Dollhouses of Doom

 

Library

 

Happy Halloween from ethnography.com! Nothing says Halloween like this series of photos featuring post-apocalyptic dioramas by photographer Lori Nix. My favorites are the library (of course) and the laundromat at night.

As Americans Go to the Polls, Here is a Little Wisdom about Voting Cows from Max Weber

Cows2

As Americans get ready to vote on November 2 for all range of important stuff, it may help to ruminate a bit on Max Weber’s incisive word “Voting Cows,” Stimmvieh.  As you go to the polls, please don’t be like me–

How Working at a Community College is Like Working Retail

Adjuncts Unite

Expectations are a pain in the ass. There’s an old saying, “plant an expectation, reap a disappointment.”  Yep I did it, planted and am now disappointed. I teach Sociology at a rural community college; I love teaching, but I don’t love that adjunct teachers like me are temporary, at-will employees.

Who knew that the working conditions at a community college would be the same as they were when I was a bookseller, housekeeper, caregiver, fast food worker, and waitress? How did I wind up with the part-time shift again, scrambling for hours (classes) so I can keep up with the fuckin’ bills?

Go ahead call me naïve, I was. I was warned by my profs in my grad program about the local community college, “they never keep the good people,” one of them said. “That’s the ultimate system of social reproduction,” said another. I liked the “good people” comment and was determined to be a “keeper.” Naïve me, I assumed that education was going to be a different sort of work environment, that it would be more fair and equitable than the crappy low-wage service jobs of my uneducated past. It’s hard not to laugh at me cynically and with sadness; perhaps some understanding as you read this. Now I know that labor practices at a community college don’t differ much from what they were at Barnes and Noble–my last job before entering the elite world of the professional middle class.

To illustrate it’s important to note that labor costs comprise the biggest chunk of a business’s expenses; a community college is the same, the fewer benefits and salaried hours paid out the better. In California, adjunct faculty earn about 56 cents on the dollar of a full-time faculty, don’t have benefits, and don’t take up a lot of space except for the classrooms where they do their work; more adjuncts = massive salary savings. Moreover, limited access to resources creates competition, fear, and resentment among employees very similar to what I observed about the divisions amongst the retail employees that worked either full or part-time at Barnes and Noble.

This division benefits the community college (and business) because conflict among the ranks prevents employees from noticing their exploitation. In an academic workplace adjunct faculty manage an inconsistent status, having power and authority in the classroom the same as their tenured peers while also aware that they lack benefits and are working out of their cars instead of offices. This is where labor practices differ. At Barnes and Noble a low-ranked bookseller with limited responsibilities got paid accordingly; at the community college however, all of us faculty share the same level of responsibilities, but 70% of us are paid a pittance in comparison to our tenured peers. Adjuncts are a secret working poor (we know but students and non-academics do not), and we earn anywhere from $13,000-25,000 a year (and that’s an estimate, many earn less and few earn much more). In my last year at Barnes and Noble I earned $23,000.

The common piece of these not-so-different work environments is the fact that we serve “customers.” Faculty dislike being asked to call our students customers, but its part of the new business-tinted lingo of the community college, one that sees students as consumers of a service. It makes me feel like I should thank them for “stopping by” during office hours or tell them to “have a nice day” when they leave class. These days, receiving professional development trainings in customer service skills is the sort of silly bullshit that proliferates at institutions like mine. They (the students) aren’t fooled and neither are we (the faculty). It feels phony just like it does at Christmas when an exhausted clerk wishes you “happy holidays” because their manager gave them a script that they are required to follow.

The inequity itches at me, I went back to school to get away from these types of labor practices. Teaching at a community college is cool, but the working conditions suck and should make anyone think twice. I have no regrets, but I also have the privilege of no regrets; I don’t have children or a mortgage – and besides, I’m working class, I’m used to this.

 

*Above image by H.E. Whitney. Click this link and follow him on twitter.

Money Changes Everything: The Ascent of Walter White

“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it, and I was alive.” –W.W.

I had to wait until the finale of Breaking Bad but at last, Walter White admitted that he was in to the meth cooking for the money. I’ve been frustrated since season 3, by that time the whole, “I’m doing it for the family” thing seemed like a bunch of baloney, the manipulative excuse of a mediocre middle class guy in the throes of power grabbing; a chance to feel “alive” after a lifetime of playing it safe for fear of what “might happen, might not happen.”

Walter is a man who has lived his life the right way: nice family, secure teaching job, steadily paying off the mortgage of his suburban house with the pool. Nevertheless, it is not enough to make ends meet and in addition to teaching, he works a crappy second job cashiering at a car wash. Like many middle-class folk, he is one medical diagnosis away from financial ruin. When we meet Walter, he is drowning in the bills he can’t cover and his wife Skyler is pregnant with their second child.

Then he gets the diagnosis. Walter White’s American Dream is dead. This is where I pause to mention that capitalism has a funny way of exacerbating human frailties. Walt’s frailty—his decision to cook meth—is born from his inability to face his death and the steadfast belief that he can control the situation. Like a dark Horatio Alger, Walt takes the bad news with a stoned face determination to fix it through self-reliance and industry. After shuffling along feeling safe and secure in his middle class life, cancer gives Walt a reason to try and a reason to take risks. The fact that the risks Walt takes are deviant and immoral is irrelevant in TV-land, and the popularity of the show is because Walt comes to embody a lot of the suffering everyday people experience.

These days it is hard to make ends meet, healthcare in the U.S. is a vortex of pain, and the myth of meritocracy has never been more obvious. Walter is a common man who gets pushed to the dark edges of his own self because these days success based on honest achievement is hard to reach, and talent is no guarantee of economic security. Walt did everything he thought was right but knows his death will send his family down the class ladder, a fate worse than cooking meth. Twenty years ago, this story line would be unthinkable but it reflects the insecurity of these times, the sense of economic fragility so real for working and middle class Americans.

This is what resonates with Breaking Bad, the sense that a semi-schmucky guy on the losing end can be good at something and still make it, never mind the illegality and the extreme selfishness of his actions. Walt is successful in the meth market because his product is the best and he knows it. He ascends to power and in this, loses the fear that had plagued him his entire life; cancer changes him into a vicious, striving capitalist: “What I came to realize is that fear, that’s the worst of it. That’s the real enemy. So, get up, get out in the real world and you kick that bastard as hard you can right in the teeth.” In a culture that feels less like the land of opportunity, Walt makes it big as a meth cook and he earns respect for his skills, respect that Walt feels he deserves. It is about him and his needs. In the finale, he dies with a smile on his face, not because he provided for his family (though he has), but because he died a powerful man.

***Breaking Bad was in the news recently when corporate toy store, Toys R Us pulled action figures off their shelf’s on an “indefinite sabbatical.” A Florida mom created a Change.org petition citing that the toys were unsavory because the Walter White figure comes with a tiny bag of blue meth, and the Jesse Pinkman with a meth-cooking mask. In a store that sells Friday the 13th Jason action figures complete with a tiny ax and an assortment of toys from the violent (and entertaining) Game of Thrones, it begs the question as to why. In the age of a failed drug war and conservative politics however, this action says so much about fear and hypocrisy in the U.S.. I personally own a Walter White action figure and was surprised that Toys R Us was selling them in the first place. If you think about it, there’s a lot more to be scared of than a few fictional action figures, have you ever walked down the pink aisle at Toys R Us? Now there’s some violence!

White-trash Beaner (to my 11-year old confused self)

Grama says I’m Indian.

Mama says my dad was “A Mexican” and that if he really loved me like

“Mexican daddies do,”

he woulda found me by now.

Grama says we’re Indian, mama says ‘no.’

Sis calls me a “wetback” and a “beaner” (“mom said it all the time”)

brother teases me about getting pregnant and dropping out of high school.

 

Grama and mama don’t speak to each other for a year

because of the Indian/Mexican fiasco.

Christmas ends the standoff; it’s a time “to forgive.”

And no one talks about Indians or Mexicans ever again.

They tell me I’m Scotch-Irish and “Pennsylvania Dutch” (thanks grampa)

and that I should be proud of that.

And I am.

 

At school the kids call me “white trash” ‘cause my skin is light

and I’m confused

and because I wear K-mart tennies and shitty Lee jeans

(in the era of Jordache, remember?).

I’m fat and awkward and we’re poor, between the bills, their ciggies,

and his wine,

money is tight.

But fuck them, the white kids calling me white trash and they didn’t even

know it;

we were all poor kids.

 

WordPress Loves AJAX