"The Graduate" and plastics

Ben (Dustin Hoffman) is buttonholed by a pompous businessman in the film “The Graduate” and told just one thing: plastics.

Was that good career advice in 1967? Obviously, plastics is a big field. What would Ben have had to do (if he hadn’t slept with Mrs. Robinson, crashed her daughter Elaine’s wedding and run away with her on a bus) to make a killing in plastics over the next decade or two?

If you look at ordianry household items from the 50s and 60s, you’ll notice there was very little plastic in them, at least compared to today. One of the ways James Frey was exposed (*A Million Little Pieces *) was that he described getting in a fight in prison, and being knocked unconscious with a metal cafeteria tray.

Well he could have gotten a sales position with commision and bonuses at Dupont and made a pretty good living. Or if he could have just invested in plastics and made even more. Depends on wheter he had a Rich Dad or a Poor Dad role model.

He could have become an engineer specializing in plastics composition; fabricator; product designer; industrial marketer and a whole bunch of other job categories.

Actually it was pretty good advice in 1967. Except that plastics, even then, were so, you know, plastic.

Also note that the movie was based on a book by the same name that was published in 1963. Assuming that line is from the book (I don’t know that it is), then it was probably actually written a few years earlier-- roughly 1960, I would guess.

Plastic is made from oil. Do the math.

On the other hand the “advice” could be construed as a comment on the choices Ben had.
Next time you watch the movie compare scenes with music.

Not that this has anything to do with the OP, but I returned to college after a long 8 year “summer” vacation.

In one class, the professor asked me–as an older student who had worked in the real world–if I had any advice for the younger students.

I said “plastics”.


The professor was the only one who got it.

The timing of this thread is very much coincidental to me. I watched the movie again for the first time in several years just last week after I spoke to an old friend who asked me how my summer was going and I replied (paraphrased):

“My summer has been like that of Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate except that I’m not getting laid and my parents aren’t wealthy.”

My reply was somewhat overstated, but I have been lazy and doing a lot of relaxing this summer after graduating and then moving back home after my apartment lease expired. Unlike Ben, I did become active in my job search after a few weeks and I have done limited part time work for my former boss at an architecture firm. My comment actually reminded me about the ‘plastics’ quote and then I decided to watch the movie again.

<excerpt from the movie script>

Mr. McQuire: “Plastics.”

Ben: “Exactly how do you mean?”

Mr. McQuire: “There’s a good future in plastics.”

The movie never identifies Ben’s type of college degree earned. As an engineer or as a businessman, Ben likely could have done just as well or nearly as well in ceramics or metals or other industries. There was certainly an noticeable increase in the fabrication of products and parts from polymers through the 60s and 70s. IMO, it was not bad advice. In 1967, there was a good future in plastics from the standpoint of many companies.

'Tis not such bad advice today either. I interviewed for a position as an entry level engineer at a polymer processing plant after I graduated with a BSMatE (Bachelor of Science in Materials Engineering) in May this year. The position paid $55K/year (gross pay) which is certainly ample for a young kid with only a 4 year degree and little if any experience. I didn’t get the job likely because all my paid undergrad research projects involved either metals or carbon nanotubes. Likewise, I have gotten offers at other (far away) companies. I have another job interview at a metals processing plant next week. I’m keeping my fingers crossed since this one’s closer to home.

The other 6 MatE majors who graduated with me had jobs immediately waiting for them but ArchitectChore is taking the scenic route through life.

I just skimmed through the first few pages, and can’t find the line about plastics, although the party scene is there. So it would have to be a 1967 reference.

In the book it’s suggested that Ben had received an education prize in college.

Plastics certainly would have been sound advice in 1967, but it would have been boring advice. Plastics had surged in popularity over the previous two decades, and were rather everyday at that point. I think the line was inserted (no doubt, in my mind, by co-screenwriter Buck Henry) as the kind of mundane, dull advice that would bore a character like Ben to tears. He could have suggested wire hangers, screws or paper clips, all investments in something people would almost certainly always need, but plastics sounds oh so much more “cutting edge”.

Well, said Captian Obvious, I think in the movie “plastics” means everything superficial/false and fake in the American life of the 60’s as demonstrated by the Los Angeles suburbanites and the plastic lives they were all living. Bernie is being advised to invest in that world and he will do all right. Plastics is a metaphor for what the movie is about Boomers vs. the Man. Playing Ebert/Gene Shalit/Rex Reed here to make the point that Plastics wasn’t defined – or even meant literally at a higher level as literally plastics – in the movie

To not seem like a total supercillious & whooshed jerk and to try to answer the OP - almost any manufacturing would have been hit hard in the 70’s and 80’s. If Ben was in upper Management by the time that happened he could have done quite well, but if her were a middle manger, floor manager, workplace admin or owned a plastic manufacturing firm etc. Not so good. This writer says that employment in the Plastics Industry fell 40% ’69-97 - but he doesn’t define what he is talking about. The larger point of the Article though is that with a degree that left him flexible and with management skills and experience (and the moxie Ben showed) he would have adapted to the changing economy.

At one point, isn’t it said that he has some kind of scholarship offer for a teacher training graduate program? That doesn’t sound like an engineering major but you never know.

Mr. McQuire was sure right though. We pretty much have plastic everything now; except for wine, beer, and liquor I can’t think of any liquid that comes in glass anymore.

Yes. In the book he has the Frank E. Halpingham (or a similar name) Teaching Fellowship, and there’s no indication he’s studied science rigorously, but some hints that he’s familiar with the social sciences and liberal arts. (He tells his dad theat he’s gotten good grades in economics at one point.) The "plastics’ reference is definitely not in the novel, as certain scenes (where Ben travels north and fights a forest fire, and where he discusses Elaine’s father’s letter warning her about Ben at great length with her) are omitted from the film.

Here is the movie script. I did a search on the words ‘teaching,’ ‘teacher’ and ‘training’ and found no match in the entire script. Moreover, some courses I took in college were taught by engineering graduate students; they may have received some mild training in teaching.

As far as I still know, the movie gives no indication of Ben’s field of study.

Hey Elendil, I just wanted to thank you for your book recommendations. I loved Tuf Voyaging very much and I liked Childhood’s end as well. I’d have emailed you but your email is private. Mine isn’t if you’d like to recommend me some more books! Sorry about the highjack! Bye

Having worked recently in a company that made very high-tech plastics products, I have to point out that it might not be great advice. People who were expert in the field, with knowledge and skills not easily replaceable, were being laid off, and a lot of the business was moving overseas, where it was less expensive. I’m not talking about making plastic bottle caps, here – a lot of that stuff went elsewhere to cheaper labor long ago. This was high-tech specialty items.

On the other hand, they still need import/export people, sales, and managerial people here, so there are some job openings. But there are fewer places for the folks who actually design and make the stuff here.

This is where I got the idea that he had planned to go into teaching. But now that I think about it, a “Teaching Fellowship” could simply be any fellowship where the student is expected to be a TA. I imagine that could happen in any field.

I’ve been a TA myself, and you really don’t get trained for it. At least, I didn’t. We simply had an introductory meeting where they explained the administrative details to us, and that was pretty much it. It was more than adequate for me, because all I mainly did was grade papers and tests. You work out your own methods.