As a strange, moody, not particularly popular, and fearfully rule-abiding child, most of my information about life came from my steady diet of Archie comics, Judy Blume novels, and – crucially – whatever my older siblings were watching on TV. As a result, I had some lofty career goals that at the time seemed perfectly realistic and within reach. Why wouldn’t they? The funny people talking to me through the screen in my living room were doing all these things, and usually getting themselves out of scrapes and finding love while they were at it! So today I present to you the list of jobs I wholeheartedly believed would at least at some point be a part of my future:
Toy Tester, as seen in “Big”
While I was smart enough to realize that being magically transformed into an adult version of yourself was something that required the suspension of disbelief, it never once occurred to me that there was anything strange or implausible about the career grown-up Tom Hanks embarks upon. While he starts out as a lowly data-entry-employee at a toy company, he soon gets promoted to… well, toy tester. I’m sure there’s a fancier title in the movie but that is definitely what the job is. He tests toys all day long. His “work” is to play with toys, bring them home, figure out what’s good and bad about them, and report back. And apparently this pays enough to provide a ginormous NYC apartment and a life of absolute luxury. Okay, so, I’m officially a grown-up. WHAT IS THIS JOB? What kind of education would one need to have this job? Marketing? Technology? Children’s psychology? I’m seriously asking. If you know someone who works full-time as a toy tester, please contact me immediately.
Con Artist, as seen in “Curly Sue”
For those of you who haven’t seen it, Curly Sue is about two homeless con artists, a (weirdly unrelated) grown man and a little girl, who regularly scam people in order to get enough to eat. They manage to convince a fancy rich woman that she backed into them with her car, so she takes them in and basically transforms their lives. Here’s the thing: the rich part of the movie is all well and good (I was definitely jealous of Curly Sue’s bubble bath and new clothes) but there’s also a serious glamorization of the life of the homeless con artist. I genuinely wanted to be Curly Sue and saw her life as something to which I should aspire. She and her fake-dad had a great, symbiotic relationship, she got to eat junk food, she traveled all the time, didn’t have any rules, and hey, good things totally happened to them. To that end, what isn’t good about the life of a con-man (or con-kid, as the case may be)?
Diving Girl, as seen in “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”
Because this movie is based on a true story, the job of riding horses off of a 60-foot tower and diving into a pool of water obviously did exist in the early 1900s, but that does not mean it was a realistic or desirable career goal for a first grader like myself. In the movie version, orphan Sonora runs away from home and joins a county fair where she earns her place as their newest “Diving Girl”. Cue amazing montages of her training a wild horse, learning to dive, falling in love, and ultimately becoming a woman. What mattered to me was that her job involved horses, cute boys, travel, fairs, and costumes. Of course, later in the movie she goes blind from a freak diving accident, but I was willing to ignore that part.
Applying Makeup to Dead People, as seen in “My Girl”
Not the primary focus of the movie, but a memorable element nonetheless, Jamie Lee Curtis’s character works as a makeup artist in a mortuary. Which is to say, she puts makeup on dead bodies to make them seem more lifelike for open-casket funerals. I wouldn’t say that I was drawn to the idea of working in a funeral parlor, but this movie does give it quite a fun spin. After all, Jamie Lee meets her future husband (her boss) and develops a real talent for making the deceased look like their old selves again. She also has a rad-if-slightly-trashy hippie aesthetic going on and lives in a groovy trailer – my dream when I was seven.
Talent Agent/Former Child Star, as seen in “Life With Mikey”
Okay, this is definitely the most attainable of the fake-movie-jobs I worshipped as a kid. I live in Los Angeles now and I know that there are clear steps a person can take if she is determined to become a talent agent. But I didn’t want to just be a talent agent. I wanted to be the particular kind of talent agent played to zero acclaim by Michael J. Fox: a down-on-his-luck former child star who runs an agency with his brother, watches cute (my opinion at the time) kids perform all day, discovers slash rescues slash adopts a street girl, and shoots right back up to the top of the industry. The thing about this movie was that even when we were supposed to be thinking Michael J. Fox has the worst life ever (see: he watches kids perform all day), I was hung up on the fact that he was a former child star (my dream) and was now helping other children become stars. All I saw or heard when watching this movie obsessively was CHILD STAR CHILD STAR CHILD STAR. This movie is brimming with them, and watching it helped me realize that if my ultimate fate of being discovered were to take a few years longer than I hoped, there was this incredible back-up career that would at least put me in the proximity of what I wanted to be: annoying, precocious, and capable of whipping out a killer fake-vibrato.
Of course, the whole unrealistic-movie-job phenomenon is hardly a thing of the past. See our high-powered movie-trailer editor, Cameron Diaz, in The Holiday, or our friendly greeting-card writer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, in 500 Days of Summer, or pretty much any movie taking place at the headquarters of a glossy magazine. But there was something about watching these movies as a kid, when I didn’t yet have the Internet or an iPhone so instead was entirely focused on following the plot and looking at the pretty images. As a result, I simply absorbed these careers as if they were foregone conclusions. I could be a doctor, a lawyer, or a blind woman diving horses off a platform at a traveling carnival. It’s my elementary school self I have to answer to when I wake up every day and realize, for the 10,000th time, that I’m still not a toy tester.