The Casual Classism Of “You Had One Job”

by Phoebe Maltz Bovy

As hashtag memes go, #YouHadOneJob (see also) seems like a lighthearted bit of fun. For the uninitiated: The hashtag is meant to collect instances of hilarious on-the-job fails:

Yes, I laughed. Then again, my sense of humor is such that an out-of-context roll of toilet paper on its own could also have that effect.

But the hashtag often gets used for more run-of-the-mill customer-service gripes, of the they-got-my-order-wrong variety. (I don’t wish to start a shaming cycle, so no specific links to those tweets. A glance at the hashtag will provide copious examples.) While these are indeed among the less clever uses of the meme, they’re not exactly out-of-place. After all, the butt of the joke is someone with a low-skilled job. More than that: Part of the joke is the job itself.

It’s supposed to be hilarious that someone’s honest-to-goodness job is lining up tiles properly or spelling a sign correctly; the ineptitude at the simple task is just icing. The “you” of the meme doesn’t refer to a readily identifiable worker (and thank goodness), but the implied worker would probably be – or perhaps was – fired for the mistake. On the rare occasions when it’s used to refer to a failure at a complex task, the joke falls flat, because clearly making a flu vaccine is not just “one job” in the sense the meme requires.

The question is, why this mean-spirited (if sometimes quite funny) meme, and why now? Aren’t we supposed to be living in an era of hypersensitivity? Why hasn’t the privilege of users of this hashtag been called out? (According to a few minutes of Googling, it has not.) Does #YouHaveOneJob tap into employment anxieties of those who are or have been un- or underemployed? Or is it just yet another example of the online quest for affirmation?