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Barbara Ehrenreich on white collar work

Just some quotes from Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, on job-hunting in the white collar corporate world.

One of the things that has always made me most uncomfortable about doing white collar work is the dress code. I don't have much of a style and don't pay a lot of attention to what I wear, but I simply can't feel like myself in formal clothes. "Business casual" qualifies as formal for me as well. I never understood why you had to conform to someone else's standard of propriety to be considered worth listening to. Ehrenreich puts it quite well:

"Robert Jackall's book impressed on me that corporate dress serves a far more important function than mere body covering. 'Proper management of one's external appearances,' he writes, 'simply signals to one's superiors that one is prepared to undertake other kinds of self-adaptation.' By dressing correctly, right down to the accessories, you let it be known that you are willing to conform in other ways too - that you can follow orders, for example, and blend in with the prevailing 'culture.'"

She has this to say on the process of getting made over for job interviews:

"This should be the fun part --playing with paints and little swatches of fabric-- but I am suddenly gripped by queasiness. I understand that to make myself into a 'product' that I can market, I must first become a commodity, a thing."

And finally, on the corporate aesthetic that permeates our physical surroundings:

"Back at the Homestead Suites that night, a stripped-down, generic sort of place near Dulles Airport, I was struck by how much my motel resembled the church. Not literally, but in the sense of some underlying aesthetic - the same economy of line, neutral colors, cheap indestructible furniture, extremely short-haired carpet for easy cleaning... In my exhausted state, it seemed to me that this aesthetic permeates all aspects of the world I have entered: narrative-free resumes dominated by bullets; sensuality-suppressing wardrobes; precise instruction sheets; numerous slides."

"It works, more or less, this realm of perfect instrumentality; it makes things happen: deadlines are met; reservations are made; orders delivered on time; carpets kept reliably speck-free. But something has also been lost. Weber described the modern condition as one of 'disenchantment,' meaning 'robbed of the gods,' or lacking in any dimension of strangeness and mystery. As Jackson Lears once put it, premodern people looked up and saw heaven; modern, rational people see only the sky. To which we might add that minions of today's grimly focused business culture tend not to look up at all."

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