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Big Media and Engineering

August 10, 2010
So apparently Boeing is trying to partner with TV and make engineering cool. Besides their manufactured panic over how all the Boomers are going to retire and leave us with a supposed labor shortage (haven’t we been hearing that for years? and with 10% unemployment are we really that worried?). It’s no joke the comments to the article are engineers complaining of outsourcing, pay and HB1 Visas. Personally I don’t think pay is the issue, but engineering companies (and I don’t specifically mean Boeing) have been outsourcing for years, and bringing in HB1 Visa holders to do the work for less. It’s much easier than changing business practices to continue to support domestic workers or start programs to encourage Americans to go into engineering and science. I’m not real concerned we need to start selling engineering or science as a career just yet. I’m sure when the jobs and the money are there, people will go in droves.
But I find their attempt to make it “cool” a little more interesting.
There’s no shortage of scientists and engineers on TV and the movies, says Richard Stephens, senior vice-president of human resources and administration at Boeing. Many, however, are portrayed in an unsympathetic light. “In movies and on TV, 10 percent of characters are scientists and engineers,” Stephens said in Congressional testimony on Feb. 4. “Unfortunately, of those more than 70 percent kill others, are killed, or are overcome by lay people.”
Kind of like my continued hesitance to watch Big Bang Theory. Maybe I’d enjoy it, but I’m largely afraid it gets its laughs by playing on how “weird” or “abnormal” the scientists it features are. I think of the character in Boston Legal who had Asperger’s Syndrome. Rather than the more typical symptoms an average person on the light end of the autism spectrum might have, his character was embued with all sorts of other mental disorders that now TV viewers would unknowingly associate with the word Asperger’s.
The article brings up Walt Disney’s efforts in joining the good fight. Back in the Sputnik era, when beating the commies was a national security concern. Walt Disney wasn’t afraid to propagandize in WWII and certainly helped glamorize the space age. I had never seen this before, it’s Disney’s Man in Space. After some horribly racially stereotyped animated Chinese people in the segment on the history of rockets the show gets rather interesting. At first I was a little put off that every room they show people talking about or designing rockets and spacecraft was white dudes only. But then I realized besides the awesome glasses and lack of computers that could be a scene right out of my workplace today. So not much has changed in diversity in engineering in 60 years. However, America’s interest and support of the space program sure has. In a way I hope efforts like this from Boeing or other media outlets succeed because while I think the personnel are flexible and will be there the public desire for a kickass space program hasn’t recovered since the fall of the Berlin wall. Given China and India’s plans for manned flights and even bases on the moon maybe when it becomes a national security issue again people will care again. For now, enjoy this video series. Walt Disney is holding a rocket, your argument is invalid!

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