A profession provides expert knowledge and judgment in dealing with matters functionally important for the maintenance of society, the profession allowed by law to largely regulate itself in exchange for a probity that requires professionals to treat their customers as clients, which means professions are there to serve the best interests of those who seek their services rather than just make as much money as possible when they peddle their products and services, which is the case with non-professional enterprises. Doctors are supposed to only prescribe to you the drugs you need. According to this definition of profession, which was provided by Talcott Parsons, doctors, lawyers, professors and baseball players are all professionals rather than only workers plying a trade.
Moreover, and as a consequence, professionals are involved very deeply in the culture of their profession and regard themselves as engaging in a high calling and are also very passionate about their work. They are invested in the way of life of their professional communities, a medical student, for example, not leaving his hospital for months on end, and dating only nurses because the two lines of work share the sophistication of the health professions about how much suffering there is in human life, that patients can die, and that it may be necessary to make instantaneous decisions about medical interventions with possibly tragic consequences to follow. So a professional is suffused with the matter of his occupation, while ordinary occupations allow people to care primarily about other things, like family or culture. We do not expect butchers to have a love affair with meat even if they have a finer sense of the textures of various kinds of meat than do the rest of us, and even though, in my experience, many of those who own and operate hardware stores are infused with a great deal of knowledge about the stock they carry, from what size nail to use to what are the various kinds of tools you can use to remove paint, and so hardware people earn the title of “professional”, at least as a courtesy. Moreover, professionalism isn’t all about the money, either, even if doctors and lawyers do make out better than most butchers and hardware shop owners. A poet is also a professional, part of a community of poets, going over a phrase in the head time and time again to get it right, and earning some begrudging praise for that dedication to his calling however silly a cause it might seem to be.
There are also a set of occupations that can be called dishonorable because they earn the disdain of the general population however much they are professions in all other ways, including in that they perform functions that are essential to society. There are a number of currently admired professions, including the police and the military, that were generally regarded as dishonorable before the Nineteenth Century except for those who had risen to the higher ranks, because they drew their members from the more unsettled parts of the society. Sailors were unmarried and had girls in every port. Police were drawn from the social classes they were supposed to supervise. The establishment of orderly and professionally educated police and military helped give those professions prestige, as the growing scientific basis and professional education for doctors and lawyers in the Nineteenth Century also turned what might or might not be a useful employee into someone respected with an awe that had in previous generations been reserved for generals and high clergymen.
There is a different explanation, however, for why some professions remained and remain largely dishonorable even if the practitioners of them are wealthy and honored and famous. It has to do with the nature of the activity the profession performs rather than the social classes from which the professionals are drawn. Military people engage in killing people wholesale and that was once discrediting because once a killer always a killer, the coarseness of the calling compensated for by the fact that veterans of a largely civilian army go through a period of rehabilitation and are honored for having suffered PTSS. So professionalism compensates for the inherently gruesome nature of the tasks that a soldier undertakes. There is a lot of pomp and circumstance available to make military men think well of their calling and to supply emotional support for them when some of their number are lost in battle. These people are to be honored because they died for their country, however grueling and gruesome was the work they did on their way to death.
The same thing is true with actors and actresses, whose wealth and fame and claims to a bourgeois lifestyle does its best to make up for the fact that the kernel of an actor’s job is to feign emotions, which is a very transgressive thing to do and so makes actors a version of that equally old profession, prostitution, where practitioners feign sexual emotions, or indeed have desensitized sexual feelings, in order to provide commercially available services. Both professions engage in a dishonorable activity, the actor and actress earning the dishonorable repute in which their occupation had for long been held because they feign an even broader range of emotions in an even more public way. So there is more to the sense that actors and actresses are prostitutes aside from the fact that they were once drawn from the same set of people. The craft of an actor or actress is not only to feign emotions but, according to one theory, the Stanislavski Method, actors use the feigning of emotions as an excuse and reason to conjure up and display emotions from their personal lives that would normally be a source of embarrassment if they were displayed to strangers. In an exact sense, play actors prostitute their emotions for cash and notoriety. It is a professional calling in the sense that play actors, for whatever reason, have a need to display themselves, whether this display earns derision or praise, as well as because they are members of a community devoted to doing so, and also because playacting has been considered a vital role in society for more than two thousand years.
The "bourgeois" sense of propriety about the display of private feelings is violated for the entertainment of strangers, and a craft is made of simulating feeling, as if the ways we appear to be honorable or sincere or loving were mechanisms to be mastered, rather than unalienable parts of ourselves. Play actors are therefore simultaneously off putting and liberating, sacrificing themselves to provide a momentary mental liberation for the audience. This is costly to the play actor, who faces the professional hazard of the profligate use of acting skills in his or her own personal life. Emotions are schooled and so untrustworthy, the person becoming theatrical offstage as well as on. The play actor is therefore dishonorable, even if he claims to be able to feign emotions only on the stage, without it affecting the rest of his life. A likely story. Moreover, evidence to support this suspicion that feigning emotion is a rejection of bourgeois life comes from the supposed fact that on-screen or on-stage loves become "real" passions. When does the feigning begin, and when does it end? Imitating immoral or licentious behavior gives not only expertise in feigning, which might be generalizable, but a kind of experience of licentious behavior that is not too far from the real thing and is difficult to segregate from it. Play acting therefore presents an illusion of the liberation of licentious behavior, but also the illusion of being licentious in an only illusory way.
Bourgeois play actors defend the honor of their craft, whether for themselves or to win the affections of their audience, by both feigning and living otherwise bourgeois lives, though this is often stretched to mean that nude scenes made with a minimum crew or only as part of the job do not therefore violate rules of modesty. The point is the play actors are always violating rules of modesty, of which sexual modesty is a small but significant part, because they show both respectable and unrespectable motives -- like greed or jealousy-- which are not regarded as fit emotions for public display.
Dickens, like Shakespeare before him, is acutely conscious of the way the theatre violates proprieties by its very existence --not by its message, or by its conveyance of illusions, but by what it does to its actors and directors. Dickens associates the theatre with the circus. The travelling company in “Nicholas Nickleby” is like the travelling circus in “Hard Times”. Each is a band of wandering players, anachronistic to the commercial world, filled with peasant vices and virtues but more self-conscious about them, and so engaged in the pretense of being as noble as the nobility they mimic. They are melodramatic not because life is not melodramatic but because the melodrama of ordinary, non theatrical life arises from the circumstances of life and from the florid personalities that are the makeup of every person, while play-actors have a go at it, embellishing on melodrama when it needs no embellishing and so falsifying their own presentation of life by giving it an illusory grandeur.
And so it is sensible to think that actors and actresses are not to be trusted, so good are they at feigning feelings they do not have. They can manipulate lay people into thinking they love them or that they are to be trusted or that they are reflective people. As one actress once told me, “I am not beautiful, but I know how to act as if I am.” Most ordinary people are more given to hemming and hawing, not knowing if they expressing correctly what they want to say about themselves, or are more abrupt in their physical advances than they would be if they were schooled in how to appear to be loving. So ordinary people communicate themselves clumsily, and so can be relied upon to be authentic, to show the seams of their performances, while actors and actresses are inauthentic because, as Bert Lahr put it, “Once you learn to fake authenticity, you have it made.”
Erving Goffman claimed that everybody puts on performances so as to seem competent in the way they go about their lives. But few of us are as adroit as actors and actresses in seeming competent whether we are or not in any number of aspects of life. Teachers may have mastered their patter well enough so that they are articulate in front of groups of people other than their students, but that does not mean they can feign personal emotions or know how to be what they think a good patient would be like in front of their doctor, but actors and actresses have very generalizable skills at feigning, and that is why people are either taken in by them or don’t trust them. It isn’t easy for an actor or actress to overcome the innate dishonor of their profession, however famous the person may become.