Workin' for The Man

Washington City Paper | February 10, 2006
God love The Idler. God damn The Idler.

Tom Hodgkinson’s spunky little journal extolling the virtues of the profligate lifestyle should be a must-read in business schools, if only to coerce the doomed students to wake up and drop out. Especially in his most recent book, How to Be Idle, a manifesto for living the sane life of leisure, Hodgkinson offers impeccable arguments that the working life is a sucker’s bet at the very best. Now comes Crap Jobs, assembled by Idler deputy editor Dan Kieran, which gets down to the tragic specifics of exactly how much jobs suck.

Sure, the maggot farmers, the pig wankers, they’ve got it bad. But they’re not alone, by a long shot. Take the job I’m currently performing, for instance. The journalist featured in Crap Jobs made $12 an hour. But the “junk mail copywriter” made $28 an hour. As superior as I’d like to feel to such craven scribes, I’d gladly word-process a mile in their shoes for a $16-an-hour raise. Even a guy who cleaned sigmoidoscopes—that is, devices “for looking up people’s bums”—pulled down $14 an hour. That is to say, my job is worse than a literal shit job.

But, of course, the lure of money is what keeps us in our places. And Crap Jobs is a first-person account of the many ways humans will leap at that golden bait, based on anecdotes sent to the Idler Web site. Icons categorize occupations as “dangerous” (battery breaker, salmon-head slicer), “disgusting” (tampon-factory cleaner, koala stuffer), “humiliating” (aquarium cashier, traffic counter), “futile” (data inputter, chili-sauce bottler), and the like, most earning at least a couple of damning decorations. Christian-book stacker, for instance, qualifies as humiliating, futile, soul-destroying, and immoral.

The horror stories are accompanied by horrifying statistics and factoids about the working life from the past century or two, proving that jobs have always blown. Consider this 1845 description of the life of the cotton-mill worker:

The supervision of machinery, the joining of broken threads, is no activity which claims the operative’s thinking powers, yet it is of a sort which prevents him from occupying his mind with other things. We have seen, too, that this work affords the muscles no opportunity for physical activity. Thus it is, properly speaking, not work, but tedium, the most deadening, wearing process conceivable. The operative is condemned to let his physical and mental powers decay in this utter monotony, it is his mission to be bored every day and all day long from his eighth year.

Sound familiar, cubicle boy? What’s sad is that the cotton-mill gig was likely a coveted position among those poor wretches forced off the bucolic farm and into the big, fetid city by the inexorable march of the Industrial Revolution.

That’s only one depressing facet of Crap Jobs. Compounding the fact is that The Idler is a British publication, and those damn socialist toffers can afford to lie about in the bed-sit sipping afternoon tea. We Yanks are constitutionally compelled to keep our noses to the grindstone as we pursue our constitutionally mandated dreams of happiness. So damn Kieran, Hodgkinson, & Co. for reminding us what a nightmare that dream really is. About the only comfort one may take is the frankly lame argument that at least we’ve got the Web to surf for eight hours while our souls are being stolen. Now excuse me while I check in with Defamer.

Washington City Paper

In a city where a great deal of attention is focused on national affairs, Washington City Paper maintains a relentless emphasis on local Washington. City Paper serves as the definitive local guide to cultural and civic life in the District...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 1400 I St. NW, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20005
  • Phone: (202) 332-2100