A few weeks ago, this video went viral:
In the video, we see a young woman—Marina Shifrin—happily, seemingly joyfully dancing to Kayne West’s song “Gone.” We read the words “It’s 4:30am and I am at work. I work for an awesome news company that produces news videos. For almost two years, I sacrificed my relationships, time, and energy for this job. And my boss only cares… about quantity and how many views each video gets. So, I figured I’d make ONE video of my own, to focus on the content instead of the views. Oh, and to let my boss know…. (dance break) I quit.” If you’ve ever wanted to tell your boss to shove it, by this point in the video, you are dancing along with her.
When I first saw the video, I thought to myself, “Ah, interesting. You can quit your job, but you can’t quit the Internet.” Indeed, the video’s virality (it received over 15 million views within a little over a week), its quick circulation—either through “you go girl, admiration” or “omg, I can’t believe she did this” (or any number of affective reactions. To some degree the content of the reaction doesn’t matter, rather that you simply react and click and “share”)– is the very stuff of the Internet economy. As it turns out, this moment of “micro-celebrity” garnered Marina a job offer on the Queen Latifah Show where Latifah herself offered to create the position of “Digital Content Producer” expressly for Marina. Referring to herself as “a boss”, Latifah told Marina “I’m a boss and bosses can HIRE.” According to Mashable, Marina had until Oct 14th to decide to take the job and has now embarked on a comedy career.
Honestly, when I first saw this video, I thought “ooh, that will be a great entry into a discussion about digital labor” and intended to file it away for a class or a lecture. And, because I am in the midst of job searching at the moment, writing up notes was put on hold. The thought of “quitting as the impossible condition” wasn’t exactly conducive to the “buck up, camper” moment the academic job market seems to require. As I have written before, I’m deeply committed to sticking it out in the public university and to reclaiming accessible, affordable quality education as a public right and good. And, although I am decidedly not interested in telling people not to go to graduate school (as was my response when Rebecca Schuman wrote her now well-known Thesis Hatement in Slate) mostly because I have fears about the demographic, long-term effects of such an abandonment, it was with some pleasure that I saw that Rebecca Schuman was writing about quitting the academy. As with Marina, a part of me deeply embraces the agency found in a declaration of “I quit,” especially when such agency seems to facilitate transformation or change.
As most of us know, academic work is exhausting, exploitative, and precarious—not to mention often occurring in what amounts to a hostile work environment of administrative budget cuts, pepper spray for students, and policies on “Expressive Activity,” such as the one CUNY has authored . It seems finally to be dawning on many academics that they are not autonomous agents, but workers who are employed at the irrational pleasure of a system doing its best to put them out of work. For any number of reasons, the University is ripe for its “Take This Job and Shove It” moment.
Yet, and this is where the Internet is truly fascinating to me as a deeper terrain of exploitation; where do we go if and when we leave? As @reclaimUC suggested yesterday on Twitter, not every one quits the academy and becomes a white, male computer programmer with connections to more lucrative work. I know there are many conversations going on now about the possibilities of new forms of academic work, both in and outside the university, but (as someone who studies social media use and personal brand-building, particularly as a way of re-terraining a life caught in the throws of precarity) it has been very interesting (perhaps even a little too close to home) to watch the way that many academics have been lured to the Internet (myself included) as a place to talk to each other, complain, and make jokes, but also to reconfigure and reconsider what new forms of work are actually possible. And, I am deeply aware and sympathetic to the ways in which women, in particular, use the Internet to put food on their families, but I am also very curious about the work we can’t quit and the endless hustle that becomes our lives inside, outside, and all around the university, particularly as the logic of branding now sits, almost insidiously, inside many of our visions of transforming labor.
Again, I know these conversations around writing for wages (thanks Lee and Tressie), for example, will go on. And, there is much more to say here, but I am wondering what it would really look like to say, “Take this job and shove it.” I certainly hope it means more “meaningful” work for individuals, but when do we start to say this collectively and with demands for policy change attached to it? When is “take this job and shove it” something more than a career-building move? When is it the rallying cry for a new way of doing business altogether?