You might be reading this: the sentence could end there! But I’ll continue despite the interruption. You might be reading this thinking, bit late to be sending out a “June” newsletter, and to that I would say…yep, fair enough. It’s been a busy and sometimes challenging month-and-a-bit, is my excuse, fraught with appointments both enjoyable and otherwise, a brief dip in mood and composure which lead to very little getting done, and then an uptick in being busy at work which I almost resented more than the anxious-depressive downswing. Anyway, a day late and a dollar short, here’s this month’s newsletter which is full of more complaining about labour under late capitalism, the CIA, and other such topics I’ll have likely brought up in the pub with you all at one point or another. This time I’m slightly more cogent and sober, though!
Crap jobs remain a cornerstone of our working lives (there’s a whole book about it), and I’m under no illusions as to it having been better “back in the day,” but the atomised nature of employment today – between market-lead shifts towards zero hour contracts and casual workers having zero rights, as well as the pandemic-necessitated shift to working from home – means the collective bargaining of previous generations is much more difficult to put into action. So I’m always interested to hear about alternative ways of resisting shitty work practices, such as the legends in this Novara Media article who’ve come up with all sorts of workarounds in their WFH set ups. This anonymous software developer is especially inspiring:
“How I’ve come to think about the world is that people assume there are easy answers to these tough questions. And the fact of the matter is there aren’t easy answers. People don’t understand that psychology is all metaphor–there are no psychological “truths.” Every time there’s a shift in methodology, things come out that completely contradict what previous methodologies have supposedly proven.
“Since working from home, I’ve basically been able to get my job done in half the time I would in the office. Being a programmer, I’ve figured out ways to automate the most annoying parts of my work. I’ve written a set of mouse and keyboard commands to fill out my timesheets, fill up my calendar with ‘private meetings’, and send out emails. Automated mouse movements also keep my Microsoft Teams status green, making it look like I’m hard at work. This is all against the rules, but it saves me hours. Right now, I’m taking Fridays off entirely.”
This is obviously not quite the same as organised walkouts over poor pay or loss of pensions, but it’s an effective form of resistance against a) jobs where attendance and looking busy appears to be the main thing, and b) work in general. Feeling a sense of resistance to work is, I think, entirely natural. Ffor all the talk of a Protestant work ethic being inherit in humans, performing labour of which you are not a beneficiary in order to afford the rudiments of a comfortable existence is, and I hope this isn’t a mad idea, a load of bollocks and totally unnatural. In How To Do Nothing, a book I won’t stop wanging on about and I’m sorry for that, Jenny Odell writes about this “Bartleby The Scrivener”-inspired approach to striking. Not so much a justifiably-aggressive collective action, but an organised-or-otherwise shrug of “I would prefer not to.” I was reminded of the concept when reading the article “Tired of Running in Place, Young Chinese ‘Lie Down’”:
“The new lifestyle buzzword, tang ping [lie down], stems from a now-deleted post on forum site Tieba. Unlike similar, previous terms to have had their time in the spotlight in recent years, tang ping is an action rather than a feeling – resolving to just scrape by, exerting the bare minimum effort at an unfulfilling job, as opposed to the futility of raging against the capitalist machine.
“The author of the Tieba post described how he had been unemployed for the past two years yet did not see this as problematic. Instead of accepting and pursuing society’s ideas of success, he decided to just lie down.
“‘Since there has never been an ideological trend exalting human subjectivity in our land, I shall create one for myself: Lying down is my wise movement. Only by lying down can humans become the measure of all things,’ the user wrote in his lying-down manifesto.”
There article goes on to explicate a fairly defeatist element to tang ping, perhaps understandably, but I don’t think the acceptance of your material conditions and rejection of the standard way of improving them is necessarily throwing in the towel. It also certainly isn’t the same as the rejection of society and replacing it instead with days dedicated to “lift[ing] weights and be[ing] self-sufficient through crypto,” Hussein Kesvani’s apt summation of nihilistic self improvement bros. Quite the opposite: it chimes with something Guy Debord painted onto the walls of a Parisian street in 1953, and which I had on a poster in my room for a bit (because ofc I did): Never Work! Debord wrote, in response to a postcard reproducing his graffiti, disagreeing with its framing:
“Monsieur Buffier’s title, in fact, is ‘Superfluous advice.’ Given that it is well know that the great majority of people work, and that said work is, despite the strongest repulsion, imposed on the near totality of workers by a crushing constraint, the slogan NEVER WORK can in no way be considered ‘superfluous advice.’ This term of Monsieur Buffier’s implies that such a position is already unquestioningly followed by all, and thus casts the most ironic discredit on my inscription, and consequently my ideas and those of the Situationist movement.”
Karen Elliot wrote more broadly, more recently, on the rejection of work, “which locates the wage-labour relation as the central pillar of capitalist relations and therefore the prime locus of attack.” Her piece takes on the then-emergent trends of precarious work and the propaganda of productivity, which are now in full bloom, and places the struggle for an exit from this shitty situation within the history of Marxist thought:
“[Eduard] Bernstein, Engel’s literary executor and one of the most influential figures within reformist Marxism, argued in a series of articles under the title The Problems of Socialism (1897–98) that the ‘final goal’ of socialism would be achieved through capitalism, not through capitalism’s destruction. As rights were gradually won by workers, he argued, their cause for grievance would be diminished and consequently so would the foundation and necessity of revolution.”
Which, well, see how that turned out. Not only have worker’s rights been further eroded by the strategic destruction of labour unions, passing of laws which allow for predatory hiring and labour practises, but we’re also at a point now where the opportunity to address “grievances” has been more-or-less removed by the business models of Uber, Deliveroo, Amazon, et al. But we also don’t seem to be particularly close to a glorious fully automated luxury socialist revolution. So given all of that, why not just do the bare minimum and have a lie down?
There’s a good chance you’ve either seen or are familiar with recent Oscar-winner Judas and the Black Messiah. Either way, this interview with Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party who was assassinated by the Chicago police in concert with the FBI (as the film depicts), is a fascinating watch. Aged just 21 when he was murdered, Hampton’s answers to the characteristically condescending white news anchor’s questions are typical of his rhetorical style: strident, confident and informed, charismatic and playful with language, always on point.
His attempts to distance the actions and ideology of the Panthers from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and their radical faction, the Weathermen, whose direct action took the form of a bombing campaign between 1969-1977, are easy to grasp. That he has differentiate the community action and self-defense of the Panthers shows how successful the media, taking their cues from the government and prevailing social attitudes of the time, were at perverting the wider perception of the party. There’s a heartbreaking IRL dramatic irony in his knowing statement that not only are they “anarchistic, opportunistic, individualistic and chauvinistic,” but that their actions are “exactly what the pigs want them to do…the pigs are prepared for this, and they wipe the young people out.”
The Weathermen, to Hampton, were exactly the sort of dangerous domestic terrorists Hoover’s FBI painted the Panther to be. In fact, calls for Black liberation, united class struggle against the capitalistic state, breakfast clubs and community doctors for poor areas of the city were a world away from blowing up the Greenwich Village townhouse. Yet the Weathermen, unknowingly, provided a template for which the state could try and shove the Black Panthers into in order to justify their extrajudicial killing of an inspiring, young Black leader whose party and attendant rainbow coalition threatened positive social change. If that doesn’t make you furious enough, I highly recommend the contemporaneous documentary The Murder of Fred Hampton. He was killed halfway through production, the back half taking the tone of a true crime film, rendered all the more heartbreaking by the opening hour-or-so of seeing Hampton at work, his oratory skills and his humanistic politics, erased to uphold a white supremacist status quo which remains one of the world’s superpowers.
This right here is going to function as an extension of “Wot I’ve done,” because I want to spend a little more time on it than the somewhat arbitrary wordcount I deem acceptable to place alongside a bullet point. Another popular bugbear of mine I trot out to (presumed) sympathetic ears after a couple of Neck Oils is the state of online film journalism, which I more-or-less unilaterally deem to be unreedemingly naff. I certainly played my part in that, writing for the likes of WhatCulture and ScreenRant, which are emblematic if not actually responsible for a turn towards client journalism for the big studios and streamers, breathlessly picking apart the latest teaser for a reheated piece of intellectual property for a fanbase who will viciously any critic who might suggest Black Widow is not only a failure as a work of fourth-wave feminism, but also not a cinematic masterpiece on the level of Tarkovsky.
Which is a very different landscape to the one which shaped my cinephilia, which is to say, one whose literal motto was “It’s easy to be cynical. Fun too.” Charlie Shackleton’s Ultra Culture, was a formatively stylish, sarcastic and opinionated film blog where the now-celebrated filmmaker would rip the piss out of the PR emails, construct elegant paeans to title design and aspect ratios, and make fun of Peter Bradshaw. Essentially the antithesis of the film culture I spoke about in the last paragraph, and so, I’ve basically ripped it off in the pursuit of my own “feel bad” film blog. So arise, Cinebloc, where so far I have done a very funny running joke about how boring Disney+’s Loki series is, reviewed the terrible sequel to A Quiet Place, and blown the cobwebs off my rudimentary Photoshop skills. We’ll see how long I keep this film blog going before I lose faith at the lack of readers and confine it to the internet dustbin of dead links!
You know what, this is a much cheerier playlist! The Japanese Breakfast album is one of my favourites of the year, and I briefly entered a state of Michelle Zauner mania, reading all the interviews from this press cycle and ordering the American edition of her just-published memoir because it’s not out here til the autumn and I like the US cover more. I’m erring on writing something more lengthy about the Bo Burnham track, and the Netflix special it comes from, re: my reaction to it and the internet’s, because I think it’s a particularly brilliant bit of “oh god the world’s ending and I’m an irony-poisoned white man who just turned thirty what do I grab onto argh help” art and also a banger.
Last month I was worried about the newsletter being too sad, and this month I’m worried about it being too angry. I suppose those are the two ends of my emotional scale: excessively outraged or overly introspective. Maybe next month’s will be funny? That might be setting myself up for a fall. Plus I think I texted the one good joke I came up with in June to everyone I know, which is to say, everyone subscribed to this: “A bellboy helps a psychoanalyst with their enormous amount of luggage. ’A lot to unpack here!’, he says.” I’m sorry. Take care of yourselves! Goodbye forever!