American Job profiles Trump's working class voter
By Thomas M. Sipos
I first saw American Job (1996) some 20 years ago on the Independent Film Channel. It looked like a documentary. Yet ... I wasn't sure. Research revealed that the main character, Randy Russell, had actually worked at the minimum wage jobs portrayed in the movie. Filmmaker Chris Smith then asked Randy and his former employers to reenact scenes of Randy's hiring, working, and eventual firing or quitting.
American Job is less documentary than an early example of Reality TV. Except that it's not. The genius of American Job is that, unlike today's Reality TV, this film doesn't try to "spice up" reality with phony conflicts. The scenes in American Job are mundane. Excruciatingly boring. Even so, I was mesmerized. The film conveys some powerful social commentary -- by showing, not telling or preaching.
American Job peeks into the lives of minimum wage workers. Randy works at a plastics factory, fast food restaurant, warehouse, cleaning motel rooms, and telemarketing. It's a portrait of working class Americans, portrayed not by actors, but by real working class Americans on actual job sites. Despite being a series of reenactments, American Job reeks of authenticity.
Indie films claim to focus on marginalized groups. It's their raison d' être. But many indie films are not so much authentic as calculated, hitting all the right PC buttons. Their marginalized groups are really celebrated minorities. Whereas American Job is the real deal, focusing on low wage, mostly white, workers.
These are the people who voted for Trump. Midwestern. White. Blue collar. The Connor family come to life. And though American Job was shot 20 years earlier, it captures the cracking of their American dream. Forty years ago, these people had good union jobs. By the 1990s, globalization -- that "sucking sound" Ross Perot warned about -- had exported the good blue collar jobs and depressed wages for the jobs that stayed.
Never-Trump Republicans are rather cold-blooded about it. To understand why the working class rejected establishment conservatives in favor of Trump's populism, consider Bill Kristol's callous remarks:
The working class served as cannon fodder in Kristol's Mideast wars, dying or coming home blinded or maimed, and this is Kristol's gratitude. Nor does Kristol only offend whites. Consider this black MAGA man:
Ayn Rand fans will dislike Randy's work ethic. He is no John Galt. While this clip has been edited (making Randy's factory gig appear briefer than in the film), there's no question that he messed up:
Yet the above clip highlights a real "Take this job and shove it." moment. Let it sink in. It's open to interpretation and debate. One IMDB critic wrote: "It isn't that Randy has a bad work ethic. He just knows that this is not the way he wants to live, and the only power he has is to leave a job (which is very powerful actually -- have you ever walked out on a job?)."
It's easier to endure a crappy job if the pay is high. It's easier to endure low pay if the job is interesting, meaningful, or fun. But this is the reality for many Americans. Crappy jobs for low pay. The promised American Dream nowhere in sight.
Randy later finds himself working as a telemarketer:
I sympathize with these people. Hell, I empathize. I worked as a telemarketer in the 1980s. If you hate getting telemarketing calls, trust me, it feels worse on the other end.
But one need not empathize to sympathize. The Left sympathizes with foreign workers and immigrants because they are not Americans. Establishment Republicans sympathize with foreign workers and immigrants because they'll work for less. No wonder native born American workers (who are being economically squeezed by labor competition) are rejecting both in favor of Trump's populism and nationalism.
American Job has no narration. No political discussions. Just a raw profile of low wage workers in the American Midwest. Do you (like Kristol) sneer at their plight? Or do you see a problem? If so, what's the solution? The film lets you draw your own conclusions.
Upon its release in 1996, American Job screened at New York's Museum of Modern Art and Austin's South by Southwest Film Festival. It was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award in 1997. It aired on the Independent Film Channel, and was released on VHS (but never on DVD). It's been hard to find since then, apart from the above two YouTube clips. Used VHS tapes occasionally turn up on Amazon and Ebay.
Thomas M. Sipos writes horror fiction, satire, and film reviews. His website is http://www.CommunistVampires.com/