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The Faker The Job - The Morer The Dosh

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Sabine Schneider
Sabine Schneider

Did you see that salary guide on Trademe? I was quite interested to see how different jobs compare moneywise and it came as no surprise that people who haven't actually got a real job earn the most. That reminded me of a couple of books I recently read. 

Pay attention - airheads/big babies rule the world. They're everywhere - they assault us from TV screens, mewl from the radio, they head the world's companies, from the smallest outlet to the mega-multinational. They whine and grizzle at council meetings and weasle us out of our money with insincere smiles: We value your business. Have a nice day. 

We're treated like infants, monitored in no-liquor zones, videoed in shops; we're instructed, patronised, commanded, steered, managed, pushed,  manoevred, coerced and shackled like toddlers. We're nannied and manipulated from parliament, talked down to by people who regard mastering PowerPoint as education, who think punctuation and grammar should be intuitive, who believe, like, whatever.

I know you've had a hard time reading these few sentences,  but stay with me and stop bleating - there are a couple of book reviews in here.

Australian journalist and ex-editor of Fairfax's Good Weekend Magazine,  Shelley Gare, explores "The Triumph of the Airheads and the Retreat from Commonsense" in twelve fascinating chapters. The cover of the book makes it look like it's going to be an "Oh, what naughty, greedy children we all are. Stuff happens. Who cares. Let's go shopping. Harr, harr." kind of read. But, thank goodness, it's a serious book.

It explaines airheadism, a concept that has crept into every aspect of our lives, represented by people who have, well, a lot of air in their heads. Airheads talk a lot and say nothing. Airheads sell us our own grandmother, if we let them. Airheads bamboozle us with jargon and make us look like idiots if we don't follow their inane babble.

Although there have always been empty skulls, the age of airheads, in all seriousness, began in the 1980s. In the "hectic rush toward the end of the twentieth century, ... , it was the airheads who soared like hot-air balloons. There was something in the newly postmodern, economic-rationalist atmosphere that gave them lift."

Then, there were, according to the author, still plenty of intelligent, hard-working, sensible people around, but "they were like a bunch of well-schooled racehorses who had suddenly, ... , been trucked off before their time to lesser races ... From there, they looked back with puzzlement at the gilded ponies now prancing giddily around the racetrack." Those ponies, at the beginning of the 21st century, have  suddenly turned up everywhere - rat-cunning bean counters, postmodern ideologues, obtainers of wealth at all cost. They come in the guise of celebrity, consultant, broker, banker, politician, upper-echelon manager and the like. But the epitome of airheadism is the HR manager. Nothing goes without HR managers. They have sprung from thin air, set themselves up as inevitable part of business and are now sucking the lifeblood out of almost every company in the world. In exchange, Gare explains, they have given us rules and regulations, red tape, supervision, more work for less money, administration and redundancies to finance their astronomical salaries and bonuses.
Under their rule, objective knowledge, truth and commonsense have gone the way of apostrophe, dodo and table manners.

It's all on for "designer handbags, a spray-on tan, a berth on the next reality television show or strategic Master of Business Admin programme. Conditions have never been so perfect for the breeding and upkeep of guppies. If the twenty-first century is to keep going the way it is, making its profits, sneakily transferring wealth and power to a select group, it needs the ignorant, the thoughtless, the selfish, the vacuous, the narcissistic, the spendthrift and the money-motivated." In short, it needs us.

Gare says the blank stare has taken the place of accountability, not just in business, but also in politics: "Politicians already seem to be so completely surprised by everything: oops, honey, we forgot to train teachers; oops, honey, we forgot to train doctors and carpenters; oops, not enough scientists either."

The age of actual work - the work of poets, plumbers, writers, painters, dressmakers, cooks, philosophers and even farmers is dead - the age of the airhead pseudo worker has begun. Who'll soon do the real work is anybody's guess.

British writer Michael Bywater's approach to lamenting the bygone era when adults were also grown-ups is slightly, but not fundamentally, different. His language doesn't leave anything to imagination when he says "We know that something has gone wrong from the media, from its shrill infatuation with yobs and chavs, sodomitical politicians and drug-fried popsters, lurching nouveaux and dumbed-down telly, paedophiles and mullahs, black men and pension funds, carcinoma and speed cameras, disintegrating railways and diabolist rappers, skimped maintenance and dodgy travel companies and a terrible, overarching conspiracy against something called (though seldom directly referred to as) 'decency', definded only by its absence."  Bywater's words are reminiscent of Lynne Truss's Talk to the Hand, which is a big rant that also finds modern life boorish, but is shorter, snappier and just as maddening.

The media cacophony serves as distraction for the unwashed masses: If we're too busy looking at shiny shiny pictures, being scared of suicide bombers, running after more money, more status, more things, we can't see what's going on around us, and all those important decisions are made without us. Too bad. But we don't care anyway. As Gare puts it: Like, whatever.

Bywater describes how our brains (if applicable) are constantly boiled on low heat until soft and disintegrating. "It strikes you as out of kilter that there's a notice at London Paddington station that says 'Please be ready to move away with your luggage when you reach the top of the escalator' because it implies that otherwise you wouldn't be ready to move away with your luggage but, instead, would stand there like a moron with other morons piling up against you so that eventually something has to give and you all tumble back down the escalator in a melee of morons and get sucked into the mechanism and ground to hamburger and they'd hose the blood down and scrub the gobbets of stupid flesh out of the machinery and start it up again and the same thing would happen again ... or, if not, why the need for the notice?"

Bywater even, at the end of his excellent baby book, shows us "How not to be a big baby: Fifty ways to leave your mother." Ha. Gotcha. He's providing only 31 ways and points to the last - Never trust an estimate.
The author's council: Watch carefully, ask why, and mind your manners. It's that simple.

Both books have one thing in common: On every page there's cringingly obvious evidence of what's going wrong all around us. And what are we doing? We watch telly. We eat lollies. So fuck off!

Hang on, hang on a minute, I hear you cry. What about you? Sitting on the high horse quoting books that put other people down. Aren't you an airhead/big baby? I think not. I can read, for starters. I know Sweden and Switzerland are two different countries. I know making money is not a profession. I ignore fashion, mistrust administration and politicians, I always always ask why and I know the world doesn't evolve around me. So there.

The Triumph of the Airheads and the Retreat from Commonsense, by Shelley Gare

Big Babies - Or: Why can't we just grow up? By Michael Bywater

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