Monday, August 27, 2007

The Times and the Crumbling Linchpins

Is it sheer coincidence or the lattice of coincidence that the New York Times ran the same (in essence) story twice on Sunday? That would be the story about how story on how nice people can’t make a living any more, the ground-bass premise of (a) the business-page story of employees left behind in Newton, IA, after the demise of Maytag: (link) ; and (b) the story on the theater page about ordinary non-celebrity actors as they struggle to keep themselves supplied the smoke and mirrors needed to pretend that they actually have an income (link).

There are differences. The Iowa story focuses on Guy and Lisa Winchell, with a combined current income of $43 an hour, still trying to figure out the license number of the truck that is about to hit them. “The Winchells are still in their 40s,” the Times reports. And with a strained bonhomie: “They can retrain or start a business, choices promoted by city leaders in a campaign to “reinvent” Newton without its biggest employer.”

Oh, get serious:

But as they ponder their futures, the Winchells are uncertain about how to deal with a lower standard of living. “I’m not wanting to go waitress,” said Mrs. Winchell, who, at 41, drives a forklift and earns $19 an hour, “but I can do what I have to to make money.”

Mr. Winchell, 46, having earned $24 an hour as a skilled electrician, seems paralyzed by the disappearance of his employer. He imagines that there is work for electricians in central Iowa but he hasn’t looked. “Lisa is always on me because I’m so angry,” he said. “She says, ‘What would your mom have said?’ My mom would have said, ‘Worrying is not going to help.’”

The actor story follows the careers of five people. One of them actually topped out at $140,000 while he was touring in “The Lion King,” but all of them, spend most of their time piecing together sustenance out of different kinds of nothing. One big difference between the actors and the Iowans: the actors know they are broke, have always been broke, and have developed an impressive range of survival skills to keep their chins out of the water.

One has to wonder who is the audience for this sort of story—soon-to-be-unemployed industrial workers, or permanently marginal theatre folks? Seeing as how this is the Times, I suspect there are more of the latter than the former. But there might be a broader theme here: it might be that Times readers, like a lot of other folks, are finding themselves caught up in a world where a lot of the linchpins are crumbling, and a lot of people are wondering what it might be like to piece together a living the way the actors have always done.

1 comment:

April D. said...

This is a very interesting outlook. Have you by any chance looked into the outcome or developing outcome of these people effected?? I'd love to learn more!