Type "teen jobs" in the
findinfo.com search engine, and a good portion of what it turns up will have
something to do with teens and blow jobs.
The few actual links to
job listings talk in glorified terms about "career planning" or lighthearted
slang about "finding a gig," but they can’t mask what their listings reveal:
that we expect teens to take meaningless jobs at the bottom of the wage scale.
Those who aren’t
performing blow jobs for a fee are performing some other rote behavior such as
repeating "Welcome to Loews Cinema" or flipping burgers or – endlessly, and for
very low pay. According to Department of Labor statistics, over three-quarters
of jobs for youth are in retail.
About two-thirds of
U.S. fast food workers are under the age of 20. Are teens at least coming away
from their evening shifts at Taco Bell with job skills? Not unless you count
obedience, which sociologist Ester Reiter says, after 10 months of working at
Burger King, is the most valued trait amongst fast food workers (see her book,
Making Fast Food: From the Frying Pan into the Fryer). Beyond following the rote
demands of assembly-line type production, teens aren’t expected to know much. In
fact, despite accepting hundreds of millions of dollars in federal subsidies for
training workers, fast food chains put tremendous resources into research and
technology to reduce employee training.
One of the most
important shared goals of fast-food restaurants is the redesign of kitchen
equipment in order to reduce the cost of worker-training. "Make the equipment
intuitive, make it so that the job is easier to do right than to do wrong,"
advises Jerry Sus, the leading equipment systems engineer at McDonald’s. "The
easier it is for [the worker] to use, the easier it is for us not to have to
train him" (The Guardian, April 7, 2001).
Teens are exploited
from both directions in the retail world – as cheap labor and as a demographic
to be analyzed, probed, and minutely nurtured as consumers. When they’re not
working the cash register as an employee, we seem to expect them to be working
it from the other end – purchasing a steady flow of brand name goods that keep
marketers drooling over the current teen baby boom.
articles about teens in the Boston Globe and New York Times over the last few
months underscore how seriously we view teens – at least when it comes to their
all-important role as consumers.
The 4/25/01 Boston
Globe article "Teens Take Charge" profiles the rising teen use of credit cards,
reminding us that human agency and purchasing power are one and the same. The
feature-length story on the front page of the Living/Arts section explores in
great detail the credit cards availabe to teens, parents’ tips and tricks for
overseeing their children’s use of plastic, and a helpful grid comparing the
relative merits of various teen-oriented cards.
Living/Arts piece (5/15/01) explores the work of a "cool-hunter" – a relatively
new profession that involves hanging out in bars, street-corners, and recreation
centers in an effort to track down what ‘s "hot and appealing to people under
25." Making inroads into teen communities through teachers, community center
directors and coaches, cool-hunters are able to set up meetings in high school
cafeterias and sports clubs. These adult coordinators and teen participants are
paid $25-100 in cash, gift certificates, or product samples.
"We understand what
teens aspire to," boasts Teen Research Unlimited (TRU) whose study results are
sprinkled throughout mainstream articles about teens. Their web site confirms
that, in fact what they "understand" is teen brand preferences. Their client
list includes almost 200 entitites – most of them large corporations. Under
"Social Marketing," there are perhaps 20 clients – most of them state-based
anti-smoking campaigns. Of all of those taking advantage of TRU’s in-depth
knowledge of teens, there is only one school – West Point Academy.
A 4/8/01 article in the
New York Times identifies that Generation Y (the "demographic behemoth born
roughly between 1982 and 2002") as being less likely than adults to be white,
and more than twice as likely to identify themselves as being of more than one
race. What’s interesting about this new hybrid, melting-pot generation? You
guessed it – its impact on marketing. "It’s cool and hip to be ethnic," says the
director of one market research firm. This is the "best brand-building culture
in America today," says another.
Somehow, when young
adulthood should be an ample universe of growth and discovery – one that gives
kids the chance to learn, contribute, experiment, envision, and carve out a
meaningful role in the world – it is instead shrunk into the pinpoint activity
of buying and selling. We treat kids contemptuously by herding them into
de-skilled, meaningless, low-wage jobs and by taking them seriously only insofar
as they might divulge to marketers how they plan on spending their on-average
$84 per week (another TRU statistic).
Imagine a Living/Arts
section of the newspaper that moved beyond consumer habits, and actually
explored with teens what they thought about well, just for starters, living and
arts. Imagine the advertising-driven teen magazines and web sites better
reflected the teen voices that occasionally break through the nearly seamless
promotion of brand names and consumer habits.
We might start getting
a sense of how insightful and nuanced teens can be as cultural and political
critics. And that might be a little frightening for a society that currently so
contemptuously sees their worth only in terms of how little their labor sells
for and how much they run up their credit cards. If we paid attention to teens,
we might start hearing from people like "devi8ed," who posted the following on
www.bolt.com (July 22, 2001 in response to the question: Is there such a thing
as American culture?)
yes. but you see unlike
real historical culture and tradition America is known for being the largest and
most active creator of ‘corporate culture.’ mix in the east and the west throw
in a bit of information scanned thru the coolhunters and give it a bouncin’
electronica jingle a snappy advertisement campaign and a phat logo and voila
you’ve got your latest rehash of capitalism’s cheap attempt to re-direct
personal vision into cold hard cash… thats what Nike | the Gap | Starbucks |
Adidas | Disney et al. have been doing all along. now you see the point people
make at antiglobalisation street raves? these very same corporations rape
foreign land and steal the lives of thousands of Third World workers ( all of
them young like you or me. the age range is 9-19 ) thru their miserable slave
labor outsourcing practices but when they switch to the marketing status in the
west it becomes happy-crappy so it can sell off and hide the dirt of reality…
THIS is american culture. McBusiness…