Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Against Professionalization

Desperate Housewives, ER, Grey's Anatomy, Law and Order, Scrubs, 24, The West Wing, all of these shows draw their characters from the professional classes, the college-educated and highly skilled people who produce ideas and services in our post-industrial economy. These shows don't feature single moms, the underemployed, or junkmen as characters. Nor are their story lines about making ends meet, balancing work and family, or fighting The Man. Instead, the characters are often The Man, or Men: lawyers, doctors, and government specialists. They are people who make decisions that influence others. The story lines revolve around competition in the workplace, pursuing new sexual conquests, or trying to save the world.

Mark Stricherz, Who Killed Archie Bunker? Working-class Television and the Democratic Party

Stricherz notes how the decline of blue-collar comedy and drama coincides with the shift of the Democratic party away from labor and towards cultural liberalism.

On a related note, I've worried a bit about the takeover of the professional class in American Catholicism, a takeover which Eugene McCarraher denounced in his polemic Smile When You Say Laity. Even the seminaries, it seems, manifest a professionalist ethos with their emphasis on study, study, study. On a vocation discernment retreat a few years back, I met a fire chief who was applying for the seminary but viewed the rigorous academic requirements with much trepidation. I think I've only met one priest who could honestly be somebody "Archie Bunker" could have a beer with. This priest, assigned to shepherd three mountain communities, was a former Army paper-pusher. He was not terribly bright or eloquent, but he was certainly respected by his parishoners who generally worked in ranching, in forestry, or in tourism.

This structural orientation towards the professional class seems to account for the American Catholic Church's weakness in ministering to Latin American immigrants and the Latin American Church's weaknesses towards the rural poor. The Tridentine seminary regimen itself, I am told, didn't effectively preserve the faith of Europe's urban working class once the Industrial revolution took hold.

Perhaps the "worker priest" needs to be revisited.

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