The Refusal of Work: 5 Cultural Artefacts

by Novara Reporters

5 March 2014

Steve Davidson / Flickr

The ‘refusal of work’, perhaps first comprehensively articulated in Mario Tronti’s 1965 paper ‘The Strategy of Refusal’, is an idea which has enjoyed a recent resurgence. Radical reactions to ‘workfare’ programmes and the ideology of work, as well as discussions around automation and the Universal Basic Income, are bringing ‘work’ as an idea to the fore and questioning the role it should play in the future we wish to create post-capitalism. In an earlier Novara FM show, the refusal of work was discussed as a desire of the class which we can see articulated through certain cultural artefacts. Here are just five:

1. Saturday Night Fever [1977]

Tony Manero (John Travolta) is stuck in a dead-end job which grinds him down daily. His only remittance comes at the weekend, when he’s able to affirm his identity and gain the respect he desires as the king of the dancefloor.

2. Nine to Five [1980]

“It’s a rich man’s game no matter what they call it, and you spend your life puttin’ money in his wallet.” Excellently analysed in this Spitzenprodukte blog post, Nine to Five takes us through the carrot-and-stick routine of the workplace to demonstrate the con trick being played on all of us.

3. Money for Nothing [1985]

“I want my MTV,” say the opening bars. Sung from the perspective of a disenfranchised manual worker, the song focuses on issues of jealousy, aspiration and the desire to escape one’s own subject position.

4. Office Space [1999]

A cult classic which has everything from post-Fordist boss/employee relations right through to the affective labour of ‘flair’ and ‘service with a smile’.

5. Gangnam Style [2012]

Taking its name from Gangnam District – the Beverly Hills of South Korea – Gangnam Style sells us the dream: gold-rimmed glasses, luxury spas, fast cars and all the horses we can house (and not a shift or timesheet in sight). 1.9 billion views can’t just be down to a novelty dance routine, can it..?

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