Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Tradesmen: Making an Art of Work

Richard Yeagley, a 20-something first-time documentary filmmaker, astutely observed at his young age the blue collar workforce was vanishing. He wondered why - when these are the men that makes things work. In his words:
“I was raised in a place called ‘Charm City’ – most know it as Baltimore. Growing up, I vividly remember the blue-collar nature of the individuals and the city itself. At this point in my life I no longer have a daily connection to the blue-collar worker, and I have lost touch with the very essence of my upbringing and the people who occupy my childhood and adolescent memories. 
“After graduating from college, moving away from my hometown, and entering the workforce, I began to notice a pervasive bias against work that required any form of manual labor and described as blue collar. In principle, this sentiment without any firsthand experience was unfair and disparaging towards tradesmen and their work. But why are such attitudes ubiquitous within our current cultural landscape? Where does the current cultural bias come from? Is it influenced by technological advances and novel opportunities in other occupations? Or opinions of limited financial prosperity in trade-work, and the potential for higher wages in other fields? Or is it inherent in the current educational curriculum and paradigm? I wanted to produce a documentary which sets out to explore the questions.”

The Tradesmen: Making an Art of Work is that exploratory social documentary. It will engage the viewer as they watch the vocational lives of several tradesmen and will discuss the issues encompassing the trades in contemporary America. The documentary is a real and unflinching look at the lives and work of the modern tradesman and is an exposition into the socioeconomic topics related to the modern blue-collar craftsman.
“The people who do not value and acknowledge the intellect inherent in this type of work are the individuals who have never performed this type of work on a large scale. Anyone who has ever monitored a skilled tradesman at work and immersed in the task at hand, would quickly realize that there is a skill set and know how that is accumulated through copious experience and intangible knowledge. 
“Moreover, since there has been this new movement towards so-called knowledge industries, there has been a pervasive disdain for any industry perceived to be industrial, and by extension – antiquated. Somehow, educators – and a majority of the population as a whole – feel that these types of ‘industrial’ jobs do not require a skill set worthy of teaching and acknowledging, and that are youth shall not be tracked or “nudged” into such professions. Essentially, parents and educators are reinforcing such negligence of intelligence in the work. 
“Furthermore, most Americans equate occupational desirability with social prestige and/or income, and since there is currently an ethos of undesirability within these jobs, there will irrefutably be condescension of the intelligence behind such work. In summation, the ‘college for all’ movement in the advanced world, and being that most trades do not require a college degree, has exacerbated this sentiment.”

WSBE Rhode Island PBS is proud to present The Tradesmen: Making an Art of Work on Thursday, May 31 at 10 P.M. You may also want to tune in an hour earlier - 9 P.M. - for Craft in America, a journey to the artists, origins, and techniques of American craft.

The documentary caught the interest of  John Hazen White, Jr., president of Taco, Inc., and he sponsored a screening last fall. Here is the film director's account of his experience at Taco.