Is the status game a sad facet of modern life?

PUBLISHED: 16:40 12 April 2019 | UPDATED: 16:40 12 April 2019

Some roles in the creative world carry a clear status, while others don't argues Paul Barnes

Some roles in the creative world carry a clear status, while others don't argues Paul Barnes


Paul Barnes asks just what is it all these people do to earn the status they are assigned in the workplace

I’ve been racking my recollections to see if I’ve ever owned a status symbol, the sort of thing that might separate me from the common herd and place me in a plush pasture with a different herd consisting of pedigree people, what used to be called “the smart set”.

Some glossy magazine, doubtless a status symbol in its own right, the sort that lies on the coffee tables of the wealthy, recently published its yearly list of status symbols, gewgaws like exotic pooches, snazzy cars and watches with more dials than an Airbus flight deck. Needless to say, I’ve got none of them, and so far as I can tell I’ve never had any from the previous years’ tally. The best watch I’ve ever owned cost £4.88 from Lidl and keeps perfect time over seven years after I bought it.

There is a hunger for status that’s more cheaply satisfied than shelling out ridiculous sums of money. All you have to do is get a title; not necessarily the sort that bags you a seat in the House of Lords or a tap on the shoulder from the Queen, though a gong does have a certain cachet. No, what you do is get yourself a smart-sounding label and have it attached to whatever your job is.

“Director” is one that’s crept into the credits and spread in recent years. You can hear it on Radio Four at the end of the 
World at One and the World Tonight: “The editor was 
Mary-Ann Blenkinsop, studio director, Jack Plugg”, thus elevating Jack to the level of Alfred Hitchcock, Akira 
Kurosawa and Orson Welles. 
But a BBC studio director’s creative input is about the same 
as that of a telephone operator; 
in fact, there’s not a lot of difference between the two.

I heard of one woman who called herself technical director of a hairdressing salon. I asked my friend Tracy, who has been cutting my hair for forty years, what the job might entail.

She furrowed her brow and reckoned it might be sweeping up the cuttings, bagging the laundry and making the coffee.

Directors abound in the magazine world. A couple of weeks ago in one shiny weekly I came across a creative director, a role that I can understand; it actually means something. But lower down the list were a fashion director, fashion bookings director (what the heck does she do?), beauty director, art director and picture director, plus an acting picture director. It’s a glittering parade of talents that’s matched by the host of editors in the same publication. Editor and deputy editor make sense, but how about associate editor (food), interiors editor, deputy picture editor, plus a shoal of sub-editors? Many items that try to make it into print have to fight their way through this status-washed shingle, only to collapse breathless on the beach.

There was a time when the word “executive” would be flung about like confetti, with the intention of conferring a dab of status on cars, luxury coaches, luggage, airline seats, restaurant menus, hotel suites, and so on. I once had a car that was promoted as being worthy of an executive type but I bought it in spite of the claim, not because of it. Just before I collected it the salesman phoned. “We’ve managed to get you a low number,” he gushed.

Fancy that, the lower the number you get, the higher the prestige, a smidgeon of status. Who’d have thought it? As for personalised numbers, let’s not go there.

“Executive” as a branding device has faded a bit, but not yet vanished. I watched the 2016 film of Swallows and Amazons, the 1930 classic novel by Arthur Ransome, the adventure of boys and girls and little boats in the Lake District. Charming, yes but the whole show was in danger of being sunk by the weight of its end credits. As they crawled up the screen I counted three producers and no fewer than 14 “executive” producers.

Fourteen what, though? I guess they were 14 folks who fussed around clutching clipboards and trying to look essential, when all the time they knew they were little more than film business flotsam.

The status game is like a children’s party where nobody goes home without a prize, whether they’ve actually won it or not.

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