I woke this morning to Twitter working itself into a fury over Fatima, a ballet dancer depicted in the UK Government Rethink. Reskill. Reboot. campaign that darkly foreshadows her future in cyber security.

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Caitlin Moran @caitlinmoran
I don’t know if the government know they appear to have recently created a “Hopes & Dreams Crushing Department”, but for a country already depressed and anxious, I would suggest it’s a bit of a “Not now, dudes” moment?

Viewed alone and in the current context, this ad paints a grim picture of the Future of Work – Fatima is destined to hang up her slippers as the creative arts go under, resigned to a life of stationary desk work to pay the bills.

The UK government has been quick to distance itself from the heat. Within a day of Fatima trending on Twitter, this particular advert was deemed not appropriate to be displayed in the current context and promptly removed from the campaign.

With a bit of digging, we discover that this ad is part of a long-running campaign begun in 2019 depicting people from all walks of life with a future working in cyber security.

I’m interested in why this particular image has given off so much heat, compared with the others in the series. Much of the anger stems from misconceptions about the breadth of the target audience, and the timing of the message – the belief that the campaign is targeting the arts to retrain rather than invest in the arts sector to help it survive beyond the pandemic.

I think it runs deeper than this. Even knowing that the campaign doesn’t specifically target the arts but ‘people from all walks of life’, and originated before COVID became the ubiquitous backdrop to our existence, Fatima’s story still elicits a different, more defeated feeling than that of Dan, Sophia, Justin, or Will.

With the current context stripped aside, I think part of what grates so many about the suggestion that Fatima pirouette to a new life in cyber security is the mismatch between what ballet and cyber security offer her as a worker.

Ballet offers embodied self-expression. It is strict training, fierce competition and camaraderie, intense control, hard but beautiful. Pursuing passion, seeking recognition, striving for perfection.

Cyber security offers competitive pay, job security, diverse career options. It is being on the frontline of cyber-warfare, making an impact behind the scenes, acting with integrity. Learning at the edge, staying inquisitive, discovering threats and solving problems.

Neither pursuit is better or worse that the other, but they offer a worker very different things and appeal to different ideas about what good work looks like. I don’t doubt that there are some ballet dancers who would also be satisfied by a job in cyber security, but it feels a much narrower overlap than cyber security would have with a storeperson, a barista, a tradesperson.

Telling Fatima her next job could be in cyber feels off because it reads as a bad fit for who she is. The subtext suggests Fatima give up the pursuit of passion, beauty, and excellence through a highly physical medium to sit all day in front of a screen so she can have secure work. The suggestion that ‘she just doesn’t know it yet’ foreshadows a loss – an injury, an end to a production, a series of unsuccessful auditions, a closing of theatres. I can bring to mind a story where cyber security awaits these other roles as a grand new adventure, but for Fatima it feels like the final curtain falling before her time.