Two recently released films (Sept 2014) The Great Seduction and Two Days, One Night, reflect diverse social insights into the relationship between work, unemployment and well-being, and also how ideology functions today. (Note this blog reveals the films endings.) Lets begin with the Canadian film, ‘The Great Seduction’ which sends a message that work is the answer to our desires and the cure for our symptoms.
In brief, the story is about a small idyllic Newfoundland fishing village, where the fisherman are unemployed because the fishing industry has collapsed due to global pressures. Their only hope for work is attracting a petrochemical factory to their harbour, but they face stiff competition from others. As part of the conditions to win their bid, they need to attract a resident medical doctor to their town. The film title ‘the great seduction’ refers to their opportunity to seduce a young handsome urbanite doctor, who is stuck on the island for a month, to stay. The comedy ensues, they persuade the doctor to stay, the factory is built, they are all employed, families are reunited and everyone is happy. So far so good. What I found interesting was that at the end of the film, we see a box shaped factory sitting on their picturesque harbour, inside the workers dressed in white uniforms laughing as they work, and the film ends with a shot of the harbour town and from each house smoke rises from chimneys along with the sound of sexual orgasms from each house.
The message is clear; by building an aesthetically displeasing factory overlooking a beautiful traditional wooden-housed harbour, and when the fisherman work all day in a petroleum factory (which they know contributes to the destruction the natural environment – this is said in the film), the result is orgasmic happiness. Whilst I appreciate that getting welfare cheques and being unemployed is not good for the soul, does working in a factory really bring such joy, especially when for generations your town-folk have been fishing on the open seas? This film would have flown past the censors in communist Soviet Union, because as a piece of propaganda, idealising the work ethic under the cover of a harmless comedy it was perfection itself, and the west would have derided this as pure ideology being fed to a naïve brainwashed proletariat. Yet we see this movie as escapist fun, and is described as ‘adorable’ by a New York Times critic. This is precisely how Slavoj Zizek claims that ideology works in democratic countries today. He says: “It is when we think we escape it (ideology) and are in our dreams, at that point we are within ideology.” In the cinema we escape, and at this point when we relax and enter our fantasy world, mainstream cinema deposits the dominant neo-liberal ideology within us. The ideology that speaks through this film is clear; to find yourself unemployed is sinful and harmful, it will destroy your soul. To work, albeit as unskilled labour in a factory brings pure, even orgasmic pleasure (what Jacques Lacan called jouissance).
The powerful French movie, Two Days, One Night, offers a different view of work. This film depicts how (factory) work is not necessarily pleasurable, but it does has value in economic terms i.e. it pays some of the bills, and it offers a place of sociability between workers. The film also shows also how workers are set against each other in terms of global capitalism and how this is translated to local workers. Sixteen workers in work team were told by their boss they would only get their annual bonus if they vote to sack a colleague who is returning to work after a depressive illness…its their democratic choice. The film shows the woman suffering from depression, going from home to home to persuade her colleagues to vote for her, and give up their bonus. She breaks down often, at one point attempts to overdose on her anti-depressives/sedative pills, but her husband pushes her on and encourages her, as they need the work to keep their home. It captures the stress of low paid workers, and shows the dilemmas and pressures each family faces, for example, many had second jobs at the weekend, working seven days a week and needed their bonuses to get their kids through school. The film concludes with the vote which ends a draw, meaning that she didn’t get the majority she needed so was to be sacked. However, the boss intervenes and congratulates her on persuading so many to support her, and tells her she can keep her job, but with a cruel twist. This would be in place of a workmate on a temporary contract who he will ‘let go’. This same person voted to give up his bonus to support her, and knowingly risked his own job as a consequence. She refused, walked out of the office, phoned her husband and said ‘we put up a good fight didn’t we….. I am happy’. It was the first time we had seen her happy in the film.
The message in both films is about work, both narratives shared the same problem of globalisation impacting on traditional jobs. The fishing village suffered due to globalised fishing problems – low stocks, quotas etc. The French factory suffered due to Asian competition and couldn’t compete due to French labour costs. The ideological difference however is stark. The Great seduction message is two-fold: 1) any work is better than no work…. in a globalised world take what you can. 2) It idealises work as the ‘kernal of the real’ the thing that fills the gap, taking away our existential angst, enabling us to be fulfilled and ultimately find pure orgasmic joy.
The French films message is that globalised capitalism produces insecure and low paid work and life is pressurised and tough. This drives disturbing behaviours that can undermine our humanity and communities. However, the ideology that speaks through this film, is that true contentment comes from something beyond the dignity of labour and security of work. Only if we we can hold to our human values, to an ethical stance we will find a deeper existential happiness and meaning to our lives.
Which version do you believe?
Lessons for Leaders
Check out the ideology that is hidden in your dreams! Also what is hidden in the workplace culture? Are the vision statements real, or are they part of a fantasy culture that aims that keeps employees compliant?
How in a globally competitive world can leaders create more humane workplaces?
Lessons for Coaches
As a coach do you hold onto your values even if it means turning away work? Or do you collude with a bullying boss to keep your own job?
What is your role in co-producing a fantasy world at work. One example I see is when hyper-positive coaches preach the message “you can achieve anything you desire?” Clearly, a narcissistic fantasy on the one hand, but with a hidden message that is harmful…… “if you don’t achieve what you desire, its because you personally are not working hard enough at it”.
 Jacques Lacan was French Psychoanalyst, and jouissance is his term for a fantasy pleasure that is unobtainable.