Have you been watching MTV’s comedy Underemployed? It’s the kind of show that would be right up our alley, and Nona Willis Aronowitz discusses the role sex plays in the personal economies of some of the characters. But I’m more interested in her description of Sofia, whose storyline is a bit more true to life:
Sofia is a pluckier version of Girls’ Hannah, our resident overeducated service worker and struggling writer (every night she attempts to works on her novel for a few minutes, then plays Angry Birds on her phone). She earns minimum wage at Donut Girl, where she is made to wear a humiliating hat and scrub ravaged toilets. Her professional arc is underdeveloped; instead of showing the very real drudgery that accompanies service jobs, Underemployed expects us to feel sorry for her when her manager prohibits laptops. But her personal life, the most fleshed-out of all the characters’, is profoundly affected by her economic circumstances. When she drops her phone in the toilet, her much richer girlfriend blithely buys her a new one, creating an irreparable wedge that ultimately sours their relationship. And unlike her relatively privileged friends, Sofia’s homophobic parents have cut her off financially because she is gay, providing yet another reminder that one’s sexuality can be a liability in a precarious, part-time economy.
I like the premise of a show depicting young, underemployed people trying to figure out how to jumpstart their careers, but I’d prefer to watch a documentary series that followed a bunch of young people over the course of a year or two (though I have my doubts that a show that doesn’t have storylines where someone sleeps with his or her potential client/boss to get a job or raise would have a successful run on MTV). In 2000, Fox aired a documentary series by R.J. Cutler (The War Room, The September Issue,) called American High about 14 students from different backgrounds and the harsh realities of high school, and it was cancelled after four episodes (it later had a limited run on PBS). As a gawky, not-that-popular kid in high school, it was really great to see some other real gawky not-that-popular kids on TV. In the same vein, I think it would be helpful for underemployed people to see some other real underemployed people on TV (though one-offs like MTV’s True Life: I’m in Debt are also quite good).