Working Class Heroes, by Nick Mamatas

Here's a switch. Writ­ing about class con­cerns and a hyped TV show that I'm not ashamed to say is one of my few week­ly sojourns into boob­tu­bery. The essay won't be free for long, so catch it while you can.

Cap­i­tal is dead labour, that, vam­pire-like, only lives by suck­ing liv­ing labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks.

—Karl Marx, Cap­i­tal, vol. 1, chap­ter 10

What do tele­vi­sion char­ac­ters do for a liv­ing? There are plen­ty of doc­tors, more police than even a police state would deploy, cor­po­rate lawyers and brave pros­e­cu­tors, spies and super­heroes, and in old sit­coms, the very many men in gray suits who kept their occu­pa­tions a secret even from their chil­dren. There are also store own­ers, and a few mem­bers of the cast might be cab­bies or wait­ress­es, but all of them will be por­trayed as lit­tle more than broad types. And today we have The Office. TV is white-col­lar. When there are work­ing class peo­ple on tele­vi­sion, they are often por­trayed as social­ly back­wards, polit­i­cal­ly ret­ro­grade, and more than a lit­tle stupid—the abu­sive loud­mouth Ralph Kram­den, cranky racist Archie Bunker, Slob­bo-Amer­i­can Al Bundy. There are more star­ship cap­tains than long­shore­men on tele­vi­sion. True Blood’s depic­tion of work­ing-class char­ac­ters is refresh­ing, and that's even though some of them are mal­con­tents, or drug addicts, or just not very bright. Because as bad as some of the work­ing class peo­ple are, True Blood’s rul­ing class of vam­pires is so much worse.

One of the great secrets of mod­ern soci­ety, accord­ing to the anar­chists, social­ists, and oth­er work­ing class rad­i­cals is this: work­ers don’t need the boss­es. We could orga­nize our own labor and reorder soci­ety itself, if only we could take pow­er. Work­ers’ pow­er is a secret pow­er, one obscured by dai­ly life under cap­i­tal­ism. “Every cook can gov­ern,” as C. L. R. James once put it. The first two sea­sons of True Blood are all about Sook­ie real­iz­ing her secret pow­er and her ulti­mate supe­ri­or­i­ty over the forces—sometimes hid­den and some­times decep­tive­ly attractive—that would rule over her and all of us. One can track the abil­i­ty of the human char­ac­ters to nav­i­gate the super­nat­ur­al and social chal­lenges they face to their place in the work­ing class. There are plen­ty of pit­falls for workers—that opi­um of the peo­ple, reli­gion; the nan­ny state; the police and mil­i­tary (class trai­tors, if the bel­low­ing reds on Berke­ley street cor­ners are to be believed); and var­i­ous lumpen crim­i­nal activ­i­ties to fall into. And indeed, in True Blood we have the Fel­low­ship of the Sun, do-good­er “social work­er” Maryann, and the under­ground mar­ket for V to bedev­il the work­ing char­ac­ters. Sook­ie Stack­house though has avoid­ed these traps and thus dis­cov­ered not just her mag­i­cal abil­i­ties, but worker’s pow­er. More.

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