Come April in the USA, accountants figure prominently in the national consciousness. That’s because the deadline for individuals to submit their income tax returns is usually 15 April, often referred to as Tax Day.
As Entertainment Weekly magazine put it in an April 2009 online article: ‘Right about this time every year, millions of Americans call up their accountants in a panic, then promptly forget about them for the next 11 months.’
That line kicks off a feature entitled ‘15 Incredibly Awesome Accountants’, which lists noteworthy fictional characters from movies and TV series who are identified as accountants, including Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) in The Producers, Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) in Ghostbusters and Loretta Castorini (Cher) in Moonstruck.
Tax Day is also the inspiration for ‘By The Numbers: 10 Memorable Movie Accountants’, an article that was published on the Time magazine website in April.
‘Accountants are heroes, and not just because they save the rest of us money at tax time,’ it begins.
‘On screen, we’ve seen accountants lead pirate raids, plot prison breaks, fall passionately in love, serve as pimps and Broadway producers, fight off the undead and save lives.’
That says a lot. In the showbiz scheme of things, the work of accountants hardly ever drives the plot. In fact, it’s what they do in spite of being accountants that makes them interesting to storytellers.
The typical accountant, according to Hollywood, is smart and good with money but lacks confidence, social skills and a taste for adventure. Therefore, the story pivots on the accountant overturning the stereotype to perform feats that have nothing to do with accounting.
Should the profession be concerned that it’s consistently portrayed this way? It should. At the very least, there ought to be an examination of why accountants and accountancy are often misunderstood and underappreciated by those in the film and TV industry, and of the impact of being saddled with such a lacklustre image.
It’s impossible to ignore the power and appeal of appearing larger than life in movies and TV shows. Countless people must have made up their minds to be doctors, soldiers, cops, teachers, scientists, lawyers, firefighters, chefs, politicians, nurses, astronauts, businesspeople, professional athletes, pilots or even lifeguards –- remember Baywatch? –- after watching something in the cinema or on TV when young.
Think of Hollywood as the ultimate recruitment agency. It’s a handicap if accountancy is unable to ride on the magic of the entertainment business.
The rise of reality TV has provided an avenue to entertain while showcasing what a job is all about, no matter how niche it is. Yet, there have been no hit shows about accountants.
In a book by People magazine called 1,000 Greatest Moments in Pop Culture 1974-2011, there was no mention of accountants. The closest it got to that was mention of Arthur Andersen as ‘the accounting firm that certified Enron’s books’.
Sure, it’s probably not a big deal to be missing from this list, but it may be something to worry about if the public keeps overlooking the worth of accountants.
Errol Oh is executive editor of The Star