The Light at the End of the Tunnel

by Tom Mandel | 4/14/11 10:00pm

I have a problem. It's somewhat troubling, but I'm not losing sleep over it.

I've realized that I'm basing my professional decisions on the television that I'm watching.

Like most people my age, I don't watch TV in the traditional way. I'm not waiting for that one timeslot each week so that I can watch the show live and give the network its ad revenue. I watch shows on DVD, and burn through them. Right now I'm watching "The West Wing." Before that, it was "The Wire."

Right now, I'm thinking about how cool it would be to be a speechwriter, writing speeches whose rhetoric will shape national opinion. Before that, I was thinking about how cool it would be to work for law enforcement. I could apply myself to catching murderers and drug dealers who poison communities. That's gotta be pretty rewarding.

I'm working in advertising next year. Guess what I was watching during the application process? That's right. "Mad Men." Shiiiit, Don Draper is so cool. It sucks that Pete Campbell went to Dartmouth, because the first word that comes to mind when I think of him is "sniveling."

Maybe Career Services should help students figure out what they want to do in life by sitting them down in Jones and having them watch different series that relate to their interests. And not trash like "General Hospital." You're watching "ER." You'll see what it's really like to work that job. Can you handle the stress? Sure, there probably won't be Hollywood screenwriters jerking you around on screen so that the dramatic tension can boost ratings, and you'll probably hook up with less attractive people than you would have on the show, but it's close enough, really.

This is the power of fiction. If you ask somebody who works in advertising or politics or law enforcement what their job is like, you're going to get an answer that's unnecessarily personal or uselessly vague.

"We're having a lot of trouble right now with the unions."

"It's nice. Good hours."

Chances are that this information is not going to be useful to me. What are useful are the stories people tell that illustrate what strengths the job actually requires, what weaknesses it will probe, what your interactions will be like with your coworkers (steamy, of course, on TV) and what office politics are like.

Since there aren't that many good shows out there about consulting firms (no idea why that is), Dartmouth should commission one. Executive Producer: Dartmouth College. It has a nice ring to it. While we're working on health care delivery, why not work on delivery of story, as well? Don't tell me it's impractical. Throw in a good finance show while we're at it, and one for Teach for America as well. I heard it's the new Goldman.

As Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) said on "The West Wing," "I don't believe in being casual with the truth." He was talking about fiction masquerading as nonfiction. What we need is nonfiction masquerading as fiction. Stories so real that they can't be real. Because we need to know what's going to happen after graduation, and talking to a couple alums on the phone who work in the industry really isn't going to help.

I believe in the power of television. While we're at it, let's show "EuroTrip" to everybody going on an FSP across the pond. Well, maybe that isn't real. Still a decently funny movie.

THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL is that whenever I find myself thinking how cool it would be to be a speechwriter, I go back and watch an episode of "Mad Men" and it's clear to me again. Don Draper's the fucking man.