Your Headline, My Face

From:  Mike Rowe
Re:  Your Headline, My Face.

Hi Steve,

Mike Rowe here, Dirty Jobs. Thanks to the necromancers over at Google, I’ve been alerted to your most recent Question of the Day:Are Bad Jobs Good for the Economy and the People Who Work Them? Immediately under your headline I noticed a photo of me, taken on the Mackinac Bridge while filming a segment on Dirty Jobs.

Given the juxtaposition of my face with your headline, a reasonable person might conclude that a “Dirty Job” and “Bad Job” are one and the same. This sentiment is not only inconsistent with my own view of hard work, it’s completely at odds with the Dirty Jobs Code of Conduct, a collection of life lessons painstakingly compiled from the men and women I’ve met on Dirty Jobs.

Over the years, the Dirty Jobs Code of Conduct has kept me from saying stupid things in the press. Today, it’s used primarily to assist writers like you with the approved use of my name and likeness. Obviously, you have never seen or heard of the Dirty Jobs Code of Conduct, since most of your article violates every clause and restriction therein. I must therefore take a moment to assure your readers that the appearance of my face in such close proximity to your headline is in no way a personal affirmation that certain types of jobs are in fact “bad.”

Here, then, are a few basic guidelines on the proper use of my name and likeness, pulled directly from the most current version of the DJCC. Since your Question of the Day is clearly not rhetorical, I’ll attempt to answer it here, with a level of detail that could only occur on a cross-country flight with no movie, no crossword, and a dead Kindle.

(I have no expectation that anyone with an actual job will have the time to read much further than this.)

Steve Kloosterman, MUSKEGON, MI – Most of us can tell a story about a job from hell somewhere in our past. There’s the first job, the one we took because our parents said, “You can’t hang around the house all summer long.” Maybe it was at a fast food place or in a retail outlet.

Mike Rowe – First of all, Steve, the Dirty Jobs Code of Conduct contains a Damnation Clause that clearly and unequivocally states that my photo “can not be used in conjunction with any satanic reference, including but not limited to Lucifer, Hades, Old Scratch, Hell, Perdition, Beelzebub or Honey Boo Boo.”

Secondly, jobs don’t come from hell. They come from people with money who are willing to pay other people to work for them.

Thirdly, I have worked in both fast food and retail and neither one reminded me of the Netherworld. (Although the Taco Bell drive-through at 2 a.m. does smell vaguely of brimstone and sulphur.)

SK – None of us expected these jobs to lead to a career, but we did them anyway because we wanted spending money, needed to build a work history, or just plain needed something to do.

MR – Jobs are different than careers, but when you suggest that one is subordinate to the other, you diminish the value of ordinary work. According to the Work Is Not the Enemy Clause in the DJCC, my image may not be used in conjunction with “any statement or action that disparages the value of hard work, regardless of nature of the job or the amount of compensation involved.”

SK – There’s the desperate job, the one we had to take because the price of gas shot up, or we bought a new car and had to make payments on it, or needed to pay college tuition. Maybe it was a second job, or something informal on the side, like fixing up and selling cars.

MR – You make the option of working a second job sound like the problem, not the solution. Under the Personal Responsibility Clause of the DJCC, my image “must not be used in association with any language or expression that attempts to portray hard-working people as helpless victims.” The DJCC maintains that meeting one’s financial obligations is an act of responsibility, not an act of “desperation.”

SK– And then there’s the kind of job we wouldn’t take again under any conditions, no matter how desperate or bored we were. The conditions were unpleasant if not dangerous, and the pay didn’t make up for it.

MR – I understand that some jobs are beneath you. Specifically, those jobs that you find to be “unpleasant” and “low-paying.” Unfortunately, under the Hubris Clause of the DJCC, I am forbidden from endorsing “any third-party comments that could be interpreted as elitist, judgmental, haughty or condescending.”

SK – We can all agree that jobs falling into this last category aren’t worth having.

MR – This one, I’m afraid, is in direct conflict with the Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot Clause of the DJCC. You see, Steve, when your air conditioner breaks, or your toilet explodes, or termites set up shop in your home, the solution to your problem will almost certainly require people who are willing to do something … “unpleasant.” (When you find yourself in need of these people, you’d better hope they haven’t read your column.)

SK – But let’s talk about the first two categories of jobs.

MR – OK. Fast-food workers, retail clerks, auto mechanics, car salesman and part-timers. The “jobs from hell.” Let’s talk.

SK – Are they good for the people who work them?

MR – Of course they are.

SK – Are they good for the economy?

MR – Of course they are.

SK – Tell us what you think in the poll and comments below.

MR – I did. I voted and then I checked the results. Then I threw up in my mouth. Apparently, most of the respondents see no value in the kind of work you’ve described. That’s a seriously bleak outcome, and a blatant violation of all the aforementioned clauses, including the Glass Half-Empty Restriction of the DJCC, which forbids me from lending my name and likeness to anything “heartbreaking, dismal, grim, pessimistic, soul-deadening or just plain depressing.”

SK – The Muskegon Chronicle and Mlive just finished the second segment in a months-long series of articles about jobs in the Muskegon area. In the most recent segment, we wrote about low-paying jobs, and the “shadow” economy of people who hack out a living by mowing lawns, scrounging odd jobs, and anything else that comes their way.

MR – I read it. Nowhere does the writer congratulate anyone for their resourcefulness or self-reliance. Instead, you wrote that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” a clear infraction of the Hyperbole Restriction. According to the DJCC, desperation means selling a kidney to ransom your wife and kids. Desperation is not a $10 an hour construction job with no benefits, as you suggest. That’s just work.

SK – Not all, but some, employers of low-wage workers give their employees opportunity to advance, we wrote.

MR – I have never seen a job that didn’t come with the opportunity for advancement. Union, non-union, high pay, low pay, part-time, full-time, freelance or salaried. Any worker who consistently shows up an hour early and stays late will quickly become indispensable on any job site. That’s still a great truth in the wide world of work. Unfortunately, you didn’t mention that. Instead, you implied that a worker’s only hope of advancement lies with the employer, another screaming inconsistency with the Personal Responsibility Clause.

SK – People working odd jobs or doing day labor for money under the table sometimes do so because it’s the only option they have, we wrote.

MR – Agreed. But nowhere do you suggest that having one option is better than having no option. Certainly, these people are struggling, but they have not given up. They have not become wards of the state. They are looking for and in many cases finding a way to get by in a brutal economy. Certainly not ideal, but the Glass-Half Empty Restriction and the Context Clause of the DJCC both prohibit my endorsement of all “one-sided comparisons that fail to illustrate how things could always be much, much worse.”

SK – Some people might take an optimistic view of these jobs.

MR – Of course. Some people still see hard work as something to be respected in all its forms. The point is, fewer people share that view than ever before. The majority of people in your poll voted “no” to every question. They believe that whole categories of jobs are “bad” for the worker and “bad” for society at large. That’s a clear infraction of the Work Is Not the Enemy Clause of the DJCC, and a radical departure of the attitude I encountered in my previous visits to the great state of Michigan.

SK – Some people might say the work needs to be done and the workers are filling that need.

MR – I would hope so. Your own paper reported that 2 trillion dollars is being generated by this “shadow economy.” That’s 8% of our GDP. I’m no economist, but I’d wager an 8% drop in the GDP would start the next Great Depression. And while the Dirty Jobs Code of Conduct doesn’t address it directly, I’d prefer that my name and likeness avoid any direct association with the any type of economic collapse.

SK – Some will say that nobody forced people to take these jobs. That these jobs enable these people to earn money and pay for things that matter to them. These jobs may mean that individuals are able to rely more on their own earnings, and less on taxpayer-funded assistance programs.

MR – Now those people sound more like the Michiganders I remember! The Soo Lock workers in Sault Ste. Marie, the log cabin builders in the U.P., the mobile butchers in Holland, the Bone Black workers in Melvindale, the many good folks on Mackinac Island (in those “hellish” retail and food service positions), the craftsmen at Novadai Furniture right there in Muskegon, and of course the maintenance workers on The Mighty Mac. Those people would never look down their noses at an honest day’s work. No way.

SK – Others might take a more negative view. Advocates of living-wage policy might say that low-wage jobs are hurtful to the people working them.

MR – The world is full of well-intended people who believe that prices, wages and rents should should have nothing to do with pesky things like supply and demand. While I applaud their intentions, I’m afraid the Common Sense Clause of the DJCC does not allow my name or likeness to be associated with any views or expressions that could be interpreted as “unrealistic or childlike.”

SK – Some might say that people working in a “shadow economy” are part of the symptoms of an economic system breaking down.

MR – I have no idea if the economy is breaking down or just evolving, but regardless, low-paying, part-time and off-the-grid jobs are here to stay. We can either talk about these jobs with a measure of dignity and respect, or we can adapt your labeling system of “Bad, Unpleasant, Dangerous, Not-Worth-Having, and Hellish.” Honestly, I don’t see the point of attacking honest work under any circumstances (although the Futility Clause of the DJCC prohibits me from expecting a cogent reply from those who do.)

SK – A few might even quote the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

MR – That’s very sweet. Unfortunately, the Delusional Thinking Restriction of the DJCC is very clear on this: “under no circumstances will artist’s name and likeness be used to declare or proclaim anything that might suggest the endorsement of a utopian or fairy-tale state.”

Too bad, really. If it weren’t for the Delusional Thinking Restriction, I might very well petition the UN to declare and demand “protection from the ever-widening skills gap.” According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 3.7 million jobs are currently available that companies can’t seem to fill … 600,000 positions in manufacturing alone.

All of these jobs pay more than the “living wage.” Many provide free training and benefits. None of them are “off the grid.” They’re available right now to anyone willing to learn a new skill. Unfortunately, no one seems to want them.

SK – What do you think?

MR – Well, Steve, I’m no expert (and the Hubris Clause of the DJCC forbids me from pretending to be one), but after a lot of careful reflection, I think we might have our head up our ass.

There’s a trillion dollars of college debt on the books, and we’re still pushing a four-year degree like it’s some sort of golden ticket. Dozens of states are facing massive shortages in the skilled trades, but we still talk about trade schools as “alternatives for the academically challenged.” And now, with record high unemployment and Detroit flat broke, you want to focus on the problem of …“bad jobs?” Can you imagine our grandparents bemoaning the existence of “unpleasant” work? Can you imagine the greatest generation agreeing that some jobs were just “not worth having”?

Look, I don’t want to sound like the cranky neighbor on the front porch, screaming at the kids to get off his lawn. (And yes, the Cranky Neighbor Clause of the DJCC expressly forbids this.) But come on — 12 million people are looking for work and 3 million jobs can’t be filled? How come nobody is asking questions about that? Why is no one taking a poll on whether our expectations have replaced our common sense? Why do we talk only of “job-creation,” when we can’t even fill the jobs we have?

On Dirty Jobs, I met hundreds of men and women who found success and happiness by doing the “unpleasant” thing. I remember a guy in Washington whose first job was cleaning the grease trap in a Mexican restaurant. He moved on to washing dishes and then waiting tables. Today, he owns the restaurant, and six more just like it. I’d like to read more stories about people like that, and I bet I’m not alone.

Don’t get me wrong, I care about the people you write about. For what it’s worth, I run a modest foundation that’s focused on scholarships for those who are willing to learn a useful skill. But let’s not forget about the people who did it the hard way. People who took the jobs you dismissed as “not worth having” and then prospered. People who didn’t shy away from the “bad jobs,” and ultimately learned to love them. If you ever write a story about them, please feel free to use my image. According to the spirit of the Dirty Jobs Code of Conduct, that’s what it’s there for.

In the meantime, give my regards to the maintenance men next time you drive over The Mighty Mac. And if the bridge is still standing, tell them I said thanks!

Mike Rowe

12 thoughts on “Your Headline, My Face

  1. I dismissed the writer and editor of that article after seeing the error in the second sentence. Mike was kind enough to edit it properly in the quote. The DJCC is brilliant, although a bit like taking candy from a baby. Hopefully it got through to the writer anyway, and to the rest of the readers.

  2. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate hearing this. As someone with a 4 year degree, a masters, and several other worthless letters behind my name, I can tell you that I value my time working in the rain along side a skilled mason, sanding down ceilings with an 8 pound plainer over my head, or scooping out grease traps in our local hamburger joint as the most important work I’ve ever done. It may not be as prestigious as the job I have now, but I can’t imagine where I’d be without the character that those jobs helped me build. Fortunately, I didn’t have to learn it on my own. I learned it from parents that were willing to do anything to keep us a float, even in the worst of times (to include driving school buses or working as a part time maid).

  3. A sharp pen is far more powerful than a sharp sword, and Mr. Rowe certainly displays his pen is keen. I think we should apply and make binding the DJCC far more broadly to the human race. Oh, but I forgot, people don’t like to be shown guidelines on how to live their lives.

  4. Thank you Mike Rowe. There are so many “famous faces” out there that seem to want to spend their time writing articles and/or doing PSAs begging us with dramatic music and sad eyed children and starving puppies in the background to “donate money here, we’ll hand it to these victims.” But these same famous folk are doing absolutely nothing about what made these people “victims” in the first place, nor doing anything to teach them how to avoid becoming “victims” in the future. It is refreshing to see someone with a little clout advocate DOING SOMETHING about the problem, and acknowledging what that problem actually is.

    That being said, I would also like to point out that not everyone values the almighty dollar to the point of doing anything necessary to earn it. Some of us believe quality of life is not always tied to the quantity of dollars in your paycheck. There are some people, like myself, with those touted advanced degrees that instead, chose to go back to the country life, and work some dirty job that most would want to get away from. The jury is still out and debating what the cause of this sort of decision is based upon, (insanity seems to be a popular theory). But in my case at least, it is undeniable that even though the paycheck sucks, and the work is hard; I am living where I want to live, and far happier than I ever was sitting behind a microscope in a laboratory in some big city making that big paycheck. Yes, some of us insane people actually ENJOY those “bad jobs” and wouldn’t trade them for the world. Thank you Mike, for being an advocate for us dirty job loving folk, and an advocate for a common sense solution to a big problem in America!

  5. Mike,

    I Pee in the shower every day because it it all goes to the same place and it does save water and money. My wife hates it and she is good friends with Laura D. Accounting $$$ (that’s a code name and hint) she has my ph number and I would love to meet for lunch and talk. We should start a peeing in the shower movement in the name of water conservation ! You have many good ideas. Keep up the good work.

    Call me

    Pete The Builder

    PS You should start peeing in the shower, its yellow and is the primary color to make brown, and the color of water blue, makes it even a darker brown, but dont get any ideas about the brown in the shower, therefore peeing in the shower is much more brown then green, just don’t eat that yellow snow where huskys go ! Hope I got your attention in a dirty way, but clean and realistic way.

  6. From my Daddy (greatest generation guy-1923-1988)..when he was laid off from his regular job in the coal mining (strip mining) business (SE Ohio) he worked washing walls in folks homes and digging ditches-whatever he could find to help pay the bills “and I was damn glad to have it “(the job)..I do not remember hearing my dad ever complain about any job…ever miss a day of work ..he was a veteran of WWII and very proud of that…his word was everything. My mom worked just as hard to support him and their 3 kids. From gardening…canning…freezing food from the garden..Wringer washer and clothesline. Daddy bought his own business (1959 tavern with food service) and for 15 years they ran that place from 7am to 2am. (Dad continued to work sunup to 3pm-then at the tavern- I love reading your articles and I love real people doing real jobs for real money.
    and Dad and Mom made sure all 4 of their kids could have a college education if/when they wanted it. Three graduated university; one barber college.

  7. I grew up on a ranch. That means I did dirty jobs from the age of 6 until I left for college.

    Besides that, my father ran his own custom home-building business. At age 12 I was drafted into the business at a dollar an hour to do odd jobs and free up carpenters for more productive pursuits. I worked on sites when school was in recess (summers, holidays). By the time I graduated high school I had roofed, plumbed, sheetrocked, poured cement, strung electrical wiring, framed, and more. Everything but masonry.

    I now have four degrees, including a JD. But I still believe that the greatest education ever given to Americans happened after WW2 when the US Army gave vocational training to a million men before they separated from the service. My father went to carpentry school in the Army and to his last day on the job he carried a little handbook he got in the Army that told him how to cut rafters.

    The United States was not made great by the college educated advancing into wealth but by the working man building a comfortable life for his family.

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