I am between Princeton-Weimar Summer School for Media Studies and the Crossroads in Cultural Studies Conference in Paris. Meaning, naturally, that I am in London. In terms of rests, this pause in England is outright hemidemisemiquaver as we spend our days here doing a lot. Today, our final day, I spent walking through the northeast of the city. One thing I enjoy about just meandering through a foreign place is the contrast in language of insistent signage. Canadian civic signage is often in the passive voice, or wishywashy, and it always startles me to see a directive as blunt as “SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING” in the United States. Here, the signage is often preceded by the consequence: i.e. “holding the door will cause delays; [therefore] do not hold the doors open.”
There are times when the order of operations is kind of normal, however:
Since this place is less than a year removed from massive rioting and only a few weeks away from hosting the Olympics–though, from my very limited exposure, it seems safe to say that the city is very much already in Olympics mode–the conflicts of control and movement are right at the surface.
Last year, when the Vancouver smashing happened at the end of the Stanley Cup finals, and a group of some Vancouverites spontaneously cleaned up the mess–uninsured, doing what is someone else’s job–it was celebrated as a normal kind of civil obedience. I had some feelings about this.
In London, they are once again reversing the order of things. Instead of (or in addition to) asking Londoners to volunteer to do someone else’s paid work after the games, they have paired with Proctor&Gamble to sponsor a pre-game clean-a-thon. The signage for this is pretty widespread and is harnessed to something called Proctor&Gamble’s “Proud Sponsor of Moms” [sic] campaign. The idea apparently being that cleaning supplies have yet to properly respect moms. Sorry, moms. And sheesh, cleaning supplies, what’s your problem? In London, this translates in the following ad copy:
“You know when your mum’s coming round to your flat and you give the place a quick tidy? Well, our “flat” is London and our “mum” is the rest of the world coming round…come on! Make your mum proud.”
The sexist implications of the whole campaign are pretty obvious. And although I can’t speak to what it is like to live here or what the games are actually doing to the way the city is somehow held together day-to-day, it strikes me that this is a strong sign (so to speak) of the organization of labour today: that a major metropolis can pair with the giant of cleaning supplies to provoke volunteer work in the name of motherhood isn’t just an empty invocation of civic pride. These are the channels through which manual labour is emptied of value. By separating it from any recompense or, say, unionization, and instead marrying “cleaning” to “moms,” work is made into a form of gendered obedience divorced from merely making ends meet.
Otherwise, great town.