Paid to smile

I just started reading Hochschild’s The Managed Heart, in which she introduces her provocative concept of “emotion work” — the labor commissioned to maintain moods for clients. Her example is flight attendants, and the expectation that they keep passengers docile and mellow. Hochschild’s question is to find out what effect doing this work has on the ability of individuals to manage their emotions privately. Does the line get so blurred that one loses the ability to have emotions naturally? Are there any “natural” emotions for anyone in a society where they are up for sale, and where their construction is a huge, huge service business? Capitalism reifies emotion to make it a product, to make it suject to supply and demand, profit and loss. The very notion of “emotion work” captures that reification — perhaps alienation is a better word; I could be mixing up my Marxist jargon. The point is the capitalism configures innovation as this: the ability to see profit potential in the experiences we heretofore took for granted. We are encouraged to find ways to make people pay for experiences they are already having, no matter how deeply interior they are. The feelings we offer freely in a kind of potlatch to make social interactions more pleasant and frictionless become valuable objects, commodities we can sell like baseball cards. As a result, spontaneity, the illlusion of unmanaged feeling, becomes rare, treasured, and therefore becomes a valuable commodity itself, and thus the cycle claims more and more of experience, leaving little room for authenticity — once something like authemticty becomes rare, the pressure to make it a commodity becomes more intense. Consequently there is no authenticity left, even as every one is posturing it.

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