in the City (financial district), or at posh art dealers Sotheby’s or Christie’s – they don’t have to worry about interview technique as jobs are got by pulling strings, calling in favours and the old boy network.

Upward children get jobs where the only way in is to work for nothing as an “intern” while the bank of Mum and Dad supports them. Thus the media becomes staffed entirely by people who are terribly surprised at any evidence that they share these islands with millions of non-Upwards. Thalia Upward wishes she’d been allowed to learn a skill when she finds her media studies degree doesn’t help her get a job in it. She writes a lot of letters kicking off “I am determined to break into publishing”. They all get binned because she spells liaise “liase”.
Impressive sounding “creative” jobs pay peanuts because it’s assumed you have private means, creating a segment of the bourgeoisie who have status without the money to keep it up.

Upwards can’t do anything so dull as to learn the skill or get the training – they like to tell with glee how they bluffed their way onto the newspaper by pretending they were experienced in the computer system (and then smuggled their baby into the office and hid it under the desk in a basket). Female Upwards and Stow Crats have a “charmingly scatty” act. This doesn’t go down at all well with office manager Teales, whose icy disapproval comes as a shock to Caro and Sam.

Teales read the email and turn up on time (with the right kit). They do their research, they brief and debrief. If they ever go to the wrong meeting point or leave the folder at home they busk it skilfully and never let on. Caro and Sam turn the whole incident into an amusing anecdote and Jen chalks it up against them.

Thalia can’t even become a vet, like Christine Teale - far too vocational. She learns to type and becomes a temp and is slow to adapt to real life. If the South is hit by blizzards, or trains are halted by the wrong kind of snow, Thalia sets out from home at the usual time and expects her colleagues to accept her excuse when she turns up at 11. They give her hell for taking off her coat in the firm’s time. Christine listens to the weather forecast/traffic report and sets out early so that she arrives at her usual time, five minutes before the dot. Thalia ends up doing PR for a gallery.

Teales and Weybridges push their children into jobs where they can earn the most money in the shortest time. Teales are life’s winners. They wouldn’t go to Tibet to find themselves, they’d do a cost-benefit analysis and work out that it was a waste of time. If they go New Age, they make it into a money spinner and do crystal healing or paint fairy pictures. They get good jobs, earn a high salary, have a pension plan, a five-year plan (go travelling, do a bungee jump, get married, have a baby, run an internet business from the spare room).

They have what psychologists call “executive function”. If dim, they doggedly work until they get a passing grade. They make a revision chart and stick to it. They also know how to work the system, find out what’s required, think for the future, know what they’re at school for. They keep their heads down, appear to follow the rules. They don’t challenge the system, they work round it. They know how to manage themselves – review plans and performance, take an audit. They’re reliable (they learned it in the Brownies). They’re - gasp! - realists.

They do the sums and work out where it will be most economic to live, balancing good local schools with the cost of commuting. They work out their chances, and ways and means of getting what they want. They don’t wear out their youth in theatrical agents’ waiting rooms. If they become actors they drive a taxi or run an antiques business on the side. (Upward actors make their real money giving training to corporate staff - presentations, speech, confidence – but they don’t talk about it.)

Teales have sensible priorities. They don’t mind moving for work to somewhere unfashionable or uncool, in fact they don’t even notice the uncoolness of Stansted Mountfitchet or Leatherhead. When an Upward moved to Kingston a posh acquaintance wailed: “But there’ll be no one there you could be friends with!”

Sharon Definitely becomes a reality TV star and puts out her own perfume brand (or jewellery line on the shopping channel), or runs a tanning salon, or else she goes to stage school and becomes a pop star, a TV presenter, or a TV ad actress, all careers barred to Thalia. (Stage schools are for Definitelies and Teales and are very practical and goal-oriented; Upwards go to drama school where they’re subjected to a combination of group therapy and playground bullying.)

Dave Definitely has a property portfolio. The Upward kids wouldn't do up houses for a living because they can't do the sums and don't have the skills and aren’t prepared to work hard enough. Upwards still look down on “trade”, unless it shows how unique, tasteful, politically correct or green they are. They can import terracotta cookware from Spain or fairtrade cotton from India. They don’t have to make a huge profit because they don’t have to live on the proceeds.

Trustafarian Stow Crats don’t need to work at all, so they do something to give their life meaning. This may turn out to be trivial and time-wasting. Because they have the time, the money and the connections, they can write and get published and performed. They earn either very little or less than nothing from this, and spend their lives stretching a slender talent way beyond its limits.

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