Created By: SonicLover on September 7, 2012 Last Edited By: SonicLover on September 16, 2012

Pointless Profession

A character has a job that, due to the nature of the setting, nobody has a use for.

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Do We Have This One?? I looked over Occupation Tropes and didn't see it. Formerly Obsolete Occupation.

Since there are no more books, Mr. Wordsworth, there are no more libraries. And of course it follows that there is very little call for the services of a librarian. Case in point: A minister would tell us that his function is preaching the word of God. And of course it follows that since the State has proven that there is no God, that would make the function of a minister academic as well.
-- The Chancellor, The Twilight Zone episode "The Obsolete Man"

I'm not saying the job market is good, but usually no matter what your occupation is, there's someone out there who needs it. Then you've got the character with the Pointless Profession.

They may be a grave-digger in a world where nobody dies, or a cobbler in a place with a Barefoot Cartoon Animal population, or a plumber where nobody seems to have any indoor plumbing, or a TV repairman in a... well, you get the idea.

In most circumstances, their occupation would be pretty useful, but in theirs, not so much. Maybe the relevant technology is obsolete now, or hasn't been invented yet, or has been lost due to Apocalypse How, or simply doesn't function in a way that needs those services. Why they don't just find another job isn't always addressed.

Examples

Advertising
  • The Maytag repairman in the long-running appliance commercials.

Comic Books
  • Watchmen:
    • Hollis Mason retires from the superhero business so he can dedicate himself to repairing cars - only to find out that Dr. Manhattan can use his superpowers to synthesize massive quantities of lithium for batteries in electric cars, rendering the internal combustion engine obsolete. When the story opens, Mason is managing an auto repair shop specializing in vintage cars, which is fast going out of business.
    • Jon Osterman (Dr. Manhattan) was going to follow his father in the watch repair business, until his father read about the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Osterman Sr. decided then and there that watch repair is an obsolete profession and insisted that his son go into something with a future. Ironically after Osterman loses his humanity he decides to become a Celestial Watchmaker (i.e., a god to some people he's going to go create).

Live Action TV
  • In the first episode of the 1976 American Sitcom Ivan the Terrible (about a family living in Soviet Union-era Moscow) Ivan loses his job as a hotel waiter. He goes to the Moscow Unemployment Office, only to be told that they can't help him - since nobody is unemployed in the Soviet Union they have no precedent, no leads, no nothing. Ivan asks, if there's no unemployment why have an unemployment office? They tell him that if there was no unemployent office everyone who now works there would be unemployed.
  • The Twilight Zone- "The Obsolete Man". Romney Wordsworth is a librarian in a dystopic future that bans books.

Theater
  • In William Inge's play The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, Rubin Flood is a harness salesman in the 1920s, when the horse and buggy is fast becoming extinct.

Webcomics
  • Tales of the Questor: Quentyn is the first Questor (a ranger for hire, basically) in Freeman Downs in a century; cultural and technological advances having made the position obsolete.

Western Animation
  • In The Backyardigans' double-length episode Robot Rampage, Austin plays a robot repairman... in a city filled with robots... that explicitly never, ever break. The first musical number of the episode is about Austin lamenting the situation.
Community Feedback Replies: 22
  • September 7, 2012
    abk0100
    I guess this would be supertrope to Job Stealing Robot

    In a That Mitchell And Webb Look sketch, a stone chiseler is worried about the coming Bronze Age.
  • September 7, 2012
    SKJAM
    • The Maytag repairman in the long-running appliance commercials.
  • September 7, 2012
    SonicLover
    I... don't see the connection with Job Stealing Robot.
  • September 7, 2012
    abk0100
    I think I was confused by the "obsolete." So, it's not a trope about jobs that used to be useful, but aren't anymore -- it's just a trope about jobs that don't make any sense in the setting? Yeah, "obsolete" is the wrong word.
  • September 7, 2012
    SonicLover
    ^ Then clearly this trope Needs A Better Name.
  • September 7, 2012
    AFP
    Can also crop up in post-apocalyptic settings, where many people may find that their professions effectively no longer exist due to the loss of the advanced technology or infrastructure that they used to work on (such as a computer programmer after a war or plague has left the area without electricity).
  • September 7, 2012
    Kellor
    On Thirty Rock, Jack asked Liz (a TV writer) what use she would be in a post-apocalyptic world. She said "traveling bard", he came back with "radiation canary".
  • September 7, 2012
    polarbear2217
    The Twilight Zone- "The Obsolete Man". Romney Wordsworth is a librarian in a dystopic future that bans books.

  • September 7, 2012
    Prfnoff
    In William Inge's play The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, Rubin Flood is a harness salesman in the 1920s, when the horse and buggy is fast becoming extinct.
  • September 7, 2012
    surgoshan
  • September 7, 2012
    undefined
    In the first episode of the 1976 American Sitcom Ivan the Terrible (about a family living in Soviet Union-era Moscow) Ivan loses his job as a hotel waiter. He goes to the Moscow Unemployment Office, only to be told that they can't help him - since nobody is unemployed in the Soviet Union they have no precedent, no leads, no nothing. Ivan asks, if there's no unemployment why have an unemployment office? They tell him that if there was no unemployent office everyone who now works there would be unemployed.

    NOTE: don't Wiki Word Ivan the Terrible because that'd link to the film, which has virtually nothing in common with the series except the name.
  • September 8, 2012
    nitrokitty
    • In the How To Train Your Dragon TV series, Gobber finds himself out of work now that he doesn't have to make dragon-killing weapons anymore. He eventually takes up a job as a dentist.
  • September 8, 2012
    Chabal2
    Paris in the Twentieth Century by Jules Verne has poets and artists become useless in a society entirely devoted to science (even music has fallen to it, one piece is called "Ode to the decomposition of chloride" or similar).
  • September 9, 2012
    Folamh3
    • In Watchmen, Hollis Mason retires from the superhero business so he can dedicate himself to repairing cars - only to find out that Dr. Manhattan can use his superpowers to synthesize massive quantities of lithium for batteries in electric cars, rendering the internal combustion engine obsolete. When the story opens, Mason is managing an auto repair shop specializing in vintage cars, which is fast going out of business.
  • September 9, 2012
    SKJAM
    In a similar vein...

    • In Superman Family #200, a story set in the then distant future of 2000 has the owner/operator of "Miller's New Cars" who has sold exactly one of his gasoline-powered automobiles in the last year; everyone else drives the new electrics. (And the buyer turns out to be someone who hates all modern things.)
  • September 9, 2012
    Earnest
    Possible page quote:

    Since there are no more books, Mr. Wordsworth, there are no more libraries. And of course it follows that there is very little call for the services of a librarian. Case in point: A minister would tell us that his function is preaching the word of God. And of course it follows that since the State has proven that there is no God, that would make the function of a minister academic as well.
    -- The Chancellor, The Twilight Zone episode "The Obsolete Man"
  • September 9, 2012
    Bisected8
    Compare Obsolete Mentor, who's skills are obsolete rather than their profession.
  • September 10, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Also in Watchmen Jon Osterman (Dr. Manhattan) was going to follow his father in the watch repair business, until his father read about the Manhattan Project successfully splitting the atom. Osterman Sr. decided then and there that watch repair is an obsolete profession and insisted that his son go into something with a future. Ironically after Osterman loses his humanity he decides to become a Celestial Watchmaker (i.e., a god to some people he's going to go create).
  • September 10, 2012
    Freezer
    Tales Of The Questor: Quentyn is the first Questor (a ranger for hire, basically) in Freeman Downs in a century; cultural and technological advances having made the position obsolete.
  • September 11, 2012
    SKJAM
    • An episode of th Young Animator's Project anime series concerns an salesman of oil lamps, lamp oil and oil lamp accessories who became prosperous by being the first to bring oil lamps to his rural village. Twenty years later, the newly invented electrical lights come to Japan, and he faces instant ruin because no one needs his inventory or specialized skills anymore. He resolves to change with the times, and moves into another sales field.
  • September 12, 2012
    josech
    Dragonriders Of Pern: The foundation of Pernese society, the dragons and the weyr system, was developed to fight the fall of Thread. In The Skies of Pern, the dragonriders alter the course of a satellite to permanently end the fall of Thread, and spend the next book (All the Weyrs of Pern) trying to figure out how to cope with their self-inflicted obsolescence.
  • September 13, 2012
    NimmerStill
    • Discussed (or Invoked? I always confuse those.) in Other Peoples Money. "You know, at one time there must've been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I'll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw."

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