Skip to Main Content
by Cathy Vandewater | May 01, 2012


Shortly after a period of real-world publicity from several law suits, interns are once again in the spotlight, but on the fictional front: with a wildly popular HBO show Girls and two new films in the works: The Internship, and The Intern.

Girls, which has prompted many an opinion piece on millennials, follows a group of 20-something interns as they struggle at building careers and relationships in New York City--and hit mom and dad up for rent money.

Many actual 20-somethings are finding the show humorous in a funny-because-it's-painfully-true way, but others are harkening it as proof that the internship system is only inclusive for the characters on Girls: white, middle class young adults whose parents can (and do) support their children's disdain for burger flipping.

Another interesting topic (and one soon to be explored on the silver screen) is age and interning. After all, it's not just generation Y that's using unpaid labor to build a career—and Hollywood has taken note.

The Internship, a comedy starring former wedding crashers Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson is about two out-of-work, traditional salesmen who find themselves at sea in a digital world. Their solution for skill-building? Interning. Hilarity ensues.

More "mature" is The Intern, which will feature senior interns. Not in highschool or college seniors, but senior citizens. Via a community outreach program her company works with, Tina Fey, who stars, must navigate the strange task of "mentoring" a 70-something who's grown bored with retirement. Friendship and life lessons ensue.

Of course, as silly as grown adults fetching coffee for free may be, or as heart-warming as a senior re-engaging in life is, the prevalence of these new themes in entertainment may be a sign that the internship system is already intrinsic in our culture, and may here to stay.

The fact that interns are usually a topic relegated to comedies is interesting, though. The unpaid and overworked are portrayed as dim and pathetic. Why else would anyone sign up for an internship, unless they were too entitled to get a real job (as in Girls) or too useless to secure one?

Of course, it's an interesting cycle—comedies portray interns as infantile, yet a lack of pay, responsibility, and accredited "real" work experience only serves to infantilize workers in real life. The fact that even senior citizens with a lifetime of middle management experience, or adults already active in the work force, would need to stoop to taking unpaid work shouldn't be funny—it should underline a very problematic lack of entry level jobs.

In any case, shining a light on an otherwise invisible labor force may turn out to be a good thing, as it gets people talking. A lot of change has begun with talk at the water cooler. Let's hope internships get continued air time, on screen and off.

--Cathy Vandewater,

Read More:
Paramount Lands Nancy Meyers-Tina Fey Comedy ‘The Intern’ (The Deadline)
It's Official: Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson Teaming for Fox's 'Internship' (Hollywood Reporter)
Intern Lawsuits: Round Two
Are Unpaid Internships Fair?


Filed Under: Workplace Issues