Friday, March 29, 2013

Art Reflects Life: 100 years later? Post 1

These are my own unsolicited and uncompensated opinions. I do not have a relationship with NPR, the BBC, the city, college, or anybody else mentioned in this post.

Confession: I cannot watch cable anymore. Amen? We've always lived with people who want it, but it's pretty low on my list of priority utility bills and the availability of shows has changed drastically due to the internet and wide library media choices.

Masterpiece (Classic, Mystery, etc), is a show my mom watched when I was a child. That original theme rondeau by Jean-Joseph Mouret still rings in memory. I may have sneaked out of bed to glimpse parts of shows at age 8. Just maybe. The series sit in our DVR queue until we squeeze in an evening... and last May I was ambivalent about the award-winning series, Downton Abbey. No longer.

You can read all about the premise from writer and producer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Monarch of the Glen, etc). What's been hanging about the corners of my mind, and what's hooked me, is how the viewer can care for such a diverse cast of characters, upstairs and downstairs alike. It has me wondering a lot about what a TV series about lower/middle class/upper middle class America would look like in 100 years. The town where I grew up, from age 11 on, could be a good contender.

Let me take you on a photo tour.

While Downton Abbey's action centers on one household unit, that unit could well be one street these days. The street is Jefferson Avenue.

In a series of 3 posts, we'll walk down Jefferson Avenue and take a look at what's happening. Who are the have's and the have not's? What's changing and challenging?

We'll look at:
1) College
2) Local businesses and Warehouse culture
3) Housing extremes

East Jefferson Ave,
Pin is NCC
At one extreme lie lofty ideals and the capstone of college, North Central College. All good suburban children must pass through higher education to gain access to certain life arenas. In DA, title/peerage, managing an estate versus a career, and inheritance separate old and new money. The growing upwardly mobile middle class gains much in the devastating aftermath of the first world war. Today, the fastest growing social class is the working poor.

"For the first time in the Chicago area, there are more people in poverty in the suburbs than the city." That's approximately 1 out of 20 people in our county.

Of those in poverty in DuPage county, 30% are children. Across our nation, 1 out of 3 families are considered low-income. Note: if you look at US census data, the national poverty rate has remained between 11-15% since 1965. Federal poverty rate for a family of 3 was $17,600 annual income in 2008; the income needed for that same family to be self-sufficient in DuPage County was $50,687 in 2008.

Does college really help emerging Millennials gain access these days? Perhaps not, since 30% of adults ages 25-24 in 2011 were living at home, or in someone else's household. One report from the Center For College Affordability takes a look at employment for those graduating after 2000 and the possible future job outlook for those with at least a bachelor's degree. Does a college degree really equal better job opportunities or income? Well, it depends on the degree. For the population of the town around Jefferson Avenue, 65.4% of adults over 18 have a bachelor's degree or higher... that's double the Illinois rate (30.7%).

The thing about data is, it can be manipulated to make almost any point. In attempting to find data on those 18 year and older who are actually working in their degree field, I couldn't find any conclusive data online. Tracking those with degrees makes the old USA look great - never mind if those degrees really mean fewer opportunities for graduates. I would be interested in finding data on the types of degrees conferred, and whether the qualified work force matches the types and number of jobs available. I wonder how many 'over qualified' job seekers there are, who are struggling to pay thousands of dollars of student loans. Few high school guidance counselors require students to research the future job market. Rather, many seem to simply initial the next year's course selection. Few universities use admissions counselors to admit students based on present or future job opportunities. A degree in comparative world literature? Given. Has the student been counseled on what kind of job (other than PhD track professor or author) s/he can work with that degree? Probably not.

Upstairs women, Downton Abbey
Ethel saying good-bye
Unnecessary education parallels DA, which gives an interesting look at women's work in 1912-1922. Some women work their way up the domestic help track, from chamber maid to ladies' maid, or scullery maid to cook. One maid, Ethel, has a child out of wedlock, and works as a prostitute, gives up her child, then gets a break as a cook in a middle class home. Mrs. Crawley trained as a nurse and married a doctor, similar to what Facebook COO Sandberg says, "The most important career choice you'll make is who you marry." Mrs. Crawley helps get a convalescent home up and running in the Abbey itself during the war. Lady Sybil trains as a nurse, learns to cook for herself, and marries beneath her title - yet gains much personal freedom and works in a worthwhile profession. Lady Edith can't get hitched, but refuses to become an old ladies' companion or remain at home, so she begins writing a column that points out what others might not care to see. Lady Mary follows the traditional path, marrying the heir, Matthew Crawley, making haste to produce a male heir, and smoothing over family relationships. The fourth season will hopefully bring big changes to Mary's 'continuing education' so that she serves the whole population of the estate.

I can't help but wonder, what path would I have followed in that time?

What legacy will I build today, for tomorrow? One that serves me, or one that helps others flourish?

NCC: courtesy of
That sums up my hope for someplace like North Central College in such an educated city: that ultimately, high schools and colleges would well prepare those admitted. Hopefully, colleges would train graduates to pursue careers that offer satisfaction for the graduate, flourishing of culture, and service to society.

The next post on business and warehouse culture will spend more time on job opportunities.

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