29 November 2014

Reports of My Demise (xi)

It's time to start thinking endgame here, and there are indeed a couple of loose ends to be tied up concerning the gender discussion I opened up earlier in the month. (Actually, there are thousands of them, but you know what I mean. Only hours left in the month and way too many unread books remaining on the stack to think that today will mark the end of this dialogue.) One of them concerns Hanna Rosin's use of the phrase "creative class," which I have to assume is a direct nod to Richard Florida's 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class. Blogging about this book in 2014 is almost a retro-hipster maneuver; when I started this site way back in the mid aughts and went looking for other bloggers to read, it seemed to be nearly everywhere I looked. Today I finally jumped in and have managed to read the first hundred-plus pages, roughly a third of the book. It certainly bears the dual stamp of pop-economist authorship which so endears such works to the blogosphere: admirable empirical authority with which to support our otherwise poorly-supported diatribes blended with an occasional obliviousness to stuff everyone else knows, thus opening myriad avenues for criticism and discussion.

I guess that should be reason enough to plop yourself down and read a book, but frankly the fact that I, the bibliophobe, am taking the time at all tells you how deeply troubled I've been by The End of Men, since I'm really only interested in fact-checking Rosin's appeals to the concept, given as she is to dropping breezy, shallow references where more depth might be helpful. As it turns out there's not much to get worked up over this time around: Florida's book, like Rosin's, is not really about artists at all. Really, then, it's all those mid-aughts blogmongers who deserve a slap on the wrist for getting just a bit over-excited that artists and musicians suddenly were being posited as members of an ascendant class uniquely well-positioned to thrive in a Brave New World of impermanence and volatility. If you'd asked, we could just have told you that those forces are wreaking havoc with our lives and careers as well.

Instead, our presence is mostly just a convenient indicator to mercenary job-hoppers that a given place is good enough for them. We're lumped in with Florida's "super-creative core" because, well, how could we not be? Creativity is central to what we do, whereas the smaller, secondary category of "creative professional," while granted honorary membership in the larger Creative Class, is merely required "to think on their own" and "engage in creative problem solving" (69) without necessarily being expected to innovate, design, or build. So how many "super-creative" musicians are pulling down near the average annual salary Florida cites for his Super-Creative Core ($42,719 in 1999 dollars)? Probably not too many. One enviable point about us, though: we care about what we do and we know why it matters.

Indeed, the most interesting chapter to me so far is called "The Machine Shop and The Hair Salon," wherein Florida lays out not only anecdotal but also extensive empirical evidence that self-fulfillment matters more than ever to today's labor force, exceeding even financial compensation in many cases. He speaks of "the growing number of young people who are 'good with their hands' but choose to wrap their hands around a tattooing needle, DJ turntable or landscaping tools rather than the controls of a turret lathe" despite the latter skill's greater marketability and stability. His is at least a far more satisfying, less d-baggy list of metiers than Rosin's ("publicity assistant, wine critic, trail mix creator, sustainability consultant, screenwriter"). The loss of manufacturing jobs has been a real trend, but so, evidently, has a growing distaste for them among young people who might in earlier generations have mindlessly gravitated in that direction. "I don't think guidance counselors can change this," says Florida, and really, how could I or any of my music school compadres on either side of the stand observe crops and crops of glassy-eyed, ill-prepared frosh and doubt that he's right?

Now, Hanna Rosin on the "seesaw marriage:"

Couples are not chasing justice and fairness as measured by some external yardstick of gender equality. What they are after is individual self-fulfillment, and each partner can have a shot at achieving it at different points in the marriage. The arrangement got established in an era where the creative class moves more fluidly through jobs and no one expects to stay in the same job forever. It thrives in a culture that privileges self-expression over duty. It's progressive in it's instinctive gender blindness and rejection of obligatory work, and utterly conservative in its comfort with traditional marriage.

[my boldface emphasis throughout]

There is a hidden premise here; it is well-hidden indeed, but I for one insist on "going there." Why exactly is it, Ms. Rosin, that both partners can't chase individual self-fulfillment concurrently rather than being limited to doing so in shifts? What exactly is this shadow force tying down our otherwise adept, Creative, educated married couples, alternately derailing one's quest for happiness, then the other's? Clearly it is exists; you just wrote a whole paragraph about it. But does it have a name? It couldn't be...children, could it Ms. Rosin? You wouldn't consider...children such an obvious, non-negotiable component of your own notions of self-fulfillment that their wet-blanket effect on virtually every other such avenue could avoid being directly articulated for chapters on end, would you? Ah, but that's precisely what has happened here. "Domestic work" is such a weasel-word euphemism in so many books on gender: no pair of grown adults creates so many dirty t-shirts and cereal bowls by themselves that cleaning them up becomes a second full-time job. It's the kids, stupid! Lose the a priori assumption that domestic partnership = childrearing and suddenly the world opens up.

Why is this so hard to do? For once, Rosin cannot claim to be a just a reporter and not a theorist; in fact she does theorize in spates, for example that the seesaw marriage is "progressive in it's instinctive gender blindness and rejection of obligatory work, and utterly conservative in its comfort with traditional marriage." Bullshit: what she describes here is an overwhelmingly conservative orientation; the taken-for-granted assumption that procreation is an essential feature of heterosexual domestic partnership colors every square inch of it. Seriously, having a kid doesn't create any "obligatory work?!" And the "gender blindness" part? It merely dictates that instead of the woman being derailed entirely and the husband hardly at all, both partners instead take turns getting derailed. "Do you do, or don't you don't" as professor Zappa said, but the root of "progressive" is "progress" and I respectfully disagree that there's more than a smidge of that represented here, at least not with the world's population, wealth distribution, and natural resources standing where they each do at this moment.

(Am I saying humans should stop reproducing altogether and just go extinct the old-fashioned way? It wouldn't break my heart, nor that of any polar bear or grey wolf you might stop to ask.)

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