Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Nice work, if you can get it: 22 nichey job fields we aren’t taking advantage of in fighting unemployment

Illustration for article titled Nice work, if you can get it: 22 nichey job fields we aren’t taking advantage of in fighting unemployment

1. Ghostbuster: Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II, Extreme Ghostbusters, etc.
America’s unemployment rate is falling again, but not fast enough to satisfy the vast crowds of people thrown out of work by the recession. And the jobs that are available aren’t necessarily satisfying, challenging, or well-remunerated. We don’t need more jobs at McDonalds, or as cubicle-dwelling button-pushers; we need exciting, unusual jobs like the ones in films, books, TV shows, and comics. It’d help, certainly, if more people had the gumption of the entrepreneurs in the 1984 movie Ghostbusters, who saw an unmet need in the supernatural-disposal-and-containment market and set out to fill it with a self-funded startup business. They didn’t wait to get hired by a well-established ghostbusting operation; they launched their own business and defined their own terms. And all it took was a little technical know-how and determination. The original three partners raked in the profits, and were quickly in so much demand that they were able to hire their own subcontractors. Granted, they were smart enough to launch their new business just before a massive uptick in their hometown’s supernatural-disturbance level, but they’d clearly tapped into a sustainable field, given that they were able to keep working through a sequel, an animated TV series, a number of video games, a comic book, and a spin-off animated series. Now that’s job security.


2. Superhero costume-designer: The Incredibles
There’s presumably less job security in designing superhero costumes, if The Incredibles is to be believed: The client base tends to get itself killed off or forcibly retired by the government. That said, it’s a dynamic, artistically rewarding field, much better than the usual high-fashion designing for supermodels, a.k.a. “spoiled, stupid little stick figures with poofy lips who think only about themselves.” And it’s apparently highly profitable, given the high life led by Incredibles fashion designer Edna Mode. If you have to work, you might as well do something you love—and something that lets you afford your own fortress filled with security death-traps.

3. Superhero/supervillain-for-profit: Capes, Invincible, Despicable Me, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Heroes For Hire, Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery, etc.
On the other side of that spectrum, there’s more danger in actually being a superhero or supervillain, and seemingly not as much money: The dutiful clock-punchers in Robert Kirkman’s comics series Capes seem to be paid about like beat cops, and when Kirkman’s hero Invincible tries a play-for-pay heroing gig, he winds up impatiently waiting for danger to strike the specific business he’s hired to protect. And it’s never entirely clear how the wacky Looney Tunes villain plots in Despicable Me are even supposed to generate money. Presumably, if the main characters ever got around to ransoming the Moon or the Great Pyramid of Giza, rather than just sitting around gloating over their heists, they’d have better profit/loss ratios. (At least if they remembered to check the value of the era’s currency, rather than mistakenly lowballing the world and demanding a mere $1 million, like Dr. Evil in Austin Powers.) Still, these are exciting, dynamic jobs, and the ability to work outdoors with a wide, colorful variety of people might compensate for the unpredictable income and lack of necessary casualty insurance.

4. Post-superhero cleanup crew: Damage Control
Still in the superhero realm, but on a less-lofty scale: Superheroes need support staff more than most industries do. Conceived by co-creator Dwayne McDuffie as the cast of a comic-book “sitcom,” the Damage Control firm specializes in cleaning up and repairing the messes made by superheroes and villains within the Marvel Universe, especially in the crew’s super-conflict-plagued hometown of New York. After all, somebody has to clean up all those messes Doctor Doom makes when he comes to town. Though fundamentally comic in its early incarnations—drawn by co-creator Ernie Colón—Damage Control has subsequently played a serious role in Marvel happenings, including a major part in the Civil War crossover series of 2006. Which is fine; few job-seekers are looking for roles as comic relief.

5. Superhero information coordinator: DC Comics
Just as it can be hard to reconstruct a chaotic world full of superheroes, it’s hard to keep information straight. Enter Oracle, a.k.a. the wheelchair-bound former Batgirl, Barbara Gordon. After being paralyzed by the Joker, Gordon started putting her technical savvy and brainpower to work in the persona of Oracle, the go-to source of information for good guys like Batman and the Justice League Of America. Eventually, Gordon became the leader of her own superteam, the Birds Of Prey, whose lineup has included Huntress, Black Canary, Hawkgirl, and others. On the other side of the fence, the villainous Calculator has developed into a bad-guy analog for Oracle, serving as an information-gatherer and strategist for supervillains. Consultation work has its perks: In particular, it’s less dangerous than superhero fieldwork, and it has fewer inherent job requirements in the form of super powers.

6. Romantic consultant: Hitch
Plenty of people already specialize in giving their clients makeovers, but the precise field of “teaching schlubby, rich men how to trick gorgeous women into loving them,” as seen in the Will Smith movie Hitch, seems to be vastly underserved. And there’s no telling why, really—there are plenty of schlubby men in the world, and porn and Judd Apatow movies have taught them that they should have disproportionately hot women falling all over them. So why not make their entitlement and lust into a paying business? Granted, this job may leave consultants feeling a little grimy, but it’s really only a step or two off from any ordinary marketing job, and you get to laugh at a lot of schlubby men who think they know how to dance.

7. Organ repossessors: Repo! The Genetic Opera, Repo Men
Sure, transplanted organs are great, but they aren’t cheap. Both the 2008 midnight-movie musical Repo!: The Genetic Opera and the 2010 action film Repo Men imagine a near-future in which transplant recipients who can’t pay the bills are forced to part with the organs that keep them alive. (Although only one expresses its emotion via songs.) It’s a messy job that takes a strong stomach (and a taste for casual murder), but somebody has to do it, at least in alternate universes so dark, they let people die if they can’t afford health care. Oh. Hey. Wait a minute.


8. Existential/holistic detective: I Heart Huckabees, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
Detective work can be grueling, what with all the facts, leads, and tireless legwork. But if the life of a conventional private eye isn’t your bag, maybe the life of a so-called “existential detective” is up your alley. In both the 2004 David O. Russell film I Heart Huckabees and Douglas Adams’ oft-brilliant Dirk Gently novels, detective work has less to do with actual sleuthing than with letting cases fall into your lap. In Huckabees, Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin seek to ease Jason Schwartzman’s post-millennial fears, while Dirk Gently (formerly Svlad Cjelli) stumbles through cases that involve—among other things—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an electric monk, Norse gods, and a seriously peeved horse. Instead of solving specific crimes, all three instead seek to discover the “interconnectivity” and/or “interconnectedness” of all things. No special skills are needed for this thrillingly vague task (these detectives make the clueless gumshoe in Richard Brautigan’s Dreaming Of Babylon look like Sherlock Holmes), though in Huckabees’ case, it helps to have a tolerance for hot-headed film directors screaming in your face.

9. Cube technician: Cube Zero 
The demand for mysterious mechanical structures made of thousands of identical interlocking rooms (well, identical aside from the various acid-spraying, flame-throwing, head-exploding, razor-wire-swirling booby traps in a few) can go nowhere but up. The Cube industry has near-limitless growth potential, and getting on board in the early stages, before the planned time-travel/tesseract department expansion, is a great career move. Even though the highest-profile jobs require advanced degrees in mathematics, engineering, and/or theoretical physics, there are still Cube openings for a variety of education levels—somebody’s gotta do all that hatch construction, prisoner-monitoring, blood-swabbing, and acid-cartridge-refilling. Seeing as it’s a government gig (well, sort of—the backstory of the Cube movies gets a little complicated), here are two more words—health insurance. Which will be useful if you try to help anybody escape from the Cube, in which case you may end up lobotomized or somehow injected with autistic savantism.

10. Troll hunter: The Troll Hunter
Anyone with the weaponry, patience, and proper legal permits can bag some wild game, and most people who already do that would probably love to get paid for it. Add the excitement of taking on real trolls (not the colorful-haired, bejeweled variety) and a valid excuse to ignore Christianity—lest the beasts sniff out your blood—and it all sounds like an exciting, challenging career path. Keep in mind that the title character in André Øvredal’s Troll Hunter, played by Norwegian comedian Otto Jespersen, leads a life of solitude, gets his truck torn up all the time, and has to deal with the lousy pay and benefits of his government job. But those minor details can’t possibly detract from the visceral thrill of turning a giant troll to stone with a UV ray and then shattering it. Given the shoddy state of troll-containment technology, there should always be a few of those nasty critters on the loose for you to flash with the high beams.

11. Memory wiper: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind 
If there’s one thing the ongoing decay of our economy and society can bestow upon us, it’s terrible memories of unhappy occasions. As long as people do things (and other people) they regret, there’s always money to be made in the memory-wiping industry. Join Lacuna, Inc. and enter a field that allows personal betterment and an entree into people’s thoughts. It’s like becoming a psychiatrist, only without the medical-school bills! Entry-level technician roles include cushy hangout time at people’s houses (must be willing to work nights) and getting stoned while you erase their thoughts. There is potential for advancement, but in such a delicate field, it’s best to avoid intra-office relationships.



12. Cannibalistic butcher: Delicatessen
With the world’s food supply in increasingly dire straits—not to mention the fact that effective government regulation of agriculture is now as obsolete as Social Security or Medicare—the boundaries of the human diet could stand some radical redistricting. Enter the visionary entrepreneur of the 1991 film Delicatessen. The man at the forefront of the human-food movement has devised an ingenious system: He butchers the tenants of the post-apocalyptic tenement he manages, and their flesh sustains their surviving neighbors. As they’ve all come to realize, long pig is better than no pig at all. It’s only a matter of time before America catches on to the advantages of this scheme; after all, feeding people to people is a great way to reduce our collective carbon footprint on this über-polluted, overpopulated planet. Getting in on the ground floor of this culinary revolution—be it fast food, fine dining, or frozen—might prove to be a lucrative career move. Vegetarian agitators (like Delicatessen’s sewer-dwelling Troglodistes) can hypocritically protest the practice all they want, but the fact remains: Cannibalism is the epitome of sustainable eating.


13. Musical composer for genetically modified pianists: Gattaca
As genetic-modification stakes are raised, so are the possibilities of athletics, intellectual accomplishment, and (of course) piano. But while in the first two cases, the Valids can demonstrate their genetic superiority by simply doing everything harder, better, faster, and/or stronger than their In-Valid coworkers, the world of classical music comes with the built-in glass ceiling of its centuries of repertoire written for and by people conceived without the aid of genetic engineering. Though 12-fingered pianists should be able to perform 10-fingered pieces better than those with the standard-issue, they’ll still have to deal with the annoyance of translating the fingering, not to mention the frustration of knowing that their extra digits are wasted on music written for the genetically inferior. This is a time of amazing opportunity for young composers—we’re going to need an entirely new classical repertoire in the next several decades, and somebody has to write it.

14. Cat-confuser: Monty Python’s Flying Circus
If you’ve ever been unemployed for a long spell, you know the worst part isn’t the despair: It’s the boredom. And how much worse is that boredom for cats, who can’t ever get jobs? Sure, seeking out warm sunbeams, destroying furniture, and chasing imaginary mice might seem like a good life, but all that indolence can really get a kitty down. Luckily, feline ennui is your ticket to gainful human employment. At Confuse-A-Cat, the briskly efficient employees employ a wide array of silly walks, crazy voices, and Funny Things™ to help shake fagged-out felines from their terminal torpor. Since cash-strapped owners aren’t likely to find their pet-toy budgets swelling any time soon, your job will be safe for years to come.

15. Dream-secret thief: Inception
Information is power: Knowing something other people don’t know gives you an edge. So what better way to make a name in today’s perpetually collapsing job market than by accessing the most valuable secrets of the most powerful men in the world without them ever realizing it? Welcome to the fastest-growing industry in the sleep-based workplace: dream-stealing. As seen in the movie Inception, the highly motivated can break into seemingly impenetrable minds, and with a few well-placed words and a clever approach to problem-solving, unearth information that can break companies, destroy careers, and change the face of the economy. For the exceptionally talented, there’s the act of “incepting” itself, planting ideas in fertile brains to guide pioneers in ways that directly profit the implanter. Although that’s, like, crazy tricky, so maybe wait a few months before trying it. Also, Inception is a bit fuzzy on the actual technology used to accomplish this, but it clearly involves needles and a machine that fits comfortably inside a briefcase. So once scientists have figured out the necessary equipment to translate a human mind’s sleeping state into easily traversable locative metaphors, definitely get in on the ground floor.


16. Renegade repairman: Brazil
The benefits of being a renegade repairman could not be better described than in this testimonial delivered by Robert De Niro in Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil: “I came into this game for the action, the excitement. Go anywhere, travel light, get in, get out, wherever there’s trouble, man alone.” The job: fixing home problems wherever they occur, especially if perpetuated by incompetent, lazy government repairmen—who, as the only repair services allowed by law, tend to lack the motivation to do anything timely or correctly. What’s so exciting about renegade repair work? Well, they get to be more covert than Navy SEALs, scaling high-rise buildings under the cover of night and flying between them on ziplines like Batman. Some creative plumbing and ductwork will be required, but at least you can smoke on the job, and, best of all, absolutely no paperwork is required. (In fact, government workers fed up with the red tape have done very well as outlaw engineers.) A potential downside is that the government will label you a terrorist and pursue you relentlessly, so home visits have to be managed like guerilla operations: The ability to work independently and at nontraditional hours is essential. Most renegade repairmen, however, find the most rewarding part of their job is building camaraderie with clients. In De Niro’s words, “We’re all in this together, kid!”

17. Schattenjager: Gabriel Knight games
Just what is a Schattenjager? It’s sort of a self-made monster hunter, a role passed along within the old German family Ritter, eventually handed down to the titular hero of the ’90s Gabriel Knight adventure games. Really, designer/creator Jane Jensen isn’t too specific on what schattenjagers do, but it sure seems like most of the time, they get to live in awesome castles stocked with all the amenities, including a beautiful German girl for when the hero needs some double entendres in a thick accent. How does one make money as a schattenjager? It probably isn’t a full-time thing, sadly, since it seems to consist mainly of contract work (with Gabriel stopping a voodoo cult in game one, werewolves in game two, and vampires/the hidden bloodline of Christ in game three), but that contract work often pays handsomely, or at least allows Gabriel to hobnob with the rich and famous (and/or rob a voodoo cult blind). Ostensibly, this is all about a sacred oath of some sort, but, honestly, monster-hunting will never go out of style, recession or no recession.


18. Fake girlfriend: Failure To Launch
Not quite ready to make the leap into full-fledged prostitution? Then why not put a new spin on the oldest profession: Instead of having a guy pay you to fuck him, have his manipulative, spineless parents pay you to fuck with his emotions. Just copy the racket Sarah Jessica Parker has set up in 2006’s Failure To Launch: Seduce man-children who won’t move out of their parents’ houses using a specific, highly clichéd set of steps (pretend to like what he likes, stage an emotional crisis, make his friends like you), thus transferring their attachment to their parents onto yourself. Then, somehow, profit! Don’t worry, though, this is strictly a contract hire, not an ongoing gig:  Once you’ve given your unwitting John the self-esteem boost he needs to leave the nest, you can totally dump him and move on to the next unsuspecting shmoe… unless he’s dreamy and charming like Matthew McConaughey, in which case, standard rom-com exemptions apply.

19. Assassin union organizer: Grosse Pointe Blank
Right-wing politicians have been making hay painting pro-union teachers and bureaucrats as greedy vampires sucking from the public teat. But good luck impugning the character of paid assassins. In Grosse Pointe Blank, Dan Aykroyd’s trigger man tries to sell John Cusack on the virtues of solidarity, and though Aykroyd gets his skull smashed by a TV set, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. With the national debt ballooning and pressure for budget cuts mounting, the cost of war grows ever more daunting; whatever your feelings about assassination, you can't deny it’s cost-effective. But even in a growth industry, someone needs to make sure the buck doesn’t get passed to the independent contractor. A hired gun is just a working stiff, albeit one whose picket line is booby-trapped.


20. Singing dungeon-elevator operator: The 5000 Fingers Of Dr. T
While most high-rise elevators are automated these days, most dungeon elevators still require full-time operators. Why? First, inspectors tend to stop going on about building code at the first glimpse of boiling oil. Second, the trip down to the dungeon is much more intimidating when a despot, rather than poking ineffectually at the “close door” button, can just give an imperious nod as someone pulls a lever and rattles off the horrible tortures available on each floor. (Seriously, what busy tyrant can remember which dungeon has the thumbscrews and which just has assorted simple tortures?) If you have a decent voice, there’s the possibility of rising (so to speak) to the plummest of plum positions—singing dungeon-elevator operator. Requirements: terrifying googly eyes, muscular frame (lots of neck sinew a plus), baritone-to-bass vocal range, good memory for detail, willingness to wax and oil your chest, bucket. Prudes and tenors need not apply.

21. Wheel of pain pusher: Conan The Barbarian
Cancel that Gold’s membership—if you want a job that naturally takes your physique from puny child to gladiator-level swoll, get yourself chained to the wheel of pain. Meals, clothing, and housing are supplied as you push the oppressively heavy wheel in an endless circle all day, every day. As your coworkers eventually fall to the sand, unable to take another step, think of it as a gratis personal trainer—the extra weight may seem rough at first, but in a few years, your tan, perfectly muscled frame will be able to push the entire wheel solo. You might be tempted to ask some questions at the interview: “What does the wheel of pain do, besides get me my dream body? Why did the owners opt for a man-powered system rather than using wind or oxen? Is it a mill? An aqueduct? An obvious metaphor for the cruelty and futility of life?” But keep your mouth shut (especially about metaphors)—curiosity is for the weak. Just make sure your contract stipulates that you switch directions at least every other week, or you’ll end up like L’rogth The Lopsided.

22. Office weirdo: NewsRadio, The Office
If we’ve learned anything from television, it’s that every workplace needs a weirdo, a character with a personality so off-kilter, it’s impossible to imagine them existing outside of an air-conditioned box. NewsRadio’s Matthew and The Office’s Kevin allegedly have functions in their respective workplaces, but it’s rare that we see them do a lick of work. (Even Dwight Schrute closes a sale now and then.) Their main function is to act as comic relief, and to make their co-workers’ eccentricities seem mild by comparison—and in Matthew’s case, to fall down a lot. If they can get paid for it, it stands to reason, so can you.