Monday, January 30, 2017

Core Post: Week 4

The Industrial Revolution radically transformed American labour in the general direction of regulation and securing workers rights, propelled along the way by the direct actions and legal challenges mobilized in response to atrocities and massacres against workers. In his chapter on ‘ethnic’ working-class sit-coms, George Lipsitz marks the 1930s and 1940s as an era during which widespread labour organizing led to major victories that improved the standard of living for the average worker. One of the crowning achievements of 30s-40s labour organizing was the institution of the 8-hour day and the 40-hour workweek, enshrined by Congress in 1940. For Lipsitz, TV became capital’s antidote to the threat of sustained postwar class consciousness into the Cold War, redirecting potentially revolutionary energy towards the seductive commodity. While the 40-hour workweek structured the temporality of public working life in the contours of 9-to-5, TV registered this absence in the domestic sphere and broadcast programming directed towards women accordingly. As Patricia Mellencamp notes, the Cold War policy of containment was also aimed at containing women to the domestic sphere.
The 40-hour work week also contained work time from leisure time. However, as Tania Modleski reminds us in her article on daytime television and ‘women’s work,’ this containment of work-time to a 9-to-5 window was never extended uniformly to all workers. She observes that gendered domestic labour resembles the televisual concept of flow, entailing repetition yet versatility in endless continuity, distinctly different from the product-oriented goals of 9-to-5 labour—at least, in traditional blue collar jobs. However, it strikes me that post-Fordist labour in general has come to increasingly resemble the condition of flow. The 40-hour workweek is rapidly eroding due to shifts in corporate culture and a stagnant minimum wage. Just as streaming has severed televisual viewing practices from the temporal regulation of broadcast, new communications technologies have transformed the workweek, demanding that workers be available around the clock. I’m not only referring to the perpetual white collar connectivity ushered in by the BlackBerry revolution (is that just a Canadian thing?), but also the neoliberal trends of casualization and deregulation that rupture the containment of work time from leisure time for the most precarious workers. This leakage is staged, for instance, in the bizarre direct address product placement that opens The Goldbergs and epitomizes flow’s attempt at seamless suturing. Despite Lynn Spiegel’s suggestion that this ritual’s cinematography and mise-en-scene clearly distinguish between ‘nonfictional’ ad and fictional narrative, it seems clear to me that the ad invites commercial life into the domestic space. To elaborate Lipsitz’s argument, this advertising tactic also deploys Molly Goldberg’s ethnic working class authenticity as capital—a sophisticated (if perverse) maneuver that seems right at home in neoliberal capitalism.

You can probably tell that this is a string of nascent arguments to which I have no conclusion; I’m pretty sure I know where the coherent unifying argument can be found — bringing gender, TV, and 40-hour-labour together — however, I haven’t actually seen the show, so someone is gonna have to help me out:


  1. The clip you posted is from the 1980 film 9-5, which perfectly fits into this week's readings. Even though the film is directly about three women trying to succeed in a male-dominated office space, you can easily see this as a response to messages pushed by daytime television through advertising and the theatrical stage of a sitcom living room. As you pointed out, the Industrial Revolution radically transformed American labour, paving the way for women during WW11 to succeed in traditionally male, white collar fields and threaten patriarchal norms. As we saw a in Father Knows Best, the notion of female professional equality threatened the common man's illusion that he wasn't common. For advertisers, a 40 hour work week that could accommodate both genders in the public sphere would leave the domestic sphere unattended, and products shown on daytime television un-bought. To elaborate on your point about Lipsitz's argument, it seems that gender space divide traditionally benefited capitalism (men made the money, women spent the money) and I wonder how the internet's ability to provide people of all genders the ability to watch an endless flow of advertisements influences a capitalist society's need for gender.

  2. The readings this week, especially the Mellencamp as you pointed out, were very helpful in thinking about television’s role in producing containment for women in the domestic sphere. I think the Mellencamp was particularly illuminating because it helped us think outside of the narrative framework for understanding ideologies of containment after the war. She offers a useful analytic for thinking about laughter in the situation comedy genre—through the figures of Gracie and Lucy—that might not necessarily align with the simple liberatory readings of laughter/comedy. For Mellencamp, laughter can, for instane, be both a way of achieving pleasure through the continued denial of certain freedoms or a way to stifle a potentially revolution-inducing emotion such as anger. I was watching the “Job Switching” episode of I Love Lucy and was think more about the structure of the “situation” versus the “narrative.” What becomes the comic relief, for instance, in the climactic scene is Lucy and Ethel on the chocolate conveyer belt manically trying to accomplish an increasingly impossible task. This situation is juxtaposed against the other scene of the men in the kitchen, attempting their own make-shift assembly line of cleaning up the overflow of food/rice. Most explicitly, the job switching’s resolution demonstrates the “proper” gender roles and spaces for Lucy and Ricky, but there seems to be something more at play here. The comedic effect is produced, at least for Lucy, because there seems to be factors outside of Lucy’s control (the machine is going too fast). I will think more about this, but in general, I locate this moment because I’m interested in how seemingly liberatory moments/gestures/emotions are complex sites where power is negotiated differently. And further, within this framework, how and when do we, as viewers, try to locate or read for resistance? Mellencamp’s piece was particularly useful for thinking through the psychical and affective structures of laughter.

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  4. One more thought I forgot to include in my previous post, right as I head to class: I was just thinking about the legacy of Lucy's zany/manic performances, and I am seeing a lot of resonances with teen/kids-oriented family situation comedy shows (found on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon..such as "That's So Raven"). I would love to think more about why this may be within the contemporary historical moment