Reflections on moving art gallery steel and dangerous Fukushima reactor rods


“Art is anything you can’t sell if you call it something else.”—M. Moffa

That has been my personal take—indeed, cynical mantra—on “art” for decades, inspired by encounters in pretentious galleries with a lot of overpriced, overrated modern junk, like the “Crouching Beast” steel-plate Robo-Dog I saw in a Vancouver gallery long ago.

Price: $178,000…then, for what the gallery docent admitted a couple of welders could have slapped together in a couple of hours.

My response to that? I asked her how much for the price tag stuck to the dog, since, I said, that was the real work of art on exhibit there.

Bottom line: If you want to sell something otherwise unsellable, e.g., a crumpled used napkin or a Robo-Doggish welded pile of steel, call it “art”.

Succeeding at that is an art in itself.

The Art of Selling ‘Unsellable’ Jobs

As for “unsellable” jobs, the situation is quite the opposite, because there are jobs that a recruiter or company may be unable to sell without calling them something else.

In other words, there are jobs that, like much art that gets sold, may get filled only if given grand, grandiose or euphemistic titles or categorizations that are marketable circumlocutions. You know—“Sanitation Engineer”, with mandatory capitalization, instead of “garbage man”.

That kind of capitalization—that’s one trick to selling a job that might otherwise be a hard sell. For example, a job description for an “Office Assistant” is much more likely to be appealing than one for just an “office assistant”.

Strictly speaking, there is no obligation to capitalize the job category, much as there isn’t to capitalize the “Vim, Vigor and Vitality!”claims of snake-oil hucksters, as I just and they always do, since none of these is a proper noun.

However, these foregoing examples are merely of jobs that are easier to fill if you call them something else, in contrast to art, which, in general becomes harder to sell if it is called something else.

More to my main point are jobs that are impossible or virtually impossible to fill unless called something else. So, which jobs are those?

How to Sell a Career as a Wiener

Start with the ones that have been filled one way or another, but, in most instances, probably wouldn’t have been, if not euphemistically or otherwise more appealingly “re-packaged” with an appealing title or job description.

Take, for example, the jobs and short-lived career cartoon-kids declared they wanted, when, back in the ’60s, they sang, “I’d love to be an Oscar Meyer wiener, that is truly what I’d like to be; ’cause if I were an Oscar Meyer wiener, everyone would be in love with me!” [Actually, it was kind of catchy, as an ad ditty and jingle.]

Balancing the group enthusiasm for service as a cute hot dog, was the initially skeptical, cynical kid in the ad with a temporarily better grasp of the grim reality of beef processing, who sang, “If I were an Oscar Meyer wiener, there would be nothing left of me.”

Nonetheless, in the end, he too fell for the skewed, gussied-up job description and got on that bandwagon.

I knew you expected me to start with slaughterhouse jobs. But I won’t “go there”, in any sense of that phrase any more or farther than I already have with the job of wiener, for at least two reasons. First, it’s way too easy and obvious an example; second, the details would disturb the squeamish.

The Perils of Fukushima

So, let’s move on to a different example—something more contemporary and less fanciful than an old wiener ad, say, hiring workers as boots on the ground to enter Fukushima’s four reactors and ever so gingerly move and remove more than 1,300 incredibly unstable and lethal nuclear reactor rods with a combined weight of 400 tons—and with deadly levels of exposure likely to be reached within hours of starting the job, even while clad in protective gear.

It has been widely claimed that if even one rod is dropped and broken or crashes into another, or another powerful earthquake strikes, well, as David Suzuki, Canada’s most famous and influential scientist very recently and scarily warned, “bye-bye Japan” and hello evacuation of the entire North American Pacific coast.

Given that this job is going to take years, maybe decades and in light of Suzuki’s claim that the probability of another 7+  earthquake in the vicinity of Fukushima within the next three years is 95%—possibly occurring while the rods are being moved, selling that job to any of the 50,000 workers who have already been onsite there or to another 50,000 to replace them [e.g., after they’ve maxed out their allowable exposure], doesn’t seem like a piece of cake of any kind, uranium “yellowcake” or otherwise.  

Especially daunting is the challenge of pitching that job when the consequences of a single slip-up by even a single worker may be not only personally catastrophic, but globally Apocalyptic.

How to Sell Fukushima Jobs?

So, how do you package it—or more to the point, how has it been packaged when pitched? As “Energy Transfer Specialists”? “Non-Routine Maintenance and Transport Experts”? “Kamikaze”?—That last one is not likely to work again, or only with truly heroic or utterly desperate men.

In fact, euphemisms and prestige may not be necessary to sell this kind of unsellable job. It has been reported that for a number of the workers, the Fukushima dangerous grunt job has been a way to extricate themselves from crushing debts owed to loan-shark Yakuza—the Japanese equivalent of our Mafia, allegedly heavily involved in the hiring and assignment of the legions of casual, untrained, back-to-the-wall workers.

In effect, it appears that “an offer you can’t refuse” approach has perhaps made an enticing job description unnecessary in recruiting some of these men, even though the job risks are high, reportedly skimmed pay is low and working conditions much-lamented.

As for any heroes who volunteer to do this job, they can be sure it will not be a thankless one.

“Yes, We Yes!”

Less dramatic than these potentially and literally “matter of life-and-death” Fukushima jobs, is the job of a corporate gray-flannel “yes man” or, alternatively, of the more prestigious all-caps position of “Yes Man”.

That job is going to be much harder to fill labeled like that than as “Advisory Board Consultant” in an autocratically run, “my way-or-the-highway” organization would be. The turn-off is not just having to commit up-front to being an obsequious, dissembling tool and pawn; it’s also having everybody know that’s what you are.

The Art of Selling Art and Jobs

The art of selling an “unsellable” job is, it seems, very much like the art of selling otherwise unsellable art. Selling either often requires craftily, cautiously, euphemistically, pretentiously, or even cunningly labeling or packaging that which is to be sold.

But the art of selling them—well, that’s intrinsically priceless…

…no matter what you call it.


Note: To facilitate a sale of the image I created and posted here, I’ve given it the most effective name I can imagine for it: “Art for Sale”, copyright 2012, Michael Moffa.

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