Menckens Ghost

More About: General Opinion

Advice for a tattooed, overweight, slovenly, underemployed college graduate

By Mencken’s Ghost

May 9, 2012

It was Danielle’s big opportunity.  She was going to be featured in the April 18, 2012 edition of the Wall Street Journal, in a front-page feature story on college graduates who are putting off marriage and children because they are underemployed and mired in tuition debt.

Her story was that she had taken out $74,000 in tuition loans (gasp!) to obtain a business-management degree (double gasp!!) from Kent State University instead of choosing a more difficult major with a higher payoff.  Now working as a bank teller and moonlighting as a waitress, she makes payments of $900 a month (triple gasp!!!) on her loans.  Her fiancé is in a similar boat.

A couple of million readers, including thousands of business executives looking for good employees, were going to read her story and see her picture.

So how did Danielle dress for her photo?  She wore blue jeans and a low-cut, short-sleeve, cheesy top--neither of which did anything to hide her plumpness.  Around her neck was a braided necklace with a pendant that looked like a peace symbol from the 1960s.  And on her beefy upper arm was a tattoo.

In other words, she looked like so many members of her lost, confused, indebted, and brainwashed generation.  Her appearance was the opposite of what successful people tend to look like in industry, government and nonprofits throughout the industrialized world. 

Regardless of race, nationality or gender, most people who rise to positions of responsibility (and money) in most organizations are well-groomed and coiffed, most are fit instead of fat, most dress conservatively, most are not covered in grotesque tattoos, most exude an air of quiet competence and self-confidence, and most understand that the way to get hired and promoted is to dress and behave like the people making the hiring and promoting decisions.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that this is how the world works.

But Danielle doesn’t see it.  Nor do many of her generation.


Watch the popular culture and you’ll find the answer.  Movies, sit-coms, sports broadcasts, reality TV, and TV commercials are full of rich and successful people who don’t look like William Whyte’s “Organization Man” of 1956.  Nor do they look like the characters in “Father Knows Best,” or in “Leave It to Beaver,” or in “I Love Lucy,” or in “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” or in the “Bill Cosby Show.”  And they certainly don’t look like sports stars of yesteryear, such as Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial.

By contrast, what you see today are sports stars covered in tattoos and behaving like thugs.  You also see movie and TV stars who are just as lacking in class and manners.  At the same time, commercials give the false impression that successful men have scruffy beards, and successful women have silicone breasts and brains. 

Then there is the special genre of reality TV.  Let’s look at some of the role models that can be found there.

“Pawn Stars” follows the tattooed and overweight family that owns a pawn shop in Las Vegas.  “Man v. Food” follows a guy (Adam Richman) with a paunch, tattoo, scruffy beard, and atrocious table manners as he gorges himself around the nation.  “American Pickers” follows two likable and interesting guys with tattoos and poor grammar as they make a living picking items for resale from America’s past glory. “Dog the Bounty Hunter” follows a bizarre-looking, tattooed bounty hunter way past his prime who still thinks he is in his prime.  “No Reservations” follows a chef-cum-pop philosopher, Anthony Bourdain, who travels the world and periodically shows what a cool dude he is by getting tattoos in other countries.  “Bizarre Foods” follows the personable but obese Andrew Zimmern as he eats his way to an early death from heart disease.   “Swamp People” follows rednecks with missing teeth as they catch alligators and other critters.  And some show, the title of which I don’t know, follows a tattooed father and his tattooed son as they yell at each other and otherwise behave like jackasses as they modify motorcycles.

There are many other shows and role models of this genre, but you get the flavor.

Don’t get me wrong:  These characters deserve a lot of credit for rising from the pack and being successful.  And there is nothing particularly negative with being from the working class or nothing particularly positive with being from the managerial class.  The point is, the chances of being successful and wealthy are a lot lower for Danielle and her generation if they emulate today’s role models instead of yesteryear’s. 

The role models of the past might seem square, old-fashioned, conformist, and even laughable.  But most of the people who get ahead in this world and make hiring and promotion decisions have basically the same “un-cool” traits. 

My closing advice to Danielle is to cover the tattoo, lose weight, invest in several conservative business suits, and stop emulating the wrong people.
Mencken’s ghost is the nom de plume of an Arizona writer who can be reached at or     

1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Joseph Vanderville
Entered on:

 Pierced-tongued, tattooed, nose-ringed, lazy-drugged, over-sexed, long-haired dirty-looking Next Generation who are taking over ... to decide the future of this country but who need their kind of President of the United States like Ron Paul but much younger -- not old or aging -- and hail.

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