Monday, December 10, 2012

One is not Born a Capitalist (and Other Patriarchal Misguidings)

Undeniably, women were in the forefront of the 2012 Presidential election. From birth control access to legitimate rape to equal pay, women’s rights were debated and insulted countless times. But, perhaps the most unbelievable, yet telling, gaffe was Mitt Romney’s response to a question about equal pay. When boasting about his work as governor of Massachusetts, Romney wanted to hire more female workers: “I went to a number of women's groups and said, 'Can you help us find folks?' and they brought us whole binders full of women” (Bassett). This statement was not an isolated anomaly; rather, Mitt Romney was merely responding as any trained capitalist would to his situation. In order to present the semblance of equal rights, Romney chose to hire women to fulfill a certain allotment—in short, a quota. Since the women’s liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, women have fought for the right to equal work and equal pay; forty years later, women still only make seventy-seven cents for every dollar that men make (“Pay Equity and Descrimination”). Capitalist moguls, like Romney, venerate the idea of hiring women—women need jobs and they are cheaper. However, the goal of the women’s liberation movement was not to take the jobs men would work, but for lower wages. Equal pay for equal work is a mantra that has long existed in the political discourse. The women’s liberation movement’s goals were exploited for capitalist gains and for patriarchal oppression in the domestic sphere—causing female labor to be dually exploited.

Just a Girl in the World:
Global Capitalist Patriarchy and “Forced Production”

            Prior to the women’s liberation movement, women, largely, did not hold jobs in capitalist industries; typically, women cared for the family or worked as teachers, secretaries, or nurses—so-called “women’s work.” The rise of global capitalism coincided with the rise of women in the workforce. In 1973, Paul Craven and Barry Wellman co-wrote an academic exploration of the beginnings of globalization while attending the University of Toronto. The rise of global communication was not yet a large idea in public discourse, but they coined the idea that communities spread further than physical boundaries defined by public space. They assert:  “Note that we have been careful not to define communities in spatial terms, as areas whose boundaries can be drawn on a map. In considering a community, we can just as easily be talking about a dense, bounded network of enthusiastic stamp collectors as of one of fellow residents in a particular locality” (Craven 76). Coincidentally (or, perhaps, not), the rise of the networked society and globalization began around the same time that women established themselves in the workforce. 
            With industry booming and a new flood of workers in the labor pool, companies saw new potential for profits. Rather than manufacturing goods in the United States, where labor and resources were more expensive, companies began offshoring manufacturing jobs, especially in information technology, in order to offset the costs. According to a United States government report on offshoring, the practice of shipping jobs overseas began as early as the 1960s—the same time as the beginnings of the women’s liberation movement (United States). Information and service jobs replaced the former factory jobs that dominated the United States workforce. Theorist Daniel Bell argues that that this type of economy is a post-industrial society. Bell’s theory remarks, “information work is mostly white-collar employment that, since it involves dealing with people rather than with things, brings promise of greater job satisfaction than hitherto” (Webster 42). Now that the majority of new jobs were not dangerous, dirty, factory jobs, women were, generally, more inclined to leave the home to seek employment with these large companies with the promise of a white collar job in the service sector of the job market.
            Or, perhaps this shift in work conditions was part of a capitalist scheme to hire cheaper workers. Feminist theorist and women’s rights activist Monique Wittig argues that capitalism is a patriarchal construct, which she posits is a system that thrives off of dominance from the top down—just as she asserts that relationships between men and women function. In her essay, “On ne Naît pas une Femme” (“One is not Born a Woman”), Wittig briefly explores the idea of “forced production,” which is how she views the woman’s role of reproduction in heterosexual relationships. She argues, “instead of seeing giving birth as a forced production, we see is as a ‘natural’ process, forgetting that in our societies that births are planned, forgetting that we ourselves are programmed to produce children” (Wittig 129).  The ties between her ideas of capitalism and heterosexual reproduction are eerily similar. Queer theorist Bradley Epps expands on this connection: “For Wittig, of course, capitalism is on a par with patriarchy and heterosexuality, as production is with reproduction, and the concrete subject, fragmented still, remains that by which another social order, more equitable, just, and yes, pleasurable might ever so fugitively be glimpsed” (Epps 428). Both the relationship between a worker and a company and a man and a woman involve a contract of (re)production. The capitalist expects his workers to produce “things” (manufacture goods), while the man expects the woman to produce children—a contract that is dictated by the patriarchal power.
If, indeed, the capitalist system is a patriarchal system, one could argue that offshoring is “forced production” on less powerful countries with weaker economies. Take, for example, the United States’ current relationship with China. The United States’ corporations demand that certain goods be manufactured for a low price in order to sell these goods to consumers for high profit in the United States. This cannot be accomplished domestically because of high material and labor costs, exacerbated by the high cost and standard of living. China, however, does not have the same high wages, and their local access to natural resources, such as precious metals, for manufacturing is paramount. In this metaphoric relationship, the United States is the male and China is the female. Corporations in the United States cannot produce domestically because the high cost makes this production near impossible; Wittig would call a non-productive relationship such as this homosexual. Therefore, in order for production to be feasible, the capitalist corporations must exert their patriarchal ideals by enforcing a dominant relationship on a weaker entity—the female—in this case, China.

Man, I feel Like a Woman:
Unemployment in the Gender Wage Gap

While capitalist enterprises have profited from exploiting, and feminizing, less developed countries’ labor, the same practice currently occurs domestically. In her article, “The Feminization of Labour in Cognitive Capitalism," Christina Morini connects globalization and feminization of labor, through Saskia Sassen, an Italian globalization expert:
“Saskia Sassen postulates the idea of ‘the existence of a systemic relationship between the globalization and feminization of paid work,’ in the sense that ‘the productive structures that cannot be transferred offshore and must operate where demand exists, can use a female workforce, whereas the structures which lend themselves to being  transferred abroad can use lower-paid workforces in less developed countries.” (Morini 41)
When the work is unable to be shipped offshore, companies elect to hire cheaper labor domestically in order to cut costs. Generally speaking, this cheaper labor is from an oppressed class—such as women or minorities.
This brings the conversation back to Mitt Romney’s comment on “binders full of women.” Why would Romney, a conservative capitalist with conservative gender role values, choose to seek out women to hire? Surely, one could argue that he wanted to fulfill some diversity quota, but his likely motives go much deeper. According to The Huffington Post, Bain Capital is a privately traded company and is not required to disclose the salaries of any board members. However, during the time that Romney was running Bain Capital, “all 95 vice presidents of the firm were white, and only nine were women” (Wilkie). Unfortunately, Romney’s female-oppressive business enterprises do not end at his Bain Capital board. He still currently owns large shares of Bain Capital, and most notably, he “owns about $8 million worth of Bain funds that holds 51 percent of Sensata’s shares” (“Bain Capital”). Sensata is a Bain Capital owned sensor and control technologies factory with four locations throughout China. These four factories notoriously work the employees twelve hours a day, seven days a week, for wages equivalent to about $0.99-$1.35 per hour. Of the approximately 3,000 employees at these factories, over 95% are women. The female employees “believe that management prefers to hire females because they are thought to be easier to control” (“Bain Capital”). Arguably, since Romney has such a large sum of money invested in these factories, it is of his best interest to keep labor costs as low as possible. He does this by hiring women, who are more likely to comply with the oppressive and demanding workload, dictated by American male management. This large-scale employment of only females is not an isolated representation. In fact, employment of women in America has also been showing some interesting trends.
            The current economic recession has caused the highest unemployment rates since the great depression. According to the National Women’s Law Center, in June 2009, the peak of the worst economic times, the unemployment rate for women was 7.6%; the unemployment rate for men, however, was 9.9% (“Stronger Recovery Reaching Women”).  Since, on average, employers pay women only seventy seven percent of what they pay men across all sectors, this statistic is not surprising. Women were more likely to hold onto their jobs during the recession simply because their jobs did not cost as much to keep.
            While this may seem like good news for women in the workforce, it is not. Realistically, the low wages and (comparatively) low unemployment rates are further evidence that female labor is being exploited for capitalist gains. Morini extrapolates this idea: “Capitalism has aimed, in general terms, to appropriate for itself polyvalence, multi-activity, and the quality of female labor, exploiting thereby the experience brought by women which stems from their historic function in the realm of reproduction and domestic work” (Morini 42). The role of a woman as the submissive domestic servant has crossed the line into the workplace, where women are now expected to submit to the dominant, patriarchal capitalist employers.
            Many may argue that there are plenty of female exceptions to this wage gap and that many CEOs are women. However, upon examining the Forbes “400 Richest Americans” list, the true gender gap is quite apparent. In a world where money is power, women simply just do not have power. Among the top twenty richest people on the Forbes list, only three are women—and all three are heiresses to either the Wal-Mart or Mars Candy fortunes. Yes—none of the women on the top twenty earned their fortunes in the traditional sense. If the list is examined further, only thirteen of the top one hundred richest people are women. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “Women are almost half of the workforce. They are the equal, if not main, breadwinner in four out of ten families” (“Pay and Equity Discrimination”). If women were paid equal pay for equal work, as most companies claim that women are, then the Forbes list should be split fairly equally between the genders. However, a mere thirteen percent of the one hundred richest Americans are women. Perhaps the most disheartening fact in this statistic is that none of the thirteen women in the Forbes top one hundred have self-made wealth; they are all heiresses to fortunes earned by their late husbands or fathers.
            Despite any façade that corporations may attempt to erect in order to present a semblance of equality, women are still treated as inferior fixtures in the workforce. While women have taken tremendous strides to close the gender gap since the women’s liberation movement, the predominant and obvious inadequacy of compensation, despite gender, still dominates the (feminist) political discourse.  Perhaps most disheartening, however, is the domestic patriarchal oppression that still exists, despite any and all advancements that women have made in the workforce.

Run the World, Girls:
Working in (and out) of the Home

            Despite any gains that women have made in the employment sector, traditional gender roles are still rampant in the domestic sphere. Even in current times, women are still expected to do the bulk of the housework—cooking, cleaning, and tending to children. While seventy two percent of women hold full-time jobs outside of the home, their expected housework has, largely, remained unchanged in modern times.
            In the case study, “Working Hard and Hardly Working: Domestic Labor and Marital Satisfaction among Dual-Earner Couples” in The Journal of Marriage and Family, household gender roles were examined in a variety of relationships. In the majority of cases, men did significantly less work in the home than women. The study states:
“Both men who earn more than their partners and men who earn less tend to do less household labor but for different reasons. If men earn more than their partners, they view their responsibility as 'breadwinner' as compensating for doing housework. It is argued that men who earn less than their partners eschew housework to protect and assert their threatened masculinity. If partners’ incomes are roughly equal, men tend to contribute proportionately more to housework, but not much more than their male counterparts who earn substantially more or less than their partners.” (Stevens 515)
This study demonstrates that the gender divide—as well as prescribed, sexist gender roles—are still at work in the domestic sphere, despite any gains in the public sphere. Unfortunately, this shows very little change from the time that Wittig wrote “The Category of Sex,” which was first published in Feminist Issues in 1982. She stated: “it is the fate of women to perform three-quarters of the work of society (in the public as well as in the private domain), plus the bodily work of reproduction according to a pre-established rate” (Wittig 124). While men and women seem to split the household work slightly more than they did prior to the feminist movement, the split is far from the near equal representation of genders that can be seen in the workplace.
            In addition to the responsibility of maintaining the home, women also have the cultural expectation to reproduce and raise children. In the capitalist mindset, reproduction is paramount to the success of the economy. Women are expected to produce children because women are the exploited laborers in the capitalist economy—in two ways. First, as established earlier, women work the lower-paying jobs that men do not. The other is by producing children, who are future workers. Societal expectations proliferate the capitalist ideal that women must reproduce in order to increase the existing labor pool.
 However, since seventy-two percent of women work outside of the home, nannies are an increasingly popular option for working families. This, in turn, outsources the domestic labor to an outside worker—often, another woman from a Third World country. Morini sees this outsourcing as problematic:
“If women in the First World make a career for themselves and devote a great deal of time to demanding professions, their nannies and helpers, who arrive as a result of the increasing demand for help at home which has become a veritable industry, are experiencing similar but far bigger situation. That two women work to earn money is perhaps a lovely idea, but that two working mothers devote themselves entirely to work is a lovely idea, which has gone too far. When all is said and done, women from both the First World and the Third World are pawns in a far wider-reaching economic game for which they didn’t write the rules” (Morini 41).
This economic game is global, capitalist patriarchy, which has spread to the far corners of the earth, forcing women of both First and Third world countries to surrender their labor to capitalism in order to survive. Wittig argues that this exploitation has caused a rift in the goals of the feminist movement. She argues: “This means that the ‘masses’ did not fight for themselves, but for the party or its organizations” (Wittig 133), meaning that women did not fight for their rights, but were rather fighting for the capitalist enterprise which has, in turn, exploited their labor.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Big Brother is Watching You(r Internet)

The idea of government surveillance is relatively old news. The Patriot Act destroyed any semblance of privacy that we had prior, all in the name of homeland security. But now that we share more information than ever with each other on the Internet, the government can feasibly find out much more about us through simple surveillance.

Sure, most of us have nothing to hide. But it becomes a little frightening when we consider that "from January to June of 2012, government officials made 20,938 inquiries about 34,614 specific accounts. These figures were higher than those reported in the previous report" (Fitzgerald). The government can make these requests to Google for many purposes, but the most common reason is for crime investigation.

The good news is, if you really feel that you have something to hide, there is a new app that will encrypt all data so that you are virtually impervious to government surveillance. This app, called Silent Circle, holds no user data and creates a system that is reminiscent of spy movies' self-destructing messages: 
The encryption is peer to peer, which means that Silent Circle doesn’t centrally hold a key that can be used to decrypt people’s messages or phone calls. Each phone generates a unique key every time a call is made, then deletes it straight after the call finishes. When sending text messages or images, there is even a “burn” function, which allows you to set a time limit on anything you send to another Silent Circle user—a bit like how “this tape will self destruct” goes down in Mission: Impossible, but without the smoke or fire. (Gallagher)
This system, while it may seem impractical and unnecessary, is an example of the future if government surveillance continues its upward trend. The people will continually try to combat the perceived threat of government surveillance, even if the threat is not directed specifically at the developers of this software. If capitalism has taught us anything, if there is a demand, somebody will fill it.

Works Cited
Fitzgerald, Britney. "Google Transparency Report Shows Government Surveillance On The Rise In 2012." The Huffington Post., 14 Nov. 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <>.
Gallagher, Ryan. "Silent Circle Promises to Make Encryption Easy for Everyone." Slate Magazine. N.p., 16 Oct. 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <>.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Corporate Personhood and the Fall of Hostess

I'll be the first to admit that I haven't had a Twinkie or Hostess Cupcake in over a decade--ever since I found out that they use beef fat in the production of their faux cream filling. However, the collapse of this refined sugar snack cake empire is much more than the death of the 82 year old processed food giant; the demise of Hostess signals the beginning of the end of unionized labor and national support for union workers.

It was difficult for me to watch the news as the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union workers strike. The workers recently had a large pay and benefit cut, after working in an industry that often touted the ineffable job security. The non-union corporate employees, however, saw pay increases and new negotiations, despite the company's financial woes in the past decade. Still, nobody saw the end of the snack cake industry coming in this way. Twinkies were supposed to be able to survive the nuclear apocalypse, right?

The biggest issue I have with this whole Hostess debacle is the way that it is being publicized. This brings me to my main point. Rather than the media citing the mismanagement of the company's finances, the high prices of sugar, or the inability to change and stay relevant in a time of healthier eating, media outlets continuously blamed the "greedy" union employees for going on strike and causing the collapse of some 18,500 jobs. Representative Jim McDermott says, "It's typical--Always blame the workers. If you don't invest in your business, if you don't continue to make reinvestments...If a business doesn't continue to reinvest in new equipment and modernize, they will ultimately go bankrupt. And this is a perfect example" (Politicalarticles).

This brings me to the Occupy movement and the inability for a majority of Americans to see what corporate America is doing to good jobs. Rather than supporting union workers and fighting for higher wages (as generations before had always done when workers went on strike), we are continually blaming these workers for the fall of the company. They should be grateful they even have a job is a defense I hear many people say, Just take the cut and be thankful it isn't any worse.

It is this mindset exactly that has gotten us into this situation. Rather than calling out the corporations for the greedy, economy destroying pigs that they are, we blame the workers who barely make $40,000 per year. The employees got nothing when the company liquidated, but the executives got paid huge bonuses, despite their mismanagement. 18,000 workers have no jobs right before the holidays, but the corporation would rather cut them loose and keep their cash. Corporate personhood and trickle down economics have taught us that these companies are good for us and will save our economy if we let them have free reign of the economy. I beg anybody who sees these corporations, Hostess included, as a viable and stable economic option to reconsider the source. Corporate greed is at an all time high, while unemployment is at the worst rates it has seen since the great depression. Profits are soaring, CEO wages are so far past the glass ceiling that laymen will never comprehend, and yet people are continuously unemployed as industries completely disintegrate. Blame the corporations-- not the union workers-- for this mess. Our future jobs depend on it.

Work Cited

De La Merced, Michael J. "As Labor Talks Collapse, Hostess Turns Out Lights." New York Times, 16 Nov. 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2012. <>.

Politicalarticles. "Plutocratic Greed: Fat Bonuses Approved For 19 Hostess Brand Executives.YouTube. YouTube, 30 Nov. 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <>.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Will a sex robot take YOUR job?

While considering the ideas of digital capitalism and the outsourcing of work to robots, I stumbled upon an article in the Huffington Post about sex robots, and how sex with robots may be a viable option for people who choose not to engage in sex with "meat bags," or humans. The article cites that the reasons for the need of a sex robot are not limited to but include the need for longevity, as well as plain old better sex. The article states:
"[Sexbots will] be more desirable, patient, eager, and altruistic than their meat-bag competition, plus they’ll be uploaded with supreme sex-skills from millennia of erotic manuals, archives and academic experiments, and their anatomy will feature sexplosive devices... They’ll offer us quadruple-tongued cunnilingus, open-throat silky fellatio, deliriously gentle kissing, transcendent nipple tweaking, g-spot massage & prostate milking dexterity, plus 2,000 varieties of coital rhythm with scented lubes" (Jauregui).
This idea immediately reminded me of Hirschl's ideas surrounding robot labor replacing traditional forms of labor. While sex robots are not immediately threatening most of our jobs, the idea still holds some relevance. Consider the work of a prostitute. While prostitutes provide a service, I would not immediately call the work of a prostitute to be a desirable job in the information society. Rather, prostitution, like many manual labor jobs, is an undesirable job, reserved for low-class workers.

Now, consider these sex robots. If these sex robots can perform better and, arguably, safer than prostitutes, an entire sector of the economy (whether legal or illegal) faces massive unemployment, which pushes these workers further outside of the labor market. What jobs are left for prostitutes once they are unemployed?

While this entire idea may seem unrelated and completely out of the context of this course, I beg to disagree. Labor, whether legal or illegal, is still labor. This sector of the economy is still necessary in order to employ people who would, otherwise, not have jobs.

Works Cited

Davis, Jim, Thomas A. Hirschl, and Michael Stack. Cutting Edge: Technology, Information Capitalism and Social Revolution. London: Verso, 1997. Print.

Jauregui, Andres. "Sex Robot 'Longevity Orgasms' May Help Extend Human Life Spans, Futurists Suggest." The Huffington Post., 09 Nov. 2012. Web. 11 Nov. 2012. <>.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Robot Teachers and the Perdition of Capitalism

In the essay, “Structural Employment and the Qualitative Transformation of Capitalism,” Thomas Hirshl examines how new electronic technology’s prevalence has shifted the dynamics of traditional capitalism. He posits: “if electronics technology replaces labor, where will the jobs be in ‘information capitalism?’” (160).  Increasingly, jobs are replaced by newer technologies; a job that used to take three people to complete now only needs one person and a technologically advanced machine. While it may not be able to fully answer Hirschl’s question, it cannot be denied that our economic situation is quickly approaching a point that people really should be asking themselves: where will the jobs go?
Before the service and information worker emergence, all jobs were tied directly to production. In order to make money, somebody had to produce something of value. Then, service and information jobs emerged, and while still tied to some sort of production, these jobs are non-productive; that is, they do not produce capital that is worth any value. Hirshl states that “only a small fraction of the workforce is actually engaged in producing value, with the rest otherwise engaged in industries that perform functions other than the production of value such as services (although some services produces value) and retail trade” (166). However precarious these service jobs may seem, the proliferation of service jobs seems to indicate that these jobs are good jobs and they will be around for a long time. After all, we will always need tech support, doctors, and teachers, right?

Perhaps not. In 2009, Japan began testing a “teacher robot” named Saya. Saya looks human and can display emotion. She can even teach elementary school students biology:

While the inventor of the robot, Professor Hiroshi Kobayashi of Tokyo University of Science, claims that the robot was not built to replace teachers, the logic seems faulty. After saying that these teachers will only be present when a teacher cannot come to class, or to teach about technology by using technology, Professor Kobayashi adds, candidly, "In the countryside and in some small schools, there are children who do not have the opportunity to come into contact with new technology and also there are few teachers out there that can teach these lessons” (Demetriou). Rather than educating teachers and providing incentives for these teachers to teach in these remote areas, Professor Kobayashi, perhaps unintentionally, shows that these robots can, indeed, take the jobs of teachers.

Interestingly, prior to Saya’s job as a teacher, she was programmed to be a receptionist at a Japanese company (Demetriou). While it is not apparent why she was reprogrammed, it is obvious that Saya’s job is to replace human labor—whether that labor is teaching or answering phones. Hirshl had foresight on this possiblility and commented on the computers that the Japanese were designing that can read, understand speech, interpret, and act with human gestures. He argued, “If successful, this machine could become a powerful tool for performing functions currently performed by humans in manufacturing and service industries” (159). This technology that Hirschl wrote about 10 year prior to Saya’s unveiling, is no longer a fantasy; Saya is now a substitute teacher in some test schools in Japan. Steven Colbert comments on Saya: (start at 1:30)

Colbert jokingly argues, “Come on Japan! Classrooms are not supposed to be run by mindless automotons! They’re supposed to make them” (Colbert).  The education system has long been a means to produce more workers, but if these workers are no longer needed because they are replaced by other robots like Saya, then what is the value of Saya’s education? Nothing if this knowledge cannot be put back into labor. Hirsch argues, “a common believe is that future jobs will be in the information industry itself, for example, in computer programming” (160). Yes, Saya and other robots will need humans to reprogram them and continue innovating the technology; however, if all other labor is replaced by these increasingly smart robots, there will no longer be a capitalist society.

This quick-to-adapt mentality that new technology has imposed upon us is truly creating its own conundrum. Hirschl points out that “Adopting these technologies… increases unemployment, heightens realization crisis, and thereby sets the competitive conditions encouraging another round of technological adoption.  This cyclical process defines the ‘final’ decline of capitalism” (164). Capitalism cannot continue to exist if technology continues to replace information labor. The answer to Hirshl’s initial question (where will the jobs be?) is in his own essay. If we choose to adapt this new technology with no boundaries and robots not only teach classes, but also assemble goods and provide tech support, then capitalism will no longer exist. The entire economic structure will have to change and see a revolution. There will be no jobs in information capitalism if the new electronics technology does, indeed,  replace labor as we know it.

Works Cited

5 X Five - Colbert Nation. Perf. Steven Colbert. Colbert Nation. N.p., 9 July 2012. Web. 30 Oct. 2012. <>.

Demitriou, Danielle. "Robot Teacher Conducts First Class in Tokyo School." The Telegraph. N.p., 12 May 2009. Web. 30 Oct. 2012. <>.

Hirschl, Thomas.  “Structural Unemployment and the Qualitative Transformation of Capitalism.” Davis, et al.  157-174. Davis J., T. Hirschl, and M. Stack, eds.  Cutting Edge: Technology, Information, Capitalism and Social Revolution.  London: Verso, 1997.  Print.

Japanese School Tests Robot Teacher. YouTube. YouTube, 13 May 2009. Web. 30 Oct. 2012. <>.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fritz Lang Predicted this in 1927...

Chapter 10 of Cutting Edge (“Structural Unemployment and the Qualitative Transformation of Capitalism”) examines Marx’s theory of capitalist development through Thomas Hirschl, with a strong focus on the [im]possibility of social revolution in a capitalist society.  Marx argues, “[A]n era of social revolution begins when the technological capacity of society supersedes or becomes too productive for the existing property relations” (Davis 158). Social revolution, then, will only occur if society becomes more technologically advanced than the current system in place. 

In the 1927 Fritz Lang film, Metropolis, an entire society of proletariat workers lives below the beautiful city of wealthy people, called Metropolis. These people live below the city and work 10 hour shifts of grueling labor. If a worker fails to do his job properly, "the machine" becomes upset and devours human sacrifices in order to keep functioning. The work, is, no doubt, grueling, and the people are quite obviously miserable. Yet, they march in like soldiers (or, eerily similar to holocaust victims) to their day at work (see 5:20 in the clip below). 

These workers are employed, and by any capitalist definition, these workers should be happy. However, they are slaves to the machines that they built when they built the city. According to Hirschl:
"As more and more firms in the economy adopt these technologies, the total amount of productive labor in the system declines, and the rate of profit falls. This increases unemployment, heightens realization crises, and thereby sets the competitive conditions encouraging another round of technological adoption. This cyclical process defines the 'final' decline of capitalism" ( 164).
Since this film was made in 1927 in Germany, Lang was probably unaware of the true capitalist implications of his film. However, if examined closely, the capitalist motives are quite clear. Joh Frederson, father of the protagonist, Freder Frederson, is a wealthy man who lives high above the workers' city in a skyscraper modeled after the Tower of Babel. He knows that the workers have rebelled before, when they built the original city, and does not want another social revolution. He has made the workers live below the city and man the machines constantly, rather than lives productive lives:

Watch from 15:40-19:38:

It is unclear exactly what the machines do, but it is later stated that the machines help the city run. However, the machines seem to be able to work on their own. Rather, the machine system was set up as a way for the capitalist bourgeoisie to control the proletariat workers in order to prevent another social revolution. Instead of leaving the workers unemployed, as the machines could have done, and allowing citizens to realize the impending social crisis, this system of non-productive labor has held the workers in captivation, worry, and servitude. By working 10 hours a day, a revolution cannot be planned among the workers. They are upset, unhappy, and tired, but nothing can be done because the machines need to keep running for them to stay alive.

The film continues when a beautiful woman named Maria gets replaced by a robot with her likeness. This robot is controlled by an evil scientist who wants the workers to revolt against Joh Frederson. Only with this final push, even though this push is also from a machine, are the workers able to have a successful revolution.

While this example is over eighty years old, it is a great example of capitalism and technology at work--long before the crisis we are in today.

Works Cited

Davis, Jim, Thomas A. Hirschl, and Michael Stack. Cutting Edge: Technology, Information Capitalism and Social Revolution. London: Verso, 1997. Print.

Metropolis. Dir. Fritz Lang. UFA, 1926. DVD.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Paradox?

Chapter 3 of Cutting Edge discusses why robots and machines cannot create value in the economy. This question has puzzled me for some time due to the various politics involved; however, this chapter caused me to reconsider a new question, one which may turn into a much larger research question this semester. This question is:

If we outsource labor to other countries overseas and employ people for jobs that can easily be done by machines, is it truly fiscally advantageous to employ these people rather than producing these items domestically with mechanical labor?
I have a lot of trouble comprehending how a company can afford to ship products over thousands of miles of ocean, build buildings in faraway countries, employ people for (low) wages, and operate globally for less money than it would cost to produce these items domestically with robots and machines.

At the same time, the Marxist in me knows that labor is the true source of any value in an economy. In a global capitalist economy, somebody needs to be working in order for the goods to have any value. Without workers, nobody has money to purchase these items that the large, conglomerate, global corporations are creating and forcing us to need. This "need" that these corporations are forcing upon us has become more apparent with the rise of horrible propaganda-esque commercials from companies such as Apple. 

Apple commercials seem, themselves, to be a parody of a commercial. They tout the amazing value of this super-technological devise that will revolutionize the way that we live and think about life. Strangely, the iPhone rarely has a large change, and often withholds back some features that other companies already have on their devises in order to release them on future updates and devises for a "new and improved" rhetoric. The commercials also tout that the iPhone is so precise that only a machine can assemble it and place the pieces together. 

Apple commercials are so easy to be parodied. Here is an example of the iPhone 5 parody:

However, as evidenced by recent news with Foxconn, people are, indeed, employed by Apple and are assembling these devises. Why doesn't Apple advertise that these items are "handmade"? In the past, handmade used to be a selling point for many items. A purse could be worth twice as much if it was hand-stitched; paintings are more valuable if painted by hand instead of a mechanical reproduction. Yet, Apple seems to want to hide this very important detail. 

My theory behind this idea is still shaky, but I think there is some merit in the underlying ideas. First, Caffentzis says that "No machine can create new value nor transfer more value to its product than it loses... For machines are not seen as producers of force or energy in either tradition; they merely transform, more or less efficiently, input forces or energies" (40). However, Apple seems to want people to think that the machines are what make this item valuable. When, in reality, the machines are simply accessories to the human labor and knowledge labor that go into creating an Apple device, such as the iPhone.

If you look at videos from Foxconn, you may notice that the employees are not doing finite, detailed labor; that is left to the machines. Yet, the people can be seen boxing up iPads and cleaning screens. These are things that machines could easily do, yet Foxconn has people doing it. Foxconn employs people in China for as cheap as any nation will allow. These people work for pennies a day, live in dormitories, and work for twelve hour shifts, several days in a row. But, these people need to be employed in order for the iPhone to have any value whatsoever. 

If machines were the sole producers of the iPhone, as Apple wants us to believe, where would these 1.3 million Foxconn employees find work? How will the people that provide services for these employees find work? How will domestic service/knowledge employees find work? If everything becomes automated, we will no longer be in a capitalist society, by definition. In order to be capitalist, the people need capital in order to buy goods.

Apple still wants us to believe that machines are doing the labor so that we (the consumers) do not question the ethics behind producing these products. If we question the ethics, we may choose not to buy. Or, even worse, we may demand that they move domestically and employ us for this work--at much higher wages. This, in turn, will only drive up the value of the iPhone, yet make it less desirable because of its high cost.

The ethics that go into balancing such a capitalist society are very skewed, gray, and confusing. I see that we are in flux of some sort of revolution. Will the machines take over as we move into a different, perhaps socialist economy where the government supports the people and machines manufacture the goods that we need? Or will capitalism repair itself into something that is more stable?

Work Cited

Davis, Jim, Thomas A. Hirschl, and Michael Stack. Cutting Edge: Technology, Information Capitalism and Social Revolution. London: Verso, 1997. Print.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Iowa and Nebraska: Land of Remediation and Public Discourse

At the peak of United States westward expansion, advertisements flooded local print sources, enticing the most adventurous citizens to abandon all sense of comfort in the settled eastern cities of the country and relocate to the unknown New Frontier. In order to attract the otherwise complacent city dwellers, these advertisements offered the promise of cheap land, freedom, and new adventure to any person who was willing to venture westward. I will be examining one such advertisement, originally published in 1872 and displayed at the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad Company, which depicts the unknown lands of Iowa and Nebraska. Great effort goes into making the New Frontier look as appetizing as possible; low interest rates, inexpensive land, a stunning landscape, and the promise of free room and board to potential buyers demonstrate how desperate the Burlington and Missouri River Rail Road Company (as well as the land commissioner) was to seduce adventurous citizens into the west. This advertisement parallels topics in the politics of information, such as remediation and the public sphere.

The Western Fantasy and the Remediated Self
            The excitement of an adventure into the unknown lands of the unexplored western United States may have been alluring at first glance, but the citizens at the time were well aware of the danger involved in relocating to the hostile lands of the west. Native Americans, who were forced out of their homelands to this western frontier, were not interested in entertaining new guests on their subpar land. The newspapers had, undoubtedly, informed potential settlers about the dangers of traveling unaccompanied into the west. It was the job of these advertisements to circumvent the negative press and still convince people that the west is the new place to be. In the book, Remediation, by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, the remediated self is discussed through the concept of virtual reality. However, the remediated self is present in prior media applications, not just the new media present in video games and internet-based social activity.

            In this 1872 advertisement, a colorized photograph depicts the wide landscape of Iowa and Nebraska—a land completely abstract and unfamiliar to viewers of this advertisement. According to Bolter and Grusin, “we see ourselves today in and through our available media. When we look at a traditional photograph or a perspective painting, we understand ourselves as the reconstituted station point of the artist or the photographer” (231). By extension, we can assert that this holds true for media prior to the 1999 publication of this book. The photograph on the advertisement draws the viewer into an early media based version of virtual reality, which, in turn, remediates the viewer of the advertisement. While this advertisement is by no means virtual reality in the sense of three-dimensional animation and virtual submersion, the same effect is achieved by the panoramic perspective and light colorization.

            For a viewer in 1870, the presence of a photograph in an advertisement would seem exciting, novel, and innovative; photography was not widespread as drawings were cheaper and simpler to reproduce in the 19th century. Colorizing this photograph, however lightly, causes the photograph to come to life—one step closer to virtual reality. Bolter and Grusin argue, “In a virtual environment, we have the freedom to alter our selves by altering our point of view and to empathize with others by occupying their point of view” (232), which is exactly what a curious and adventurous individual would do in 1870 while viewing this advertisement. The promise of empty acres for thousands of miles, beautiful green plains, and economic stability could transport any enthusiastic adventurer to an augmented reality with the visual stimulation of a photograph.

Inclusivity and the Emergence of the New Public Sphere
            The new expansion into the west would not have been successful if the companies that sold the land did not promise a dramatic lifestyle and status change for the potential new landowners. Prior to the 1800s, the bourgeoisie held all political power in the public realm. In his dissertation, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, Jürgen Habermas argues that this bourgeoisie power met its demise and a new public discourse emerged: “In its clash with the arcane and bureaucratic practices of the absolutist state, the emergent bourgeoisie gradually replaced a public sphere in which the ruler’s power was merely represented before the people . . .” (xi). Still, in order for a person to have any political say, despite any idealistic attitudes about inclusivity, the person would have to be a male landowner. Land was not cheap on the populated eastern United States; however, the westward expansion offered the opportunity for large expanses of land to be purchased for low interest rates and extremely cheaply.

            Habermas argues that newly emerging public spheres have three requisites in common: disregard of social status, domain of common concern, and inclusivity (36). The western frontier was a catalyst for this new public sphere, and the 1872 advertisement illustrates many of these qualifications.

First, the disregard of social status is demonstrated several times on the advertisement. The advertisement offers land “At 6 per ct. interest and low prices. Only one-seventh of principal due annually, beginning four years after purchase” (“Millions of Acres”). Financial woes were not of concern to the sellers of this untainted land; even poor families could afford to own several acres in Iowa and Nebraska. Additionally, the advertisement touts that “Free rooms for buyers to board themselves” (“Millions of Acres”), further demonstrating that a potential future landowner would not need to have the ability to house himself while waiting for the land to be purchased. Finally, the advertisement’s top border announces, “Products will pay for land and improvements!” (“Millions of Acres”), which emphasizes that the land will pay for itself and that no supplemental income will be needed. A potential landowner would, ideally, face no financial or status discrimination under the condition that he enters this contract to settle the land in Iowa and Nebraska.

Second, the domain of common concern is evident in the 1872 advertisement through the land commissioner and the Burlington and Missouri River Rail Road Company’s use of logos. The company provides several reasons, as outlined in the previous paragraph, as to why the land in Iowa and Nebraska can be affordable for anybody, not just the bourgeoisie. Additionally, the left border of the advertisement includes the statement: “Circulars are supplied gratis for distribution in organizing colonies and to induce individuals to emigrate to the West” (“Millions of Acres”), which illustrates the agenda of the advertisement clearly; the land commissioner clearly outlines that the advertisement itself is freely distributed with the agenda of settling and organizing western colonies. The domain of common concern is the need for western settlement, which is the scaffolding for the potential, emerging public sphere of the west.

            The final requisite for the newly emerging public sphere is inclusivity. This shares many overlaps with the domain of common concern and disregard of social status. However, the key use of the word “colonies” in the advertisement demonstrates that the land commissioner does not want people to simply venture out into the west alone, but rather form communities of people with the common interest of the western settlement. By filling all three requisites, according to Habermas, for a newly emerging public sphere, this advertisement demonstrates that the public sphere in the newly expanding west was possible, and not just a Utopian ideal.

            This 1872 advertisement surely enticed the adventurous into the land of the unknown: the western frontier. Through the use of virtual reality, the remediated self was a form of visual stimulation that was present for viewers of this advertisement. Unknowingly, excited viewers transported themselves into the photograph of the beautiful, expansive, and green landscape of the Iowa and Nebraska plains. Through the use of rhetoric, the advertisement also (perhaps, unknowingly) advertised the emergence of a new society and a new public sphere in the west. The land commissioner and the Burlington and Missouri River Rail Road Company were successful, from an informatics standpoint, in their attempt to attract new settlers into the colonies of the west—a place as feared as it was romanticized. 

Works Cited
Bolter, J. David, and Richard A. Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2000. Print.
Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge: MIT, 1991. Print.
"Millions of Acres”. Vintage Industry Ads of the 1870s. Ed. Phillip Lenssen. N.p., 2010. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <>.