How often are surveyors represented in the media?

Dennis J. Mouland
It’s a downright conspiracy I tell you. The media, the movie makers, even the song writers of our day have all conspired together in some smoke-filled room. And the unlucky target of their evil plot is our beloved profession of surveying. Think about it; how often do you see our line of work portrayed in any of the mass media? Almost never!

When you consider how large a role the land surveying profession played in history, it is almost criminal that we are not represented more regularly. The Founding Fathers were almost all surveyors. So was Lincoln. We were some of the first to trod upon the new territories of the west. It was our bravery and tenacity that carved out the new frontiers. And what does the mass media reward us with? No mention. Silence.

No wonder our modern society is so uninformed about who we are and what we do. It explains why none of my kids showed any interest in following in my footsteps. While the media did portray many other professions in a regular fashion (and my kids all aspired to be one of those), they did not mention us. We have an identity crisis, and the modern age of mass media left us behind.

With all the interest in the Wild West and cowboys, why hasn’t there been a movie about surveyors in the old west? I think people would flock to such excitement. How about an epic entitled “Chains and Chew.” Or a TV mini-series called “Compass at High Noon”? We have enough police and lawyer shows, so why not have a dramatic series called “Expert Witness”? Even the cartoon industry should create an exciting character, perhaps “Johnny Gunner” or “Henrietta Hub Pounder.” And why not have a comedy called “Beer Leg”? Couldn’t one of the “Friends” have been a PLS?

And why are there no country songs about us? You’d think there would be plenty of material there. Consider the fact that nearly every surveyor owns a dog, has lost his truck once, been on a big drunk, or had trouble with a relationship. Seems to me this is one fabulous source for Nashville to discover.

The sad part is, our profession is truly unknown to the public. And this unknown status costs us dearly in many ways. When people sell their houses they are confronted with two or three pain-in-the-neck requirements: a termite inspection, a radon gas test, and a “survey.” Sometimes I wonder if the termite inspection is as far away from an inspection as a “mortgage survey” is from a survey. At least the termite guy gets out of his truck. I don’t like being grouped with these guys. But that is where we ended up. Have you ever seen a movie about the guy who tests for radon gas? Of course not, and that is my point exactly. We are in with the wrong crowd.

And why is it people go to GIS professionals for survey advice instead of us? Because we were in the wrong place again. We should have invented and operated every GIS in the world. But most of us missed that boat. My point: we are not very visible in any forum. The media, our communities, the other professions with which we work—even our own workplaces! And only we can change this.

I remember when ACSM unveiled its movie about surveying. It was in Anchorage at a fall conference in the mid-80s. I sat there proudly and watched a professional production about who we are. Anne Glasgow (now with the Texas Association) did a great job in making that film a reality. But, how many of your kids saw it on TV? We do little to promote our profession. And we must realize that no one else will do it for us. That is why ACTIVE membership in our state and national professional organizations is so important. We must be more involved in our communities, our neighborhoods and our governments. It is vital to our profession’s image, our ability to attract new talent and to promote positive changes in the lives of all people. If you don’t belong to these groups, why not?

So rather than wait for Hollywood or Nashville to get with it, I say we do it ourselves. It’s the only way we will regain our status as leaders of our country.

Sidebar: Surveyor-represented movies

Contrary to Dennis’ thoughts, surveyors have been in many movies. Here is a list of surveyor-represented movies:

  • Red Dust (1932)

  • The Heritage of the Desert (1939)

  • Rockets Galore (1950)

  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

  • Reprisal! (1956)

  • The Secret Place (1957)

  • Death Wish (1974)

  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

  • Amityville Horror (1979)

  • Far and Away (1992)

  • Map of the Human Heart (1992)

  • Middle March (1994)

  • Oscar and Lucinda (1997)

  • Seven Years in Tibet (1997)

  • Heat of the Sun (1998)

    Television Shows that Have Featured Surveyors:

  • The X-Files

  • The Simpsons

  • Rupert the Bear