MAY 6, 2012 11:07PM

My Dustin-Hoffman-Graduate-Plastics' Moment

Rate: 12 Flag


It happened decades ago. That phone exchange in my parents’ kitchen.

It was not long after exiting my college “Camelot”. The steep plunge from grandiose, myopic college senior to insecure, jobless, debt-ridden returning daughter/enabler whose vision hadn’t included re-filling her parents’ empty nest. What in God’s name had happened to the delicious and adventurous fast-lane to an independent adult life? Somehow I had gotten on a wrong entry ramp and was zooming backwards in time.

I could feel four years of amassed self-esteem relentlessly leaking away with each passing, unemployed day – hour – minute.

Needless to say there was no small spurt of interest one listless afternoon when the owner of a perky, female voice at the other end of the phone identified herself as being from the public relations department of my recent, beloved college.

Apparently someone whom this woman could not identify had disclosed to her that I had a strong interest in acting. I was surprised she would bring that up. Yes, I did enjoy acting. I had acted a lot in high school. But when I had gone to the smallish college only theater majors had opportunities to perform so I had had to give the passion up for four years.

She excitedly let fly: “We want you to STAR in a commercial for the college!”

“As an actress?” I asked.

“No, silly! As YOU, of course!!!!”

She went on to explain that enrollment had dropped dramatically, so the upshot was I would stand in front of my BMW, presumably in my power suit with my power briefcase on my way to my power job, and beaming gratefully at the camera exclaim that I owed it ALL to College X!

“You mean you want me to perform this as an ACTRESS!” I persisted.

“NO! AS YOU!!!” Exasperation beginning to replace perkiness.

“But I don’t have a BMW,” I explained and added mournfully, “I don’t even own a car!” (Hell, I didn’t even have the suit or briefcase. Oh yeah, or a JOB!)

There was a long pause with the unspoken but implied “so-what-is-your-point?” hanging out there.

I took a breath. “I have NO car. NO job. I have to pay back my student loan. I live with my parents.” (Shoot me now!)

She, totally unaffected: “This would be great for your acting resume! A MARVELOUS opportunity!”

Aha. I suddenly suspected it would be an UNPAID marvelous opportunity.

But I was still dealing with the FALSE ADVERTISING apparently-non-issue to even begin to get to other issues.

She blithely continued the pitch: “We need YOU to convey that going to OUR college fast-tracks you to success!’

“Well,” I stammered (this was years before libbyliberal had climbed on any high horses), “I could do that if I did it as an ACTRESS, and, well, you know, I didn’t have to state my actual name!”

“NO, NO, NO!!!!. We NEED you because you ARE a graduate. We need that credibility. THAT IS THE POINT!!!!” (Could I be any DUMBER I could hear her thinking through the phone.)

I took a deep breath and explained to the young woman that I could not bring myself to perform such a commercial since I would be L-Y-I-N-G!!!

She shot back. “That’s okay. We don’t mind.”

This chick clearly couldn’t begin to connect my ethical dots.

The tone of my response was more confused and apologetic than righteous I am ashamed to admit. “But, you see, I do.”

She offered me an abrupt but pitying “Good luck!” then hung up.

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funny story but I dont know why you assumed it was not paying. & Im sure they found some other taker without too much trouble, probably. but R for having a conscience.
I LOVED it ALL. Especially loved her talking about credibility and You responding about lying.

Nice change of pace for LibbyLiberal and further evidence of Your versatility.

Libby, Ha, good story. I wished someone had called me up after I graduated. I could pitch to them my own commercial. They could've filmed me riding my bicycle to work. I could tell them how fun it was working 14 hours a day in the arts & culture industry barely being able to pay the rent and keep a reasonable standard of living. I would tell students don't worry about your student loan cuz the truth (well my truth) is that the gov't just kept all my income tax return for years ... But maybe they don't the new string of students to know that may be what awaits them too.
vzn, tx for comment. i have no idea if money was involved since we didn't get that far, but since she was sweetening the offer with how good it would look on my acting resume (???) I assumed she was going for cheap and gonna coax me with former school loyalty maybe. what I found so awesome was that she could not begin to fathom what my prob with the situation was.

mark, thanks once again for the validation! yes, and it sounded like it might be fun and was enticing except for that not small ethical barrier, ya know? a line that she could not begin to see from her side. and the added irony that i was from that very college and was so not fast-tracking to anywhere myself at that point which she also had absolutely no interest in or empathy about. this would have been a regional commercial and regional fellow grads might have been impressed how libby got the beamer so fast, the loan paid off and the sooper dooper job. She didn't mention the gorgeous home I would have had in the background. Hmmmm. Hah! sounds like a sitcom episode. tch tch. with the values lesson at the end if our heroine clicks off her ethics, goes for it and gets her comeuppance! :-)

ONL! Advertising Age! Mad men. When propaganda got made soft and fuzzy with the upgrading title of public relations. Lying and consumer beware. You make me laugh!!! Yes, indeedy, that slippery slope of dangerous compromise can come up out of the blue especially at such a callow age. Here's the opportunity, all you have to do is ignore your ethics. The other guy will often give you his or her blanket permission and enthusiastic encouragement to do so!

best, libby
Thanks, Scarlett! Yeah, I relate more to your story throughout my life than the fantasy one they wanted to put under my name. Yes, those monthly payouts -- I had a NDSL which stung but now I see was an awesome deal comparatively speaking to the loan sharking bottom feeding scum sucking bank deals made with students today. And the college tuition extortion added to it. And the diploma mills racket which this beloved college of mine seemed to go after more and more as the years went by, changed its liberal arts focus more "pragmatically" oriented to the vocational which is fine, but I got the feeling there was an unhealthy financial opportunism tied into it (remember when education was for education sake?). I want the government to go farther, much farther than freezing interest rates for the kids which they probably won't even do anyway. We bail out the rich white collar criminal banksters and corporatists with our tax dollars, but send the kids to die in the Mideast or be saddled with lifetime debt to try to get an education to get a job that won't even exist by the time they graduate. Sigh. What is wrong with this picture? best, libby
You could also call it your "Temptation of Christ moment." Either way, good for you!
She's either Dean of Ethics now or president of the Alumni Association. Too bad you couldn't have persuaded her to hire you in a full-time position for the classic win-win situation.
Great recollection of the difficult dilemmas of a young graduate:
"I could feel four years of amassed self-esteem relentlessly leaking away with each passing, unemployed day – hour – minute."

And.. good on you for your response to Ms. Perky
How weird they wanted you to pose in front of a BMW and say you owed it all to College X! Fun story, Libby, and you stuck to your guns. Rated.
“This chick clearly couldn’t begin to connect my ethical dots.”

No she couldn’t. She is as disconnected with you as you are to a chicken. She and her masters weren’t going to pay you anything anyway. It was the main qualification of the job. I’d be far more impressed if you had been offered money to do it and still turned it down Libby.
tx, Alan! Yes, the bizarreness of it all, serendipitously coming out of the blue like that with all the enticement to a young twenty something looking for a quick ego fix. It is a special kind of crazymaking getting seduced to do the wrong thing by someone clueless as to the "wrongness" which seems so obvious to you. You know? At that seriously self-doubting peer-pressured at times age I was introverting like crazy trying to rationalize and try to justify where she was coming from in all her absoluteness. I felt like saying, I am trying hard to hear you but these damn sirens of cognitive dissonance maybe are making me hear you wrong. :-) thanks, libby
Chicken maaan. I can remember so much of that conversation but her name never locked in. You make me laugh. She probably is queen of Alumni Assoc. or Dean of Ethics (wow, I wish colleges had those now, our universities got more and more seduced by the political and corporate classes to enable and endorse and legitamize them. I saw some jerk on Charlie Rose brag that some of his students were the resourceful ones that caused the economic meltdown... he was like a proud daddy ... I googled and emailed him my RAGE at not teaching moral values to his ivy leaguers while he was still on the show talking).

The irony of the entire situation was lost on her. She could not emotionally or intellectually invest in the reality of my situation in all of it or the commercial situation casting someone not on the fast track to endorse the college's fast tracking. Just getting her casting done. She was older than I was then but looking back I realize how young and callow she actually was. thanks for comment. best, libby
tr ig, thanks for comment and yes, that passage from the womb of college and peer support and freedom and being a big senior fish in a little collegial pond and then moving back home in my case to the role of child/daughter without the support system to help me continue to individuate. Also to come face to face with the daunting big world of job finding and holding down, finding a home, facing down debt seriously. Very daunting to the newbie adult for sure. It's what made me think of the classic Dustin movie. His twilight zone period transitioning from the college cocoon. thanks for visit! best, libby
Erica! Thank you. Yes, it was weird. Getting such a cold call like that with the strange offer. And shamelessly hypocritical, wanting to use my actual identity and then wanting to so lie about my actual reality. And at my age then, even a regional commercial had that magic allurement, getting inside the "magic box". I never did see a commercial for the college after that, but maybe it ran locally nearer the school. I wanted to write a new blog about the media and disinformation and when I went to reference the above anecdote it started to get longer and longer the more I tried to tighten it and I figured finally I'd give it its own little blog! :-) best, libby
Jack, thanks for commenting. Yes, I suspected there wasn't much or any money involved since she was not using that at all as an enticement. Money would not have swayed me to take the job and defy the cognitive dissonance. Maybe I can assuredly say that since I was living at my parents' home and not desperate for food or shelter. Pity those who are challenged like that and have to fight their own moral compass much harder. I have sold out my own values at times in the past from my own codependent mis-directed loyalty to people. That has been my achilles heel, not material seduction. best, libby
You have to wonder about the boss who telling her to do this.
I wonder if she was a graduate of College X. My small experience with P.R. people has led me to believe that ethical standards are fluid and malleable. R
Makes me ponder the woman's ethics.
Of course, I suspect she had none.
Good to see you were not: For Sale Libby.
Stuart, yes, a good consideration. To be that callow she probably had an authoritarian at her back who brooks no ethical nuance and gave her the confidence and authority not to, either. trickle down amorality!

Escrito, I got the impression no, but who knows? I would have thought had she been a graduate there may have been a tad more capacity for empathy for a fellow student. Maybe not. She definitely had more of a sense of cronyism with college management than the student population! PR people are there to make warm and fuzzy and vague ethical boundaries I am thinking. Look at what DC lobbyists have wrought!

Thanks, mission! There are ethical challenges and compromises we all have to make daily. Trying to keep one's higher self making the decisions rather than the lower self is so much part of this journey, isn't it? Sigh. I am fascinated and depressed by people that can't recognize there is a moral choice presented and honor and empathy have no room in their consciousness.

best, libby