There are certain real-life jobs that Hollywood just can’t figure out. Whether they’re taking dramatic license to make everyday jobs seem more exciting, or the screenwriter just didn’t bother to do any research, there are certain occupations that movies and TV shows always get wrong.
Despite what The Devil Wears Prada would have you believe, not every magazine editor is an evil, older (sometimes British) woman. Even Trainwreck couldn’t avoid this stereotype despite the movie’s relative recency. Rarely does a journalist go out on assignment for a personal experience/puff piece like in How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days.
Usually, when a writer pitches a personal essay, they’ve already undergone the experience they’re planning to write about. Especially if the pitch involves some sort of social experiment.
Cosmo writers are not actually trying out those sex tips. Trust us. Their genitals would be ruined. While we’re at this…
Freelance/ Independent Writer
Gone are the days when a Carrie Bradshaw could live in New York City entirely on a single weekly advice column. If a writer on tv has 2 weeks to turn in a piece that will pay for all 2 weeks of their existence, and they clearly live in a nice apartment, this is wrong. Very wrong.
Whether it’s some sort of article or screenplay, the amount and frequency of payment is much scarcer than movies would lead us to believe. Most writers these days need day jobs or side gigs. Barton Fink is sort of accurate in that much of being an independent writer involves talking about thinking about writing, rather than actually writing.
Ok, nobody thought Indiana Jones was accurate, but we’re including this because we think people fail to realize just how boring archaeology truly is. Even the path from excavated artifact to museum exhibit is loaded with boring academic crap (also why are archaeologists in TV and movies always excavating completely intact artifacts?)
We get that there’s no way you’d have an accurate movie where an archaeologist takes the entire film to gather the paperwork in order to legally excavate pottery fragments, dust off and label those pottery fragments and transport them safely to a lab. Oh, and there’d be a sequel in which the findings are peer-reviewed and submitted to an academic journal. Riveting.
Years of C.S.I spinoffs has most of us convinced that forensic investigation is just one long sexy music video, but most crime scene investigation we see on that show (and pretty much every other cop show or movie) is a tutorial on how to absolutely ruin a crime scene.
Films like Zodiac get a pass for this because it’s based on a real case where real investigative mistakes occurred, but a lot of TV dramas get this way wrong for the sake of expediency. These shows often roll 3 or 4 investigative jobs into one. Certain forensic methods like hair analysis, blood splatter analysis, and even bite mark analysis are not as reliable as most TV dramas would have us believe. And don’t even get us started on handwriting analysis.
Psych Ward Nurse
We don’t know who gave Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) permission to conduct a group therapy session without a mental health expert present in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest but this generally does not happen. Contact with patients is limited, and often consists of just doling out medication or taking sharp objects and phones upon intake (unless the patient has physical health issues.)
Rarely is a psychiatric ward nurse or orderly as invested in the patients’ lives as they are in films like Girl, Interrupted. A psychiatric ward nurse’s job is much closer to a regular nurse’s job than movies and tv would lead you to believe.
Nurses In General
Generally speaking, doctors on medical dramas are seen doing a lot of work that nurses would generally do. TV shows often ignore the wealth of knowledge a nurse has to offer, relegating them to the role of “bring me a scalpel, stat!”
In this respect, friggin Scrubs is more accurate than most medical dramas – in that an experienced nurse might know a lot more than a first-year intern. (Seriously, we will say this twice in this article. Scrubs is often more accurate than most medical dramas. Now it’s three times.) Nurses can be men who don’t have to constantly point out the fact that they’re men and they usually wear sensible shoes regardless of gender.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re glad courtroom scenes are misrepresented in films. If not, a lot of movies would be boring as hell, and we wouldn’t have endless reruns of various Law and Order spin-offs to watch on sick days. Witnesses generally don’t go to pieces on the stand, let alone over Prada Shoes and Perms like in Legally Blonde.
Judges rarely bang gavels, writers usually add that into a scene because it’s fun to watch. Cross-examination must be much more judicious than most entertainment dramas would allow. Also, most of a lawyer’s career is spent outside the courtroom. And you probably can’t get into Harvard Law via a video essay, but that part is obvious.
Stand up comedians do not make money unless they are one of five stand up comedians making money at any point in time. Even performing a set on late night doesn’t mean you’ve made it, and it takes like a decade to get that far. Mrs. Maisel (Rachel Broshanan) can’t be shown grinding at open mics for a whole year before actually getting her first gig with only five people in the audience, that would be excruciatingly boring.
Everything else in tv and film is accurate, in fact it should be even scummier. So much scummier. The most accurate on screen portrayal of the stand-up world was probably Obvious Child, a movie that’s about abortion, not the stand-up world.
The Showtime series Weeds, depicting a suburban widow becoming a pot kingpin and eventually marrying a cartel leader who is also the mayor of TIjuana, seems almost adorable nowadays when you can have marijuana legally delivered to your door via a smartphone app in several states. TV portrayals are very behind the times when it comes to marijuana dealers and growers.
We don’t know how Kevin (Steve Howey) on Shameless managed to almost accidentally grow too much weed. It’s a tough job. We don’t think the room he used was even climate controlled. If you operate a legal dispensary, the amount of paperwork cannot be overstated, but also cannot be portrayed on tv because nobody wants to see that.
A lot of psychologists on TV have extraordinarily inappropriate relationships with clients. We’re not just talking about sexual tension like in The Sopranos or The Prince Of Tides, or full-blown parental-style relationships like in Good Will Hunting. Your therapist won’t meet you in a random back alley or be your friend.
Your therapist will rarely, if ever, be on call to hear your problems at any random moment. A psychologist is different from a psychiatrist and psychologists are not licensed to prescribe medication. And neither is allowed to divulge personal info about their patients (with very specific exceptions.) And with that we go into…
Psychiatrists mainly deal with the neuroscience of mental illness (i.e. dolling out meds and checking in on patients periodically to see if the meds are helping and if they can still have sex on the meds.) Getting ongoing psychoanalysis from a psychiatrist is rare, and generally that only happens in the first few sessions. There are some exceptions to this, to be sure.
Maybe this is why TV and movies tend to get these two job titles confused, or maybe they just combine psychiatrists and psychologists together so we don’t have to see Zach Braff visit two different versions of his dad to get over-prescribed antidepressants in Garden State. Also, the same rules apply to psychiatrists as to psychologists when it comes to boundaries and confidentiality.
The very idea of a stay-at-home dad used to be so laughable that it is the entire premise of the John Hughes comedy Mr. Mom. We can’t believe we have to say this, but men aren’t incapable of caring for their children and household. Things have gotten a little better since the days of Daddy Day Care and by “better” we mean that stay-at-home dads have largely disappeared from media altogether.
That’s still a step up from previous eras, where these characters were portrayed as bumbling idiots who lost their jobs or whose wives have left. The one saving grace is Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin) from Bob’s Burgers, who technically works from home (or just underneath home,) and is probably the better parent in the family.
Despite what the intense, thrill-a-minute spectacle that is Fox’s 9-1-1, 90% of the calls 9-1-1 operators receive are total nonsense. Butt dials, skinned knees, Floridians being Floridians, etc. If you call with a true emergency, they may need a good idea of your location even though it’s portrayed on TV as though they already know.
They probably also won’t walk you through complex crime-fighting tasks. The only real option is to wait for someone to arrive at the scene, and wait time will vary depending on what priority the dispatcher assigns you (yes they do have to prioritize some calls over others because people will call 911 for anything.) Somehow, Reno 911 was slightly more accurate than many crime dramas.
Think of every single programming guru or computer hacker you’ve ever seen on television, whether we’re talking Angelina Jolie and human cartoon character Matthew Lillard in Hackers or the guys on HBO’s Silicon Valley. Most programmers are portrayed as socially inept loners who are either secretly the coolest people alive or are near-supernatural geniuses when it comes to computers (sometimes both). Everything works correctly on the first try.
Most programming (and even hacking) involves mind-numbing hours of trial and error chasing the one workaround command or mistyped key that will set everything right. Also, you never see a programmer on TV encounter a problem and then just Google that problem. This absolutely happens. This is the majority of their lives. Also, some of them have lives.
On Peep Show Mark Corrigan (David Mitchell) says of a graphic designer “Oh, please! “Hello, can I redesign your logo? Yes, that’ll be £100,000 for a squiggle!” This is a pretty good encapsulation of the public perception when it comes to graphic design, but the truth is a lot less fun. Money is much more scarce and there is often a big communication gap between designers and the people who commission them.
It might take 20 hours to curate that squiggle to a client’s specifications. But the client commissioning the logo redesign won’t know that. Much of working in graphic design involves explaining graphic design to clients who don’t understand graphic design.
The internet has been around for awhile, and even after the introduction of SESTA/FOSTA, sex workers have been using it. Some sex workers do still work the streets, and some do have drug or family issues, but that’s pretty much the only depiction we get on TV and in film. Some people actually choose to go into sex work, enjoy it and don’t wish to be saved from it Pretty Woman style.
For some people, it’s a side gig. Some sex workers don’t have violent, controlling pimps and those who do lead very different lives from people who choose sex work for themselves and are able to establish their own network of support. TV shows like Law And Order: SVU often blur the line between “sex worker” and “sex slave.”
Anyone in the Music Industry
We all know the music industry has profoundly changed over the past 10/20 years, but even in its heyday, it wasn’t being portrayed correctly in movies and tv. A music scout doesn’t spend their days searching for a “hot new sound” by actually going to shows and checking out musicians on tour. Very rarely does a star like Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) sit down in a local bar and discover freaking Lady Gaga.
And they aren’t looking for a “new sound” so much as a “sellable musician with a brand.” Very often the artist won’t even have a brand, but rather a producer will have one in mind that they know is marketable and find an artist who can be molded to fit that brand (like Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, and every boy band ever). We’d say we long for the days when we could get offered a record contract by a nice man in a camper like in That Thing You Do!, but those days sort of never really existed.
E.R. Chicago Hope. Dr. Strange. Pop culture is littered with examples of prickly but brilliant surgeons dramatically performing a serious operation under intense pressure, so you shouldn’t be too surprised to hear that it’s mostly garbage. Firstly, a lot of the medical terminology you’ll hear in a TV surgery scene is basically gibberish. It’s random medical terminology placed together in a nonsensical sequence, but it sounds super scientific!
Second, no surgeon would ever cut into hairy skin, or for that matter, shave it with a razor instead of clippers. And they WASH THEIR HANDS! AND USE GLOVES! Nobody is allowed in an OR without washing up or wearing proper garb. You wouldn’t believe it but this makes Scrubs more accurate than House. HIPAA violations are rampant in film and TV.. And? If the patient dies, the heart rate monitor won’t emit a long beep. That’s purely for dramatic effect, because could you imagine what that would do to everyone in a hospital who could hear it?
This has got to be the most boring job on the list, and there are a lot of boring jobs on this list. Working security involves staring at monitors or standing in front of doors for hours on end, usually overnight. Stopping a trespasser (or protagonist breaking into a building without security clearance but it’s for a really good cause like saving the universe or a sick relative) rarely happens, and if it does, the ‘action’ involved would be little more than calling the cops or the building owners.
In most situations, you could literally sprint right past a security desk or patrolling guard, and all they’re going to do is radio someone else to ask what they should do, which might take all the time you need to save the universe and/or sick relative. The one cliche that actually rings true is that many security guards are somewhat less than alert and are easily distracted by a book or a TV show or are just straight up asleep at the desk, because like we said, working security is BORING.
The angry, unpredictable, hyper-aggressive head chef stereotype is a little overstated and not just by every Gordon Ramsay vehicle (minus the one with the kids, he’s pretty nice to the kids.) In the film Burnt, Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is a big jerk who just sticks his fingers in a bunch of food. This probably wouldn’t be ok.
In virtually every show or movie about chefs ever made, a restaurant’s fate is often decided by the reaction of a single food critic. The entire plot of Ratatouille centers around pleasing the spidery old Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole), who could crush all of our main characters’ dreams with a single article. Though it’s certainly a tough business, we doubt any single critic could wield this power. Also rats aren’t chefs, but whatevs.
Teachers on TV and in film fall into two categories: terrible or life-changing. Most teachers of the AP Bio variety would be fired by episode one, while others simply don’t have the Stand And Deliver/ Dead Poet’s Society energy and drive. Also, teachers’ home lives aren’t all sad. Some have social lives. Even gym teachers!
Not every Gym teacher is the Big Mouth/Home Movies/etc stereotype of a pathetic gross man. Teachers can’t really be shown doing their jobs because their jobs are super boring (unless it’s Harry Potter or X-Men or something.) Instead, teachers are often shown as emotional mentors – or examples of what not to become as adults.
Sometimes bartenders are portrayed on television as better therapists than actual therapists. Depending on the bar, this just isn’t possible. Either you’re too busy multitasking or you’re dealing with someone too drunk to communicate effectively. Bartending involves a lot less banter with one person at a time.
It’s a lot more management of loud crowds of bachelorette parties and tinder dates. Please don’t hold up your bartender by telling them your life story. They’re too busy fixing a mojito for the big jerk who ordered a mojito (they hate making those.)
The job of accounting isn’t misrepresented so much in pop culture, because nobody wants to watch someone calculate deductions, but accountants themselves. We assume that because audiences will probably find the job boring, they’ll also find the people to be dull, antisocial aliens, so much so that the occupation has become pop culture shorthand for “the most boring human being on the planet.”
On The Office, 2 out of the show’s 3 accountant characters were bizarre, socially inept maniacs, and the third accountant’s entire personality was “he is a gay person.” Pretty boring. Also, most of them don’t kill people like in The Accountant, we think. We hope. They’re so mysterious.
Ad execs like Mel Gibson in What Women Want, Matthew McConaughey in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and Eddie Murphy in Boomerang are generally portrayed as aloof hotshots that treat their profession like an afterthought, able to stroll into any meeting and whip out applause-worthy ad copy off the top of their heads.
In reality, advertising is an intensely high-pressure job that is also highly competitive. Execs are not coming up with off-the-cuff pitches right in front of their clientele, because that’s how you lose clients to other, better-prepared people. They actually work on their campaigns before they present them.
Librarians on tv and in film are rarely shown, and if they are they’re either sexy stooges or boring duds. We’re pretty sure that hot librarian on Community never actually did any librarian…ing. And that one ancient librarian in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was boring enough to be tricked into thinking the sound of a man breaking through a marble floor was coming from his date stamper.
Pretty much everything you’ve seen about librarians on tv and film has been inaccurate- and we’re addressing this to everybody, even our one reader who actually saw The Pagemaster. The job of a librarian varies from book acquisition, to archiving and digitizing, to teaching literacy skills, to reference desk duties (what we usually sort of see.) Sometimes they’re hot or stern we guess. It’s really not in the job description.
Convenience Store Clerk
The most well-known convenience store clerk in all of pop culture must be The Simpsons’ Apu (Hank Azaria), the personification of a racist joke your parents can’t stop telling. There are convenience store clerks that are not “overly suspicious foreign stereotypes,” we swear. In fairness, pretty much every movie and TV show made in the 80s and 90s was guilty of this.
The most realistic thing about Apu is how many times the Kwik-e-Mart gets robbed because that part’s shockingly accurate. Being a convenience store clerk is one of the most dangerous jobs out there. Also, if your show takes place in New York, the scene is in a small bodega, not a big convenience store chain, we expect to see a bodega cat.
In virtually every medical drama ever created, we see paramedics crashing their patients into the ER like they’re steering a shopping cart on Supermarket Sweep. In reality, EMTs rarely run into the ER. It’d create chaos. In fact, they rarely run at all. If you’re handling a traumatized patient you’re going to walk swiftly, not run, so as not to exacerbate their problems.
Also, CPR is rarely needed in real life as much as it is on tv, and it’s rarely portrayed accurately. There would be a lot of crushed ribs if real-life paramedics performed CPR the way actors do, doing violent compressions with their powerful actor muscles. That said, when CPR IS needed in real life, its success rate is much lower than it is on tv.
Receptionist positions vary so greatly from job to job. You could be constantly forwarding calls like in Office Space, but more likely, you’re going to handle a lot more things on your own. If receptionists were just human switchboards, the office in question would have automated the process.
Most TV receptionists are either constantly busy or painting their friggin nails at the desk (because almost all TV and film receptionists are women.) That’s messy. Nobody does that. Also, those long receptionist stereotype nails are usually fake. You buy those painted.
Pop culture has long been convinced that massage therapists are the same thing as sex workers. Think of any scene in any movie (like when the “masseuse” shows up at Will Smith’s house in Bad Boys) that references massage therapy and we can pretty much guarantee 90% of them equates it to sex. This might be the only job Friends got sort of right, (in that they barely portrayed it at all, but still, better than whatever those writers think a paleontologist does.)
This job is a lot less sexy and a lot more “actually relieving muscle tension as per the job description.” In fact, you know what’s not sexy? Lots of laundry and hand cramps. That’s a big part of a massage therapist’s life. Also, they don’t wear big fake nails either. That’s a recipe for pain and not the good massage-y kind of pain.
In the movies (particularly in comedies), women constantly meet with hunky, aloof OBGYNs and nurses like B.J. Novak and Adam Scott in Knocked Up, or have their babies delivered by super hunky doctors like Nathan Fillion in Waitress. Because it’s funny when handsome men have to look at your vagina, you see. And if the man isn’t handsome, he’s just cartoonishly mean (like Ken Jeong in his career-launching role in Knocked Up).
Also, childbirth always looks all wrong. Why are women giving birth to clearly 4-month-old babies in every movie and show we see? Just make an age-appropriate fake baby, like American Sniper. And where are the umbilical cords and the sloppy mess? Don’t sanitize this miracle, Hollywood.