Below the line – notes (I)

Posted on | October 10, 2012 | 1 Comment

I keep meaning to post notes from all the books I’m reading on sabbatical… but there are so many of them it seems pointless and overwhelming, not to mention compromising. Too many notes will doubtless reveal the depths of my scholarly obsessiveness, left unchecked.

I once went to a radical kinesiologist who said that my response to trauma was ‘too much study’. She held my arm, asked me what happened to me at age 22, then diagnosed my problem. I was supposed to continue the affirmations twice daily as a cure, but I’m not very good at routines.

Today’s amazing inspiration: I will share chapter sized pieces of my note-taking. (While I have a backlog of time management manuals to write about, they can wait until I have a few more under my belt. I have some presentations coming up in November that I can use as deadlines for that. But, an early spoiler: affirmations twice daily are also a common thread in GTD techniques. And visualising.)

Today’s book is Vicky Mayer’s Below the Line: Producers and Production Studies in the New Television Economy. I’m returning to this as I prepare a piece for Ada, the new journal attached to the Fembot website. I’m trying to do something historical on women’s tech labour… and will share a draft when it’s more coherent. Meanwhile notes from Vicky’s intro follow.

Introduction: Who are Television’s Producers? 1-27

In the digital age, everyone is potentially a media producer, but most of us only recognize certain forms of media production as important. (1)

In each scenario I encountered, people defined themselves in relation to the work they did on behalf of television industries, even as they were invisible to the television industry itself. Conversely, the industry—itself a euphemistic construction that replaces human activities with a collection of businesses—relies on their invisible labours, even as it denigrates or disavows the workers as outside the creative professionals who construct the industry’s narratives about itself. The producers I present here thus do not suffer from a false consciousness of their own conditions but from a historical process of displacements, substitutions, and transformations that anchored the “producer” to forms of labor, sites of production, and identities that were simply not-them. (2)

This narrative should be of particular concern at this conjuncture at which all of us increasingly define ourselves through our productive work while at the same time industries devalue our agency as producers through abstract quantitative measures, from stock share prices to advertising rates. Confronting this state of affairs, scholars’ most damning critique might be one recognizing that, indeed, everyone is a producer in the new television economy, but that the television industry comes away as the primary benefactor of these labours. (3)

Below the line: ‘Studio accountants used this line physically on their budget sheets to separate upfront production costs from expenditures made during production. Thus this line indexed the scarcity or surplus of so-called creativity and professionalism, two competing resources for labor value in industrial capitalism since the late 1800s. Whereas the word professional in this discourse came to separate those who managed themselves from those who were managed by others, creativity more often demarcated intellectual from manual activities’ (4)

The book addresses ‘those workers whose labours are the structuring absences to this particular formation of the producer and his or her labor value’… (4)

‘people who fall outside the television industries’ creative categories or who lack access to their professional hierarchies. Their surplus labor bolsters the symbolic value of television in society, and yet these invisible acts exceed the compensations they receive in market terms. Increasingly, their work defines them, but in return, they lack authorial status, creative credit, or executive authority. This population increasingly encompasses the majority of workers as the new television economy incorporates new sectors and sources for cheap, if not free, labor to create television, sponsor its commodities, and regulate its consumers’ (22)

Studies of television ‘sidestepped the focus on the antagonism between laborers and their managers that framed… early work on film production. Instead, research into television production delved further into the relationships between different white-collar workers who represented clear economic and political objectives in the market or the state. By focusing on the negotiations, collaborations, and conflicts between these specific workers recognized for their labours, studies of television production framed producers’ practices in terms of structural forces that constrained their presumed creativity. The notion of the “television professional” condensed these assumptions about the producer for export precisely as the medium became a tool of foreign development policy and domestic social engineering’. (8)

…women have been central to the reproduction of use value and exchange value, but this works “appears otherwise,” as a natural form of production or a personal service. (Fortunati) (18)

Similarly, racial and ethnic Others have frequently been denied labor power through their exclusion from the labor-wage relation in industrial societies. Ethnic immigrants and racial migrants were the primary sources of so-called home work, the process by which factories subcontracted piecework in the nineteenth century. Located in their homes, these nonwhite workers remained invisible both to waged workers and on employers’ formal payrolls, denying home workers the labor power to demand legal rights or societal respect. (Wallerstein: ethnicization) (18)

‘as capitalism profits from the invisible labours of identifiable Others whose work can be deemed “natural” or unskilled, it simultaneously profits from invisible inputs into formal production markets generalized across the many labor sectors organized by precarity’ (19)

‘the emergent subjectivities that capitalism now demands from its laborers continue to draw on the residual identities that have corresponded to invisible labor in the past. Secretaries may now be female, but feminized forms of emotional work and peripheral activities, for example, picking up laundry or choosing gifts, still organize the routines and define the submissive status of the position’ (20)

The exclusion of workers and their subjectivities in the study of what is called labor gets to a philosophical issue around who are legitimate members of the polity and what kinds of recognition they deserve (27)


One Response to “Below the line – notes (I)”

  1. What can we learn from TV work? Below the line (II) : home cooked theory
    October 14th, 2012 @ 11:38 am

    […] significance of Mayer’s book is not just the challenge it issues television studies. On this front, the careful and sympathetic […]

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