05 April 2008

Poverty for profit

This advertising image, pulled from an in-flight magazine or some other tourist literature in July last year, has left me flawed. I may be naive - in fact, I know I am - but what kind of world are we living in where it's somehow appropriate, somehow desirable to produce such a text? Here's a clean, serene, ordered scene of a solitary, boiler-suited, South Asian (I can't be sure) worker hand-painting the median line of a freeway in the middle of an arid, sun-burnt desert. How does this come to be - to be used as - a marker of good taste, of progress? I suppose it's the inevitable consequence of arch capitalism's intensely flexible, highly semioticized economies. In the process, what gets concealed are the squalid conditions of labour - its material, financial, social and emotional realities; its political, economic and ideological circumstances. Only the "nice bits", the "savoury bits" are selected in a representation of global inequality that is so highly stylized, so perfectly sanitized as to appear aesthetically pleasing and morally defensible. Here's we have a "material" labourer putting the finishing touches to a road (a road to nowhere?) in the service of "immaterial labour" (Hardt & Negri, 2000) targetted by the advertizers as: project finance, insurance, reinsurance, corporate and private banking, assest management and Islamic finance. We have hard labour semioticized and commodified for the soft economies of information and finance. As such, the advert is what Adam Jaworski and I would regard as another quintessentially "banal enactment of globalization" (Thurlow & Jaworski, 2009). In this instance, and to borrow a phrase from the anthropologist Ed Bruner, we have a perfect manifestation of "poverty for profit".

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