Monday, June 10, 2013

"Lovers," mason jars, and internships

A weekend! No observations of Ivy reunion rituals, but fun all the same:

-Saw "Lovers and Other Strangers," a 1968 play (and 1970 movie I'm now dying to see - with Cloris Leachman aka Phyllis, and Diane Keaton's film debut) co-written by Renée Taylor aka Sylvia Fine. Fran's mother on "The Nanny," and thus the performer behind one of the best quotes of sitcom history, or so I thought in 2004. (Almost nine years have passed, but I still think it's pretty great.) I have next to no knowledge of theater - community or otherwise - but the acting was quite impressive. The sound technique that involved draping microphones over the cast's foreheads was somewhat distracting, but as if I'd know how one deals with performance acoustics, so all is forgiven.

Like I said, theater performance, I have no idea. The script is something else. The overall mood of the play was very much early-1970s sitcom. Which meant both the rhythm and world of comedy I know well (Rhoda Morgenstern could have popped by at any minute) and a certain dated-ness to the proceedings. Somehow one can look past that sort of thing when watching "The Bob Newhart Show" on the couch. But in public, in 2013, it becomes extra-salient. Things like a scandal over whether a woman will or won't spend the night with a guy she's just met, the obstacle being her commitment to second-wave feminism (and general women-are-like-so nuttiness). Or: a man furious that his wife has taken a job outside the home. The play is a series of vignettes, set - in this production - in different years, from the late 1960s up to the present. The "2002" vignette included a cake from "Whole Foods," but was otherwise set entirely in the "All in the Family" universe.

But most jarring, dated-ness-wise, was the casual homophobia of an era before Stonewall, AIDS, or same-sex marriage. In one vignette, a woman calls her ex-marine husband a "faggot" when he refuses to have sex with her that night. In another, it is debated whether or not a well-known performer from long ago was a "fairy." In neither of these cases are gay people being directly insulted - the characters are being (gently) ridiculed for these conversations. But in both, it's just... insulting in a way that wouldn't go over in 2013. Which brings up that WWPD persistent motif: the tendency of writing from earlier eras to be offensive by today's standards, and the question of what to do with that information. I'm used to looking at this question as it relates to novels (specifically 19th century French novels and their remarkably nasty representations of Jews, no matter the author - looking at you, Zola), but it's more complicated, I now see, when it comes to performing text written in a not-so-enlightened Then.

Here's what this production did with that information: They made the final vignette, "2013," one about cold feet before a wedding, about a lesbian couple. Because it's 2013! There are weddings with two brides! While the sentiment was admirable, the execution somewhat less so. It was a bit of men-are-like-so sitcom humor about male fear of commitment. While there are no doubt lesbians who fear commitment, this twist was so far beyond the sophistication of the script that it took a while to sort out that this even was a same-sex couple, and not a couple girlfriends-in-the-pre-enlightened-sense chatting about another wedding. As in, it's not that this was unrealistic, but that the universe of the play was one of clingy dingbat (R.I.P.) women and macho, philandering men.

Anyway, those who know more about theater than I do (Flavia?) can weigh in, if interested, about how such issues are generally/ideally approached.

-Went to Brooklyn Flea Philly. It did indeed seem much like Brooklyn Flea Brooklyn, which is to say, a lot of curated knick-knacks such that, if you're there to shop, you'd perhaps be better off at a thrift store. But the point is obviously people-watching, which was if anything better at the Philadelphia equivalent. Places other than New York just have space, so around the market itself were a large number of outdoor cafés. I had heard tell of Philadelphia hipsters - that Philadelphia had a Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Bushwick - but my prior experience of Northern Liberties brought me to what must have been the wrong edge of it. Wrong as in, there was just nothing much there, maybe two cafés over many blocks, otherwise just... residential? This time, though, I got a sense of the full scope of the area, and... I wasn't in Princeton anymore! I had a Mason jar iced Stumptown coffee and a lemon bar five times the size one would have been in New York. Fabulous.

-Less fabulous: Thomas Friedman's new thing where he promotes some start-up he has a personal family connection to, and somehow uses that as a springboard for advising Young People Today to take unpaid internships as possible, to do the lowliest tasks for no pay, and to "add value" to companies that can't quite get it together to pay you anything. This is going to be missed, because it emerged the same time as the more compelling you're-being-watched information, but it's still a big deal:

Since so many internships are unpaid these days, added Sedlet, there is a real danger that only “rich kids” can afford them, which will only widen our income gaps. The key, if you get one, he added, is to remember “that companies don’t want generalists to help them think big; they want people who can help them execute” and “add value.”
Interesting jump there.

This is also particularly delightful: "Internships are increasingly important today, they [Friedman's family friends] explained, because skills are increasingly important in the new economy and because colleges increasingly don’t teach the ones employers are looking for."

There's of course no evidence provided that unpaid internships provide any particular skills, or - more pertinent - that employers view them as work experience. By all means, work for free! (I.e., pay to work!) Why? Because it might mean you'll get a contact. (It would be altogether entitled to expect it to lead to a job.) Networking!

But also: when was the Golden Age of colleges as vocational school? I know this is supposed to be code for 'students today just drink, sleep in, and learn far-left drivel', but it's not as if the critical thinking and Great Books of a traditional liberal-arts education provide the skills needed to become a "product manager," let alone to know that such a job exists.

It just does seem awfully convenient to define today's college grads as uniquely incapable of entering the workforce without one or multiple stints in unpaid employment.

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