The jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers of today’s work world are not signs of liberation. On the contrary, they mark Capital’s success in co-opting every last vestige of personal life, folding our very selves into the will of production.
The business suit — a pain in the ass, no doubt, and rarely attractive — marks a clear line between home and work. It is a uniform that declares: “This is me at work. There is another me that is, frankly, none of your business.”
In the old days, you couldn’t get a job if your hair was long, your nose pierced, and tattoos covered your arms. Today, at least in San Francisco, it seems like a requirement. Capital realized that the maintenance of a personal life distinct from corporate life is not productive — for the corporation. All that wasted time making love to your spouse! All that wasted time reading, writing, strolling, thinking, eating drugs! You could be using all that time to write another PowerPoint presentation! Work, you drug addled freakazoid!
I watched it happen in San Francisco in the last 1990s during the dot com explosion. Suddenly, the work space was filled with bikes and skateboards and everyone was in t-shirts and jeans, tatted and pierced and, well, working their asses off. What a find for Capital! These little fuckers get shit done!
And the bars and coffee shops, filled with the same kids, became extensions of work. The cafe went from being a refuge from work to being the site of work. And thanks to microcomputing, we are always jacked in.
Now work permeates every aspect of the day, more or less. Every moment is a potential moment of productivity. Look at how the new corporate order functions. Google — and Apple and Genentech — bus their employees to work — oops, to campus. Now, this no doubt makes said employees’ lives easier and reduces the dreaded carbon footprint. But, come the fuck on, can’t we have some time to ourselves? And, once on campus — oh, the word creeps my shit out — you get free lunch! Just like in prison!
And we have foosball! And M&Ms coming out the yin yang! And, look, everyone’s cool and wearing t-shirts and jeans! They’re your friends! Isn’t work great? There’s no reason ever to leave — except that housing you is expensive so we’ll bus you back to your over priced condo dorm — for which you pay a rent or mortgage that keeps you in a state of perpetual indentured servitude — before busing you here in the morning.
The genius of Capital is to have you identify yourself, once and for all, with the desire of Capital, to have your most personal selves be a source of productivity, of energy, for the capitalist engine. This is accomplished through branding, of course — “I’m a Mac,” “I’m a PC” — but through an absolute identification with work, as well: employees wearing Google t-shirts.
This means we identify at once with production and consumption, the ultimate dream of Capital. It’s an infinitely fast circuit — the kids working all day to make the shit, buy the shit (except, of course, for the real kids of the Third World — with them, we stick to good old fashioned exploitation!).
As our uniform stays the same from home to work, our privacy gives way to the Spectacle. Look at the modern office: no private offices at all. Even the conference rooms are all glass — so when you sneak in to make a call, everyone can see you. The open work space is the splaying of the private before the panoptic eye.
The suit that kept work contained in its office has given way to the bleed of denim and the continuous, always exposed, always-on work day.