INTERNS BUILT THE PYRAMIDS

Posted in Rants on December 8th, 2010 by Ed

(Title courtesy The Baffler)

Thank God that after all these years I have not lost my ability to be disgusted by what passes for journalism in this country.

CNN ran a positively vomitastic piece on post-graduation internships – unpaid, of course – as a precursor to getting paid entry-level positions in the professional world ("Is an internship the new entry-level job?") I have written at length on this topic before, so allow me to briefly quote myself for those of you have not already heard this rant:

In reality, getting free labor out of gullible (not to mention desperate and terrified of unemployment) undergrads is only part of the rationale behind the Intern Economy and this well-rehearsed bullshit about how much it benefits students. More importantly, this system is a brutally efficient class barrier. An internship is a necessary precursor to getting a job. Having Mom and Dad cough up several thousand dollars to support you while you live in an expensive city (and do some high-class partying, er, "networking", with your fellow children of the Investor Class) is a necessary precursor to interning for free. Hmm.

Yes, ignoring the pesky reality that the bottom 90% of the population will need to, you know, earn a salary to live on after graduation (don't forget that the student loan bills start arriving in six months!) CNN wholeheartedly recommends that young "millenials" not only unquestioningly work for free – sometimes in ten or more different internships over a period of several years – but also that the system is primarily designed for their benefit. Experience! Staying "engaged in the labor market! "Skill sets"! Resumé radiance! Buzzwords! Just play along and someday the world – namely a low-paid, at-will 60 hour per week job at the bottom of the leaching pit – will be your oyster.

The basic arguments against the intern economy are still valid: exploiting a young, idealistic, vulnerable, and scared workforce for gobs of free clerical and administrative labor, efficient barriers to graduates not smart enough to have been born wealthy, and the questionable legality of "internships" that provide no useful skills in addition to being unpaid. You already know this. The question is why CNN seems so uncritical and upbeat about this phenomenon.

First they offer a link to these three nitwits, The Eternal Intern(s), who detail the tribulations of going through a dozen unpaid internships in Paris, LA, and NYC in an effort to land paying jobs in "Film production, film development, PR, Fashion…we've done it all!"

"I want to do what I studied, and I don't want to settle," she said. "I'm still applying for full-time positions, but I don't see that happening anytime soon for me." Like (her), a growing number of college graduates are forced into internships after graduation because of the lack of entry-level jobs. For now, it's important to take those internships, said Phil Gardner, director of Michigan State University's Collegiate Employment Research Institute.

Must be nice to be able to decide that one "doesn't want to settle" for plebeian employment for something as crass as a paycheck. They continue with some dire forecasts for the future:

"Evidence suggests that the internship now replaces the starting job as the place college students actually begin their journey into the workplace," Gardner wrote in a paper he intends to publish this month. Students must make smart choices when selecting an internship, as their decisions will directly influence employment opportunities when they graduate, he said. It's the quality of your internships, not the quantity, that matter to a future employer. But sometimes it's both.

More tales of exploitation and poor career choice:

Claire Brooks, an New York University senior now on her ninth internship, has taken very calculated career moves since her sophomore year in high school. She wants to be an independent producer and said she heard stories about kids dropping out of school and moving to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams.

I can't help but notice that part of the problem is the article's focus solely on the kind of Sex & the City "glamor" jobs that attract mainly sorority girls, but I digress. More optimism and ignorant flaunting of privilege!

"I do believe that the harder you work, the more that will come to you," Gorden said. "I'm confident that the future is bright for me … that I worked hard enough to get somewhere, and I don't want to settle."

Popular theme here. CNN finishes strong with some recommendations that we accept our lot in life and some optimism:

It's important to have a few internships under your belt no matter what the field, said Brian Eberman, CEO of StudentAdvisor.com, a website for college students and their parents. (Their) guide to getting an internship has double the readership of the loans and the scholarship guides.

"We've seen a lot of demand for internships, and it's sort of risen to record numbers," Eberman said. "The number of internships doesn't matter. It's that they're engaged in the process."

…Lauren Berger, the self-proclaimed "Intern Queen," had 15 internships during her time at the University of Central Florida but always kept her resume to one page…Now in her first full-time job as of November, Harrison said it's important to keep building on that experience while unemployed instead of holding off until you get something permanent.

"Sometimes it was a little disheartening that I didn't have that full-time job yet," Harrison said. "But I always thought that it would eventually come along if I was patient and kept working."

I love Happy Endings! Thanks, CNN. It's odd that your take on this repugnant socioeconomic trend is so uncritical, but I guess it's nice that you're…

Wait.

Oh, I forgot. The media, particularly broadcast media and glossy, trendy magazines, are by far the biggest exploiters of unpaid internships on the planet. Gee, if we were cynical we might think they were minimally interested in A) reporting on a legitimate news phenomenon or B) objectively discussing the pros and cons but very interested in normalizing an unethical system they exploit to the hilt. That might be why this article-length advertisement for interning mostly offers tips about how to derive benefit from the system rather than even mildly suggesting that graduates stop and ask "How in the flying hell do you expect me to work for free – IN MANHATTAN – for two years just to get a peon job?"

Heavens no. We wouldn't want you to ask that. Employers might think you have a Bad Attitude!