Why, though, don’t people want to be perceived as publicists? Communications, or “people” skills, are certainly a valuable form of expertise in their own right. However, it seems to me that people start thinking of these skills as “manipulative” or “sleazy” when they’re openly deployed for a wage—that is to say, transformed into emotional labor. The frequent charge that publicists are “whoring” for companies captures not only the gendered nature of the work, but also the discomfort that people have with its transactional aspect.
People don’t want to be seen as publicists because they don’t want to acknowledge the extent of their collusion with the commercialism of the capitalist order, that puts forward money and self-interest as the only reasons to do anything. The emotional work publicists fail to perform is that work of disguising it, which makes them highly eligible scapegoats for capitalist commercialism.
As Horning notes, editors also perform varying degrees of emotional labor. Horning suggests that this emotional labor, unlike that of the publicist, gets a pass because it’s coded “male.” But, per Arlie Hochschild, I’m more inclined to view all emotion work as “feminized” labor. I therefore suspect that the emotional labor performed by knowledge workers in male-dominated fields is given a pass because it largely isn’t recognized as such, or is viewed as secondary to other parts of the job.
I’m wondering if what emotion work gets coded “male” is what is accepted as “disinterested,” and what is coded “female” is what is seen as corrupt, phony, prostituted. This helps construct and reinforce the sexist view that women are inherently inauthentic (i.e. not “natural,” not men).
That’s why I urge other media workers to view the conditions of the publicist as their own—not because I think that there is some kind of “better” non-emotional robot work that we should/could be doing, but because exposing affective labor as the predominant mode of work in the current economy still feels like a useful endeavor given that this kind of work continues to go largely unacknowledged, or is seen as the province of the flack.
I’m still not sure what good can come from merely acknowledging this work. Will it then be remunerated more fairly? Will it disrupt the way gender is used to structure authentic and inauthentic work? Will it better expose complicity with commercialism and allow individuals to consciously explore counter-practices? Hopefully all of the above!