"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Friday, December 07, 2007

keep on keeping on...

the media urges workers to cease their striking "for the sake of the children!" read on...

busy with finals and wrapping up business from the past semester and from the summer too. i just wanna make it thru the weekend, when most of my work will hopefully be done, and then enjoy hanging out without something hanging over my head.

so, for now, read (if you want) a paper i submitted in the past week on the state of labor relations in America today, and an indictment on Christmas.


The Villainization of the Worker and the Cultural Power of Christmas

When I first read the BBC’s article “Show goes on for Grinch musical” (November 22, 2007), I was reminded of the movie Love, Actually (2003). The film, in case you haven’t seen it, is an examination of eight London couples’ relationships during the holiday season. In it, improbable romances take bloom “because it’s Christmas” (offered to the audience as an excuse, or a rationalization – as if to aid in the suspension of disbelief). The final message isn’t so much that “Love conquers all,” but rather that there’s only one thing more powerful and irrational than Love: Christmas.
The recent halt to the stagehand strike on Broadway reminds me of this tendency in our movies – aptly depicted in Love, Actually – and in our culture to mythologize and bestow power to certain symbols. I mention Love, Actually because of the important link between spectacle, commodity and culture that it makes explicit: the film fetishizes love and the spirit of the holiday season, succeeding in having the audience and its characters surrender themselves to the power of Love and Christmas, depicted as a set of performances and exchanges of codified behaviors. The commodity and its spectacle are conflated: Love is Christmas and happy endings. In a society whose culture is largely mediated, cultural values are often articulated and reproduced in the form of spectacle: “The spectacle is not a collection of images; rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” And Christmas is Capitalism at its most spectacular: the pageantry, the parades, the commercials, the camped-out shoppers waiting as if for a new Star Wars film, whole city landscapes turned into Winter Wonderlands. Citizens turned into mall zombies, as in George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978). These holidays are a holy daze.
This spectacularization becomes problematic because of its tendency to distract us from problems of lived existence. It is the tendency of the spectacle to replace reality with that of a hyperreality – “a world in which the spectacle defines, circumscribes, and becomes more real than reality itself.”
This is capitalism in action, enacted as spectacle, an illusion we uphold and defend at the expense of our fellow human beings. “The spectacle makes visible the world of the commodity dominating all that is lived.” This can be seen in the New York State Supreme Court judge’s injunction against the striking stagehands, demanding a resumption of their work “for the sake of this city.” The invisible force of labor in society suddenly made visible, it is imperative to the machine of Capitalism that labor protests be quelled as soon as possible, so that “life as usual” may resume. The article also mentions the popularity of Broadway among tourists, suggesting the need to end the stagehand strike in order to give them what they came for – an “authentic” NYC experience. The show must go on. Resume your positions. = The institution of Christmas exercising its domination by subjugating all other activities to its demands.
Within this dichotomy, the worker and his/her rebellion are situated in a position of delinquency, aberration, and worse – villainy. Anyone resisting or delaying the magic of Christmas is derogated – a “Grinch.” The story of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” exemplifies this mythology, telling of a bitter curmudgeon who experiences a “change in heart” due to the overwhelming spirit of Christmas. By withholding the popular Christmas show, the striking workers are depicted in a negative light, as challenging the very sanctity of Christmas itself. One of the article’s captions explains, “the musical is very popular with children,” the implication being that the workers are victimizing an innocent public by disrupting the holiday proceedings. “Do it for the children,” we say. Do it “for the sake of the city!”
This is an appeal to Christmas spirit: it’s a long-standing myth in American culture that Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year,” a time for philanthropy, for goodwill towards all, and for outstanding miracles. The stagehand strike went against the imagery of jubilation and goodwill associated with the holiday season, but Christmas soon conquered and quashed its opposition. “The spectacle is the moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life.” The BBC’s article depicts the labor strike as a deviation from shared cultural values and reasserts the language of Christmas cultural mythology, calling the continuation of work a “miracle on 44th street.” The myth of Christmas spirit manifests itself in this particular instance to bedazzle us and quell opposition to a general capitalist mentality. We, the readers, become accomplices in suppressing the rebellion of the workers, we defend the spectacle at all costs, complaining about TV show reruns or a Broadway-less visit to NYC, rather than caring about the actual workers themselves or taking the time to understand the issues for which they are striking. The spectacle of Christmas becomes more real to us than the reality of labor disputes and workplace inequities.
This illustrates the power of the spectacle over our lived experiences, the entrancing nature of spectacle to deceive and distract. Submitting to the power of Christmas and its spectacle turns this moment of rebellion and critique into one of irreverence and then irrelevance.

Works Cited:
Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord
Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard


remaerdyaD the ex-trordinaire! (: said...

Ugh. Writing of insanity (nice essay btw). Cannot get out of my mind this tv show while I am reading this. I saw this title on the tv guide and it said like walmart xmas or something so I watched these for women, shades of The View, smiling and going on about which purchases are going to make their loved ones happy on xmus morning and I nearly threw up in record time. I think it went on for an hour.

stephan!e lee said...

ha! that's funny. and also why i try to avoid watching TV or listening to the radio this time of year. it's all advertising, blasting in yr face. unattractive.