Wednesday, May 12, 2010

slave ship

I had a really wonderful day-long hang with a friend of mine who just moved to New York, and one of the topics we discussed while we were thrifting and record shopping and trying to avoid weird spring hailstorms was labor and production in the culture industries (music, fashion, film, literature, art, and so forth).

We in organized labor don't talk about these industries that often, and when we do it's focused on anti-sweatshop measures (which are obviously important and I think something that always has to be borne in mind when thinking about the fashion industry - something that I think a lot of us, myself included, have pushed away thinking about at points because we are so used to fast fashion and the fact that it's very difficult to avoid sweatshop labor entirely post-NAFTA). The particular costs of production and exploitation in the culture industry are echoed elsewhere in the labor market

Our top entertainers make a lot of money. A LOT of money. Celebrity and opulence has become part of their marketing, because ... celebrity sells. Having money is cultural currency. (I'll expound at some point in this blog on this because it's something that horrifies and disgusts me and something that is omnipresent and that I am thus weirdly fascinated by and feel the need to study, take apart and analyze).

If you're anyone involved in the industry other than said top entertainers, though, you get worked to death. You have to deal with jobs that don't tie health insurance in as a benefit necessarily, jobs that treat you like a contractor even if you're a full-time employee, jobs that you hate that you work just because they allow you to go on tour. Sometimes you end up working for a small business that is just surviving day to day itself, and it's difficult to demand the fair compensation due to you because even the owner of the business isn't making enough to get by. The culture industry is like a highly magnified version of the stratified class system we function in at large - the very small top percentage take it all, everyone else gets fucked. The film industry is the one aspect that has been unionized for a long time, but if you're self-producing or not working for a big studio, there are major barriers there too.

The recording industry hasn't figured out yet their strategy for remaining viable in an age of digital media. The rest of the culture industries are all struggling with similar conundrums. Now is the time to organize this work force (or not to cede ground in already-organized industries); now is the time to assert what is ours as laborers. Now is the time to try to balance out the employer-employee relationship as best we can and to lobby for federally funded social programs that allow major grants to the arts (look at Canada for a pretty great system as far as that goes).

A side note: I maintain that sex work is part of the culture industry and that we need more worker-owned collectives/union shops for sex workers; the Lusty Lady is a start, but I have yet to see the stage (pun intended) opened up further.

There is much for us to critique in the products culture industry at large as conscious consumers as well as producers, as activists and feminists. We must not forget that worker advocacy in these industries is equally important (if not more important in some cases); the process must be critiqued as well as the product.

No comments:

Post a Comment