Panel > Techno-Labor and the Body

SATURDAY, 3:45 – 5:15 PM
OCTOBER 17 2015


Panel Chair: Rachel Webb Jekanowski

“Reclaiming anti-productivity: stoner humor and the (post)work imaginary of Broad City

Patricia Ciccone (PhD student, University of Western Ontario)

> My paper will explore the (post)work imaginary of recent autofictional feminist sitcoms by focusing on the stoner personas of the two lead creators/characters of Broad City, a feminist web-series-turned-television-success. I will begin this exploration with an overview of the current trend of “stoner humor” in order to understand how the vocabulary often associated with the genre, that of creativity but also of laziness, aligns with a similar shift in the present reconfiguration of the economy. More specifically, I will examine how the characters (and their off-screen creators, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson) represent themselves deliberate variations of what it means to be “successful working women”; a performative, ideological and aspirational concept that has a long history in women-centric sitcoms. And if the two creators reject the representational norms and politics of “proper” aspirational waged-labour, the success of their web series, and the subsequent sitcom deal with Comedy Central, allows us to ask what achievement might look like for those working within this new economy. Ultimately, the goal of this paper will be to expose how “stoner humor” outlines new socio-economic coordinates concerning labour and productivity, to problematize the role of gender in the mediated representation of success and labour and to understand what sorts of labour conventions are emphasized by recent digital productions.

“Flying Toasters and the Lawnmower Man: Domesticated Screen Savers and Cyborg Office Labour”

Natalie Greenberg (PhD student, Concordia University)

> This paper examines the use of humour and irony in the screen saver program After Dark, negotiating the changing position of the female within the office workplace at the end of the 1980s. Using Donna Haraway’s “ironic political myth” of the cyborg to understand the relationship between female office worker and personal computer, historicizing both Haraway’s theory and the shift in labour relations due to technology. The most famous screen saver in the After Dark program was Flying Toasters, an amusing re-appropriation of domestic appliances into a the fantastical, free-floating digital workspace. The screen saver itself was a solution to a new problem: the computer that cannot be shut off. Instead, it “sleeps,” remaining on the network and work can be resumed at any moment, a cyborg program, a boundary state between the user and the computer’s body.

The popularity of After Dark speaks to the discomfort around the new personal computer, and the changing form of labour and communications within the networked office. Autonomous personal computers were antithetical to the office organization around hierarchical mainframe computers and pools of typists who provided the personalized computer interface for the management. The smiling secretary was replaced with the smiling Macintosh computer on start up. After Dark uses humour to make the personal computer accessible, personalized, and comforting. Yet, it also complicates the location of labour and body. Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” speaks to the hybrid technological female and the “homework economy” where work can never be left and the changing role of women within the economy. The home and the office lacked clear divisions, and the high tech industries were the largest proponents of this shift. Computers made possible home offices, the relocation of work literally into the home. Domestic appliances became digital appliances, no more alien than a toaster or a lawn mower.

“That’s the Last __ I’ll Ever __: Gallows Humour as Subversive Survival Strategy of Women in the Hollywood Casting Couch Economy”

Kerry McElroy (PhD candidate, Concordia University)

> It is a fascinating turn in feminist scholarship to examine the use of humour as subversive strategy. I am particularly interested in turning this strategy to the history of performing women. How did such women employ humor in pre-feminist eras? Due to the particularly precarious and often traumatic nature of life as a performing woman, fraught with criticism, exploitation, and harassment, wouldn’t humour have been a necessary negotiation for women in classical Hollywood?

The titular censored quote, usually attributed to Marilyn Monroe but tellingly sometimes to various other stars as well, is a gallows humour declaration that upon signing a major contract, an actress’ days as coerced provider of oral sex are finally over. The quote, and others like it from examined case studies, serves as a jarring reminder as to just how much classical Hollywood’s labour system was predicated on a casting couch economy. This paper will examine the ways in which women within the Hollywood system joked about the utterly normalized state of sexual exploitation, and will argue that much of this humour served as coping mechanism. In my methodology, I am always intent in my work on situating the actress as “working girl” participating in labour in an industry- contrary to the mythos of golden age Hollywood. I will thus also demonstrate how a woman labouring in the milieu of pre-feminist show business would have had little choice but to find, or pretend to find, humour in the everyday injustices and casual misogynistic vulgarity completely intrinsic to the system- to be a tough broad, a funny dame, a good sport. Finally, this paper will also benefit from the oral history interviews I have conducted with women in Hollywood of various ages and experience regarding their experiences. It will show the harnessing of sexual humour for women in pre-feminist Hollywood to have been pervasive, obfuscating, and liberatory.

“Random acts of flashing and the parody of indecent exposure: reflections on a topless duck, Cubist breasts, and ‘K-cup boobs'”

Renée Penney (PhD student, Carleton University)

Around the world, the ‘topfreedom’ movement is gaining ground, as more and more women expose their breasts in the name of shirtless equality, sexual empowerment, political protest, and leisure comfort. The summer of 2015 has been highly productive in this regard, as girls and women wittingly and unwittingly contributed to this discourse. Neda Topaloski, a member of Femen Canada, bared her breasts in the House of Commons and shouted “C-51 is war on freedom.” Maryland delegate Ariana Kelly flashed (and allegedly ‘shook’) her bare breasts at her soon-to-be ex-husband during a heated public argument. In Guelph, ON, an eight-year-old girl was told to put her shirt back on while swimming in a public pool with her younger brothers. The politics of toplessness are no laughing matter, but they can be, and in the summer of 2015 they were. Alongside these news accounts, three related incidents garnered significant attention: the brief cartoon image of a topless female duck in the children’s animated program Oggy and the Cockroaches; the masking of Cubist breasts in a Pablo Picasso painting by the FOX Television Network; and the premeditated flashing of a Google Street view car by Karen Davis in Port Pirie, Australia. FOX-TV was subsequently mocked worldwide, while the topless duck has passed through a swirl of ethics debates, and Davis has become (in)famous for her “K-cup boobs.”

For this paper, I wish to consider these three cases as humorous disruptions of popular media that emphasize the parody of ‘indecent exposure’ when applied to benign subjects. These acts of censoring invite a humorous, yet pointed, interrogation: how does a topless duck become indecent; what exactly is being censored in an abstract painting; if a surveillance camera seeks to capture images and succeeds, how do we understand exposure? In addition to undermining the rhetoric of indecent exposure, these cases mock the asymmetrical gender power they expose, drawing attention to an outmoded male gaze and adding comic dimension to theories of nudity and nakedness. As a result, these ‘random acts of flashing’ can be viewed as covert interventions that reinforce the topfreedom movement.