Affective Labour: Work With Mates

work with mates

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Who can guess where this photo was taken (04/07/06)?

First, look at the image. Three people; one male and two females. All are quite young. It seems as if they are laying on the ground (on their stomachs). They are all laughing. The blue sky is in the background. Life, it seems, is good.

The ad was out the front of a McDonald’s. Not just any McDonald’s, but one of the ‘Jilliby’ twin McDonald’s on the left and right sides of the main Sydney to Newcastle Freeway. What does the image do?

Firstly, it attempts to capture the affects of larking about. Paul Willis’s classic study of working class lads was an ethnographic project that examined how and why working class kids got working class jobs. ‘Larking about’ was a kind of self-defeating defence mechanism against the brutalities of the labour market (and “ear ‘oles”) and was learnt during the kids’ schooling years. In this image ‘larking about’ is valorised; there is no indication of workplace discipline. That is, unless you read “Have a laugh” as less a suggestion and more as a directive.

Secondly, the clothing of the two people on the left is telling. I think they are both wearing white, or at least the male subject is, I am not sure about the female on the left. White is traditionally a colour that differentiates its wearer from the dirty mucking about of working class culture. Paradoxically that is why working class youth wear pristine white shoes and white baseball caps around where I used to live in Parramatta.

Third, the arrangement of the three. The left female propped (just) over the shoulder of the male thus giving the impression they are laying together. These two are the ‘good looking’ ones. While the second female, who also appears to be of a larger build, enters the frame from the side, on more of an acute angle relative to the other two.

Lastly, the composition is valorised not through the representation of ‘having a laugh’, but the appearance of the camera in the bottom right. Representation itself is not enough to indicate that something is desireable. Again, like the mobile phones in The Fast and the Furious Tokyo Drift, the camera serves as to valorise the scene through its promise of virtualisation. A particular future is being repeated as a false memory (simulacra), which is captured through the affective topologies of what could be called ‘Kodak moments’. The promise of technologically mediated memory is being used to condition the present by heralding a certain future. The logic: Take a photo, this is a memory; They are taking a photo, therefore it must be memorable; This is not your memory, but it could be! 

There is little to do with reality in this image. No mention of third degree burns from deep friers, obese customers getting angry the soft serve machine being stuffed, learing drunk propositions, stupid casual shift hours, and so on. The privilege is given to capturing the affects culturally associated with a certain life script: youth. The image attempts to literally operate as an apparatus of capture for cheaper youth labour. When I saw this image I thought to myself, surely it wouldn’t work, and actual youth would see through the bullshit. Yet, now, the more I think about it, in the current era of youth depression and the dead-end future of un-skilled labour, the image’s promise of ‘having a laugh’ and having ‘mates’ to laugh with may actually be seductive…

3 replies on “Affective Labour: Work With Mates”

  1. Congrats on getting the new blog up – it looks spiffo.

    I love how it took you 300 words or so to say ‘hey, that’s a stupid ad’ but the analysis, I figure, is spot on. They’re selling the job via the lifestyle, which may or may not be as good as it sounds. That picture, also, reminds me of a particular American painter I can’t remember the name of – the guy who painted those ever-so-slightly disturbing pictures of happy people in idyllic surroundings.

  2. a) moved back the other week; end of semester 1.
    b) I think Glen and I had a drink, but no party. Just went off to *insert name of popular conference* and never came back.
    c) PhD is going well. 60k & poised to rise.

    Perth is party-town atm, but I’ll be back for PG reviews for a few days on break week, then full-time Sydney-side maybe early ’07. I’ll let you know when I’m headed your way next, at any rate.

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