Monday, December 29, 2003

Free Time!
by Laura Martz

"Close to midnight one evening in May 1968, as a Parisian neighborhood along the Seine lay sleeping, there materialized in the street a group of jesters. At midnight a collection of Marx Brothers movies was set aflicker across the dormant cityscape. Now the jesters began a riotous march through the street, banging on pots, blowing whistles, banging drums.

Presently the local young people appeared and joined the procession...and then, the older, more "respectable" people began to awake and emerge from the apartment buildings. Some of these people were seduced and leapt exuberantly into the fray. Some others promptly got on the phone to the flics. But for awhile, as lore has it, the no longer quite young cavorted in the suburban streets of Paris in their bathrobes with the May generation; torches were lit, boats moving past down the Seine bellowed greetings with horns, drivers pulled over to join the throng...And then, of course, the police arrived and broke everything up, carted some off and chased others away. The neighborhood went back to bed, and to work the next morning. But how would any of these people ever be able to forget the hilarity and fun they had had that night when play and abandon took over? Would their lives ever really be the same?"
--as told on the Internet anarchy-list

To sustain itself, consumer capitalism relies on (1) the maintenance of an outdated survival imperative and work ethic, and (2) a totalizing commodification and consumerism, which necessitates work beyond perceived survival needs. Play has been diametrically opposed to work (defined as wage labor), coded as "decadent".

One's time off the clock is allegedly the proper realm of play. Yet under consumer capitalism this time is cleverly commandeered for other means-- means designed to keep the machine running.

Play will be defined here only loosely, as all that which is diametrically opposed to and excluded by work (its elements of delight, surprise and affect will be preserved). Under capitalism, excess (human energy not necessary to survival) is diverted into accumulation and endlessly-climbing profits for the ruling class. Yet the proper object of the expenditure of this energy is dissipation, "nonproductive expenditure": Play!

Play is a fitting expediture. Play is the refusal of regimentation, supervision and clocks. In this sense, play is a precondition for resistance, which demands time and energy for spontaneity, contemplation, communication, and unity. Play must be recovered.

Reintroducing play into adult life would necessitate the rupture of what Debord called "the spectacle". Future sections of this article will suggest ways to disrupt the media/advertising spectacle, and begin to suggest some possibilities for reclaiming time from work.

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