Yves here. I’m surprised this article doesn’t mention the granddaddy of all work-skeptical productions, Death of a Salesman, which has been made into a movie twice. But it’s fair to say that the exhortations that all good employees become emotionally invested in overproduction, as in free labor, are meant to mask the fact that there are many tactics and overt resistance.
By Zen Dochterman, Lecturer in Writing, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Originally published in The conversation
A fatal Woman who tries to scam thousands of people through her lover’s insurance company. Jobless bikers on drug-fueled adventures in New Orleans. People break printers at work.
Watch movies like “Double Indemnity,” “Easy Rider” and “office space“, you might think that Americans had never heard of the Protestant work ethic – the spirit of sacrifice and delayed gratification that helped build capitalism.
Films like these reveal that the current of many Americans anti-work sentiments may not be so new. like someone who has studied and taught world literature and film for over a decade, I think some of the most compelling films make viewers wonder, “What if all that hard work wasn’t really worth it?”
The pandemic and the “great resignation”
Since the pandemic, more Americans than ever are asking the same question.
During what some have called the “Big resignationmany Americans have changed careers, quit bad jobs, or refocused on a life away from work. More recently, the trend ofquiet stop“, or do only what you are paid for, exploded on social networks. The expression is a bit misleading, because you don’t quit your job. Instead, workers refuse to hustle in the workplace, especially since going “beyond” often means working for free.
The recent wave of silent dropouts stems from a deeper, longer-term disengagement with stressful work environments, unsatisfactory roles and, despite recent salary increasesthe inability of paychecks to keep up cost of living crisis for many working and middle class families.
Ironically, the will of hyperproductivity that some argue is a central element of capitalism is at an all time high. Workers are told that if they “do what they love”, work should never be perceived as a burden. Some theorists compare modern forms of work culture, particularly in Silicon Valley, to a religion in their attempts to infuse people with passion and meaning.
These developments have created a pushback, especially among younger generations, towards work-life balance, flexible hours and a greater focus on Mental Health.
But some have even gone further, philosophers questioning the very foundations of a success-based society which lends itself to burnout and depression. Political theorists and the anti-work movement ask how it would be possible to create more free time for everyone, not just those who can afford to quit or take jobs where they will earn less money.
Crime as an alternative to work
Yet such anti-work sentiments are not new to American culture.
It was arguably Charlie Chaplin’s characters who first expressed the anti-work ethos, most famously in the 1936 film “Modern Times,” in which his character works too slowly on an assembly line and gets caught in the trap. cogs in a giant machine.
Around World War II, crime became an allegory for an anti-work ethic: little effort, big payoff.
The dark movie The genre often explores the existential and psychological factors that drive people to crimes of passion.
Many film noir features a fatal Woman – that is, a woman who seduces men as part of a larger criminal plot to get by financially. This type of character often reflects a cultural fear around what women might do to remedy their domestic and professional dissatisfaction.
For example, in “Double Indemnity(1944), Phyllis Dietrichson, who is unhappily married to an older, wealthy man, seduces insurance salesman Walter Neff. They hatch a plot to stage her husband’s murder as an accident and recover his life insurance money. A similar crime of passion against a wealthy husband also takes place in “The postman always rings twice(1947).
Joseph H. Lewis'”mad gun(1950) tells the story of Bart and Laurie, who “can’t live on $40 a week.” They embark on a series of burglaries which allows them to live without a job for a while. After Bart learns that Laurie killed two people, he feels remorse and exclaims, “Two people died – just so we could live without working!”
Youth rebellion and counterculture
With the arrival of the 1950s, the anti-work ethos became associated with youth culture.
A new generation of ‘hoodlums’, hippies and dropouts are ill-suited to the traditional workplace, starting with Marlon Brando, wearing a leather jacket and riding a motorcycle in “The wild(1953) and James Dean in “rebel without a cause(1955).
“Easy Rider(1969) follows two unemployed bikers who, after a lucrative drug deal, stop in a township in New Mexico and admire the self-reliant economy there. They continue to New Orleans and meet George Hanson by Jack Nicholson, who told them, “It’s really hard to be free when you’re bought and sold in the market.
Hanson goes on to pit the American working world against the freedom of a hypothetical alien species without leaders or money. The counterculture is crystallized.
Slackers and sabotage
In the popular culture of the 1990s, a “lazy” ideal prevailed.
The apathetic, unemployed or underemployed youngster appears in films such as “Dazed and confused“(1993),”reality hurts“(1994),”Friday(1995) andThe great Lebowski(1998).
by Richard LinklaterLazy(1990) follows a series of unemployed, hustlers and moochers around Austin, Texas during their time off work. have to do to earn a living. … I may live badly, but at least I don’t have to work to do it. He ends with the catchy proclamation: “To all of you workers, every commodity you produce is a piece of your own death!
However, the slacker is not content with trying to work as little as possible. Some seek to actively sabotage the workplace. In “Clerks(1994), two workers are intentionally rude to customers. They play rooftop hockey and attend a friend’s wake during work hours.
“office space(1999) follows three workers who, frustrated by their company’s malfunctioning printer, decide to take a baseball bat from it before infecting the office computers with a virus.
And in “fight club(1999), Tyler, played by Brad Pitt, slips pornographic clips into home movies while working as a projectionist. The narrator, played by Edward Norton, describes Tyler as a “restaurant industry guerrilla terrorist” after Tyler “seasoned” plates of food at a fancy hotel with his various bodily fluids.
Recent shifts in cinema towards overt anti-capitalism
The 21st century has seen the rise of a whole host of foreign movies and TV shows with explicitly anti-capitalist themeswith dramas like “Money theft» (2017) «Parasite» (2019) and «squid game(2021) centered on the characters’ struggle against economic inequality.
This trend is also evident in American cinema.
In “sorry to disturb you(2018), workers are so in need of economic security that they sell in slavery in a company called “WorryFree”. The satire follows Cassius Green, an African-American telemarketer who, in his desire to climb the corporate ladder, makes deals with international corporations to use WorryFree slave labor. Although not so explicitly anti-capitalist, the “nomadland(2020) paints a portrait of America where jobs are increasingly seasonal, temporary and precarious, leaving people adrift as “nomads”.
Americans have long had a frustrated relationship with work, seeing it as alienating, exploitative, or simply unrewarding.
Hustle culture and “grinding” may yet dominate in America. However, more and more theorists now argue that technological automation and major social changes could lead to a world beyond work with more free time for everyone.
So it’s more important than ever to pay attention to what these movies are saying: Maybe work doesn’t hold the key to happiness, fulfillment and the good life.