Caught Between the Privatized Marriage Market and the Corporatized Labor Market: the Zero-Sum Binary of the (Failed) American Dream?

November 12, 2013 · Print This Article

 Guest post by Virginia Konchan

Cultural treatments of what Jeffrey Eugenides (qua Austen) termed the “marriage plot” of fiction include post-romantic polemics (Laura Kipnis’ 2004 Against Love), arguments for and against biological and gender essentialism, chick lit and post-feminist writings, and queer and trans literature (as well as post-9/11 and world literatures reframing the metaphor of war as between cultures and races, rather than genders).   Keeping pace with the culture industry’s manufacture of fantasy, Hollywood continues to churn out variations on the theme of marriage, whether representative, in the US, of market demand and actual statistics, or not, in reality TV (The Bachelor; Wife Swap) and, in film, such as the 2013 rom-com Austenland, directed by Jerusha Hess (an adaptation of Shannon Hale’s novel, based off Pride and Prejudice, about a British resort recreating the Austen era, to fuel the obsession that every woman’s platonic double—Mr. Darcy, aloof yet smoldering with passion—awaits us just around the corner).

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The timelessness of the marriage plot is today played out against the backdrop of radically transitive labor conditions for women, as the bar for accreditation (an industry’s “terminal degree” or minimum standard of experience) are continually raised, in a post-manufacturing, service, and what Sarah Kendizor calls a “post-employment” economy, sealing the neo-pilgrim passage (noir version) from a welfare to a fully corporatized (i.e. neoliberal) state.

Today’s resurgence of Darwinian logic, manifest in neo-Gladiator survivalist narratives such as The Hunger Games, undergirds global capitalism, with the exception of independently-owned businesses or careers (internally funded or reliant on patrons, philanthropy, and trustees).  A women who chooses to entreprenurialize (work independently, start a business or brand, freelance) adjusts not only to the rollercoaster cash flow, as Whitney Johnson, who left Merrill Lynch to co-found Rose Park Advisors with Clay Christensen, in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, points out, while the recent global downturn fuels the American DIY rhetoric of entrepreneurial activity, such ‘independence’ isn’t always volitional:  layoffs abound, and, despite soft stats of “productivity gains,” job creation does not.  “Approximately 43 million people, or roughly 35%-40% of the private workforce in the U.S., are currently doing some type of contingent work; this number is expected to grow to 65-70 million within the decade, well ahead of the 1% rate at which the labor force is growing,” Johnson notes, citing research from MBO Partners’ State of Independence in America report, about “independent” U.S. laborers (an individual working 15+ hours per week whether as a freelancer, contractor, or owner of a micro-business):  “Stripping out the c. 25 million people who are working part-time and are potentially under-employed, MBO calculates there are currently about 17 million independents,” a statistic expected to increase to 23 million by 2017, based on a 6.3% per year growth rate, that could easily swell to over 30+ million in the next decade as large and small corporations, as well as the government, continue to employ contingent labor (40% of the workforce is defined currently as contingent labor; that number is expected to rise).

Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett, is Woody Allen’s 44th feature film:  his protagonist, Jasmine neé Jeanette, is a divorced socialite whose husband Hal, played by Alec Baldwin, after amassing millions the Bernie Madoff scandal, is caught, jailed, and commits suicide.  This female lead differs radically (in her labor situation and social rôle) from the female ingénue of Annie Hall, the irascible Diane Keaton.

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Jasmine struggles to accept her functional unemployment (she has virtually no job skills in a market where you can buy goods, but not survive, on credit) after her divorce, arriving on her working-class stepsister, Ginger’s, doorstep in the Mission District of San Francisco with an equipage of Louis Vuitton luggage, perfectly-coiffed hair, and a desire to begin again (but not before polishing off several stiff martinis with Grey Goose).  The conversation Jasmine has with Ginger about her prospects, post-Hal are nothing short of comedic:  I was always good at design, she muses, and decides to take a day job as an assistant in a dental office to pay for online classes in interior decorating, a revelation of subdued hilarity echoing that of Aunt Bernie in George Saunders’ story “Sea Oak,” who, resurrecting from the dead, answers the call to neoliberal entrepreneurialism by directing male strippers.  Her advice, to evolve from sex work to a white collar career:  “Go show your cock! [ . . . ] That is the first part of Phase One.   After we get the new place, that’s the end of the first part of Phase Two.  You’ll still show your cock, but only three days a week. Because you’ll start community college.  Pre-law. Pre-law is best. You’ll be a whiz. You ain’t dumb.”

Jasmine’s painful labor skills assessment doesn’t stop her from catching the eye of a new money tycoon with coastal property.  She meets her second alluring husband prospect, played by Peter Sarsgaard, at a party—impressed by her Chanel digs, he asks her out, and she proceeds to play the part of a successful businesswoman to a hilt, offering to design his new home.  The following scene has them antiquing together, before looking at engagement rings.  The prize, if we follow the moral logic of Blue Jasmine (the rhetoric of American democracy) goes not necessarily to the hardest worker (Calvinism), smartest entrepreneur (meritocracy) or most monied sophisticate (philistine aristocracy), but the best con-man—or woman—the artful, or artless, swindler with a heart of gold.

gatsby 

Jasmine’s life, seen within Western cinematic (independent and mainstream) representations of women from David Lynch’s doppelgangers, to besties escaping, by driving their car off a cliff, abusive spouses——Thelma and Louise—or for Madame Bovary,  what Jonathan Franzen calls “married person’s (i.e. false) consciousness,” reflects the fact that in today’s contemporary novel, cinema, and pop culture, our “heroines” have more choices, but they are still often scripted, between the dangerous fiction of a woman that has, or does, it all (cinematized in 2011 feature film I Don’t Know How She Does It, starring Sarah Jessica Parker), and the neo-confessional celebrity spectacle of a woman such as Gaga, who bares her struggles publically, usually receiving social grace upon delivering the now-ubiquitous message that celebrities (and royals) are people too.

Whether broadcasting happy-go-lucky debauchery (Chelsea Handler), sexscapades (Paris Hilton), gold-digging (Anna Nicole Simpson), infidelity (Elizabeth Hurley, Sandra Bullock), domestic violence (Rhianna, Halle Berry), addiction (Lindsay Lohan), or the everyday travails common to all women (childbearing, weight gain, marriage, divorce, and illness), in the public eye:  the more seemingly human the portrayal (Kate Middleton taking her time—two weeks—as reported in the media, to return to a size O, post-George), the more love from the public, despite the most basic incongruity of all:  celebrities and royals, unlike the average consumer of their self-representations, aren’t forced to work a 9-5 job, or any job, beyond performing, to survive.

kate middleton 

Never has the anti-logic of the privatization movement been more relevant as an extended metaphor, to domestic security—not for our homeland, but for women.  The rule of the market (liberating free or private enterprise from any bonds imposed by the government—the state—no matter how much social damage this causes), and, internationally, NAFTA, has resulted in widespread wage reduction, de-unionization, the elimination of workers’ rights, no price controls, slashed public expenditure for social services:  deregulation, in short, of all protections (environmental, commercial, financial) allowing citizens a basic standard of protection beyond the right to file a lawsuit (after one’s non-codified, and thus nonexistent, rights have been violated).  This state of non-rule leaves subjects or those without job skills vulnerable to market vicissitudes (governmental rule by the nation’s media conglomerates—i.e., the 1%) backed, as we know, by International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

 

Today, women receiving federal aid for supporting a child are cut off if living with or married to a man in the States, penalizing a working class woman’s desire to raise a child with the child’s father or other male figure, and making a two-family income, albeit with one income from Uncle Sam, an impossibility, and raising the question of how far we’ve come, as a gender, from being literal chattel or objects of tokenistic exchange (decried by Engels in his 1884 The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State) and today, when the  insecurity of all formerly stable institutions, including marriage and the family, underscores the fact that the market is the new head of state for Western women, just as the husband continues to be in many Islamic cultures, usurping law (husbands are allowed to beat their wives and children as long as they don’t leave any physical marks, an Islamic court in the United Arab Emirates ruled in 2010), to say nothing of ongoing cultural epidemics of sexual violence, domestic abuse, public stonings, factory labor, sex trafficking, and labor exploitation, keeping women, worldwide, in a dangerous existential (i.e. labor) situation.

 

In short, the stress of financial survival, in neoliberal America, trumps life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, for men as well as women (the latter camp still on the outskirts of legal personhood, the Equal Rights Amendment not having yet passed).  The inequity of our child care and maternity leave policies are the source of international shame, women aren’t being hired for executive positions, with obvious exceptions (New Zealand, Grenada, Barbados, and Andorra all have or have had female heads of state), and despite puncture holes in “the new glass ceiling” (the illusion that we occupy a DIY, may the best man win, meritocracy, innocent of structural inequities, as evidenced in Huff-Po writer Jeannette Cajide’s endorsement of her boss Mark’s neoliberal quip:  “If you want to overcome sexism and racism, be the best!”) continues.   The Count by VIDA, documentaries such as Miss Representation, and other reports on the dearth of authorial and executive parity between men and women in the U.S. workplace underscore the facts:  but while the “new glass ceiling” for women may indeed be prevailing, media-driven misogyny, and a restructuring of service economy jobs, even in senior positions, or internalized and externalized locked doors to design, IT, and engineering fields, the fact remains that, as Gail Becker said in the Huffington Post, “firsts” set a precedent that can then be modeled for other women, as relationship and cultural standards (equality and freedom from abuse, violence, and intimidation), codified laws, and hiring authorities.  “Frankly, I look forward to the end of that necessary prepositional clause — a time when we don’t need to define someone by the barrier they broke.  But until that day, my commas are standing by, ready to remember those who helped tear away barriers for me.”   As a New Yorker cartoon character put it to her husband:  “I prefer the illusion of safety to the appearance of privacy”:  reality, however painful, lying in wait beyond the illusory binary, for women, of marriage-cum-financial survival and self-fulfillment through career (Harlequin romance plots aside).

 

A neoliberal economy puts all subjects, particularly those whose commodity has historically been domestic labor or the sale of their flesh, in a precarious position, forced to choose between wage labor, sex labor, an unsalaried, uncontracted job in a helping profession, or, if lucky (possessing liquid capital or loan accreditation), entrepreneurial activity.  As Jasmine discovered before it was too late, women not independently wealthy must labor to survive, like men, either in a career or in a form of domestic or sexual service, to a husband, family or both.

 

What’s needed now are not just rooms, but salaries of our own, in careers that don’t bottom out upon our advancement, and domestic partnerships that don’t bottom out when the human commodity (the wife) reaches her shelf life in consumer capitalism (i.e. mature age).  “Should Sancho Panza, Oroonoko, Moll Flanders, Frankenstein’s monster, Queenqueg, Tom, Lily Bart, Josef K.., Lolita, and Om, in A Fine Balance, really have no say in their own fates?” asks Jane Smiley in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel, broadening the live question, apropos to the health care crisis in America, of whether being able to cultivate the means to acquire needs, to echo Marx, let alone pursue one’s teleological ends without bearing the stamp of manufacture from a husband, or suffering, in silence, an exploitative labor situation, is a privilege, or a right.

 

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Virginia Konchan’s poems have appeared in Best New Poets, The Believer, The New Yorker, and The New Republic, her criticism in Workplace:  A Journal for Academic Labor, Quarterly Conversation, Barzakh Magazine, and Boston Review, and her fiction in StoryQuarterly and Joyland, among other places.  The recipient of grants and fellowships to Scuola Internazionale di Grafica, Ox-Bow, and Vermont Studio Center, Virginia is co-founder of Matter, a journal of poetry and political commentary.  Currently, she is pursuing her PhD in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.




Artist Q&A: Graphic Novelist Jeffrey Brown on His Career in Publishing and Film

June 6, 2013 · Print This Article

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Since self-publishing his wildly successful first novel Clumsy in 2002, he’s created numerous other painfully funny autobiographical comics, co-written the 2012 star-studded film Save the Date (starring Party Down’s Lizzy Caplan and Mad Men’s Alison Brie) and penned a hilarious series of graphic novels that explore the challenges of being both Darth Vader–ruler of the evil Sith empire–and a single dad.

Brown’s newest Star Wars-themed book Jedi Academy (out on Aug. 27), is a coming-of-age story about a boy named Roan and his adventures mastering the Force while juggling all the issues that come with being a middle schooler.

Brown took the time to answer a few questions via email — keep reading to learn more about his past and current work in film and publishing.

Read more




Creativity+Hopeless Romanticism+Labyrinth’esque Hands= I’m Sold

December 3, 2010 · Print This Article

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I saw this earlier in the week and knew I had to write about it since it is more then your typical romantic gesture in that it is actually a catchy tune and how can you pass on hand puppets stolen straight out of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth.

Walter C. May and his roommates ( who are also in the band called The Daylights ) put together this music video/love note for May’s girlfriend who is living in Europe for two years or so now and he wanted to not only send her something to make the distance seem smaller but do so in a way that it felt organic and that he was in her world even when he couldn’t be. Therefore he hoped and pushed for the video to reach her viraly so that she would hear it in her day to day life. Now reports are in that she has already run across it ( the internet is quick I hear) but regardless  I hope you enjoy it.

I will admit that there is a fine line between romantic and creepy (hand puppets kind of help blur that line as well haha) but that is one of the best parts of the internet culture in my opinion, extreemly simple, low cost, constant heartfelt originality.  If you have someone in your life that values you enough to dedicate the time it takes to do things of this nature, your extremely lucky and so are we in having it shared with us. With the holiday season coming remeber the people out there who value you, love you and put up with all your eccentricities joyfully. There may be almost 7 billion people out there but it only makes the few people who care about you all that much more precious and rare.

Have a great weekend & stay warm.




Ever Love Someone & Have Them Change Into Something Completely Different?

August 27, 2010 · Print This Article

Will Cotton Flan

Will at his best for me, but when the Flan goes bad the relationship isn't far behind it seems. Or the proof is in the pudding.

Ever have an artist that you thought was fun, fresh, interesting and smart? Someone you told all your friends & family about and thought was someone you could be interested in for their entire career? Then they move to a different city, make some money,  get a grant/scholarship, sudden increase in press or some other seemingly innocuous change at the time. Then almost overnight you don’t know that person and the work is not just bad on it’s own but seemingly worse for what it could have been?

I was told years ago for some Jasper Johns was kind of like that in many people’s eyes (being a big fan myself I could kind of see it even though I still enjoyed the later work) but for me that person has always been Will Cotton.

I remember seeing video and photos from one of his first major shows back in 1999 and reading Mark Kostabi’s article in Shout and thinking “I agree with Kostabi on something? This is a new feeling!”. Will’s Candyland Landscapes were unlike anything else being made at that time and were wonderful in their unabashed gluttony, scale, execution & humor. During a time when I had as much angst and gritty somberness/passive aggressive irony as any man could take durring the 90’s I liked this idea of slick, fun and cranked up to 11 sensibility. Hoping like Chuck Close he would disasemble the formula over time into a more non-representational approach and I would get art I would want to do and see without having to do all that blasted hard work lol.

Will Cotton then it seemed to me, spent the summer of 2002 in Giverny, France, where he worked under a residency grant from the Monet Foundation and realized that women have these things called breasts, and they are beautiful and now that he has money the women who own these breasts will sit for him; he never looked back. Almost overnight the landscapes were gone, the witty humor melted and it was cotton-candy sky is the limit on cheesecake. Most recently you will see his latest work as the cover of Katy Perry’s new album Teenage Dream.

In some other dimension of reality Will Cotton would have gone to an Analytical Cubism conference, fallen in love with geometric rhythm and not breasts but who am I kidding, “you gots to pay the bills somehow“.

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In Other News.

  • The Museum of Science and Industry has a PR stunt underway where one person will have the chance to live in the museum 24/7 for a month with full access and receive $10,000. All they have to do is interact with the visitors, blog, tweet and generally promote the institution, not to mention stay sane. Sound great? Well if you do the math, that it’s thirty 16 hour days of confined living; it equates to a 20$ an hour job. I guess it’s not bad but being the unconventional event spokesperson for the museum, near constant walking, no personal internet & sleeping in the U-505 submarine or the coal mine might appeal to some but it looses the shine after a night or two for me. It will be interesting to see who they choose (want to lay odds its not a guy?) and how long it takes for that person to sour. Do I smell Bad at Sports office pool in the making? Some here think it is a great idea so keep reading I will try to keep tabs on this winner and how it goes :) read more here & here
  • Theft of a $55 million Vincent van Gogh painting at the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo, Egypt prompts talk of increased security. I am sorry but with only seven out of 43 security cameras functioning and none of the alarms attached to the museum’s paintings working adding a baby monitor would constitute increased security? read more here
  • Remember the guy who bought the Ansel Adams negatives for $45 and a few weeks back the grandson of Ansel, Matthew Adams badmouthed them saying something akin to that they were worthless without the hand of the Artist to burn the final image? Well now the trust representing the famed nature photographer filed a lawsuit to halt the sale of prints. read more here
  • Ed Marszewski—editor-publisher of Lumpen, festival host, gallerist, and general Chicago indie art world guy-around-town—has remodeled Kaplan’s Liquors, the Bridgeport bar owned by his mother Maria Marszewski since 1986, and reopened it with the name Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar.

Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar
960 W 31st Street
Chicago, Illinois 60608
773.890-0588
www.communitybar.wordpress.com




NYC Art Project To Open Hidden Parts of the City, Morphed Into Opening Hearts

June 28, 2010 · Print This Article

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Back in the beginning of June, Creative Time and artist Paul Ramírez Jonas set up a kiosk in New York City’s Times Square and gave away free keys to the city to groups of two. Keys that would enable the duos to see rarely visited or in some cases previously unacessable areas in all five boroughs.

Places such as:

The awarding of the keys has a small amount of built in pomp and circumstance requiring there to be two and that each oratorically awards the key to the other declaring why that person has earned this right.

None of the destinations are life altering or that exclusive (some are just dressed up marketing attempts) but it is a wonderful treasure hunt of sorts even if at times we do not like treasure hunts and an excellent artiface or conceit to excitingly get people to venture out into the city beyond the usual commercial destinations. To see the romantic corners & rooms of NYC so to speak.

The Art project was a kind of API but instead of allowing computers to share data or tools it empowered people with the theater, opportunity and open ended purpose to expand on it if they so desired, a Art Project Interface of sorts. Many have built other projects on top of it from bike routes, water gun assassinations to interestingly extending the romantic couple metaphor into literal dates.

Thats what Lauren Burke, a 26-year-old Manhattan lawyer, art reporter and photographer decided to do. Turning each of the locations into a date with the following statement:

Lauren BurkeTake one single girl, the most inspiring public art project yet, and summer in New York City and you have the idea for a perfect blog:

Key2thecity, key2my heart.

After being presented with the key to the city and now having the ability to unlock 24 secret sights around all five boroughs, 24 dates will be had throughout the summer, seeing if both love and intrigue can exist in the city where no one sleeps.

The rules:

1) Every first date this summer must somehow incorporate a key to the city site

2) Each sight can only be visited once before another sight is visited.

3) Men or women may be repeated before sites, meaning that a site may be visited on a second date if the man or woman warranted a second visit.

4) No ex-boyfriends allowed as sight visits unless they too are warranting a second visit.

5) As the key to the city project is to expand our city horizons, each site visit date must also incorporate a food or drink spot never before tried.

5) Whoever wins my heart also wins my second key to the city.

6) Have fun, love life, love NYC, love love.,

So with summer approaching, 4th of July celebrations this weekend and a economy/job market that just keeps going down like it was from Jersey and in The Situation‘s room (not you Blitzer) find that special someone and explore the little known hidden free gems of your city or town with them. I have every intention to.

Fireworks Kiss