Movies have lost touch with the working man. It’s easy to see why: People go to the movies to escape, after all, and the adventures of regular people in regular jobs just doesn’t offer the kind of bang for our buck that we’d be looking for. But still, considering it’s Labor Day and all, surely I’m not the only one feeling that we could do with some more Blue Collar Heroes.
I should say that more quietly, of course; I can just imagine someone in Hollywood seeing that and thinking, Yeah! So there’s this construction worker and he’s just an average Joe until he discovers this meteor or magical item or something and then he’s got all these powers… and that’s definitely not what I’m talking about. Maybe I’m romanticizing things, but it feels like movies used to be more comfortable with stories about people doing their jobs and being okay with that, without it being some signifier of a lack of imagination or optimism or something worthwhile in their life. I’m thinking specifically of old black and white movies from directors like Frank Capra or Preston Sturges, but it strikes me that even movies from the ’70s had a certain romanticism for the dependable worker, as well.
It’s odd; I think that television still knows what to do with more everyday, conventional set-ups, in part because the episodic nature of television fits more with the repetitive nature of everyday work life, and in part because television, in general, wants to do something different from most movies – Comfort, instead of amaze or disturb or question. The familiarity that might breed contempt (or worse, boredom) in movies just fits better on television. And so we get The Simpsons and Family Guy and The Office and the dear, departed Better Off Ted and Modern Family and Parks and Recreation and 30Rock and all manner of shows about people who work and their workplaces where the pleasure stems as much from the feeling that these people are just like us than any ridiculous, outlandish plot.
Maybe it’s asking too much of movies to both feel true and familiar to our lives, and also feel worthy of the money we spend to watch them. Movie tickets are expensive, after all, and we want to know that we’re getting something special for that money – and maybe stories about people like us that don’t offer something so out of the usual, something to say “There’s more out there than what you do to pay the bills.” I can understand that. But then I think about Wall-E, a movie that felt as close to the celebration of work and the working man as I could want, and I think that maybe yet again, Pixar has shown the rest of the industry up for being unimaginative and not trying hard enough. Who’d’ve thought that a lovesick droid would be the best working man in recent cinema?
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