History and Hollywood
A debate on alienation is increasingly intriguing because the sense of hope and control over labor-power is going to help alienated workers climb out of poverty and depression. Alienation is conceptualized as a process, in which workers feel foreign or segregated from the products of their labor. Alienated employees believe that they are somehow different. In turn, they tend to detach themselves fearing a further rejection, pain, or suffering. There are four forms of alienation, each related to the disruption of basic needs including the survival and attachment. In “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844: Estranged Labor,” Karl Marx discusses alienation from various perspectives. Alongside other resources on alienation, this paper discusses the nature of alienation and its relation to work. Additionally, the author discusses how it can be addressed.
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Capitalism is a socio-economic system or ideology based on private ownership or control of the means of production (capital) as well as the exploitation of labor as a factor of production. Widener (189) notes that cross-racial political activism in Los Angeles between the 1990s and the early 2000s were characterized by working-class radicalism. It is in line with Massood’s (20) account of neo (realism) in Los Angeles. From these articles, it is evident that alienation is a solemn issue that needs to be investigated, analyzed, and addressed as quickly as possible. Alienation takes four forms: alienation of a worker from the product of his effort; alienation of an employee from a process of production; alienation of a worker from his colleagues; and alienation of an employee from himself. Killer of Sheep (1977) is a drama movie, directed by Charles Burnett. With Henry Sanders as a main performer, the movie depicts the culture of urban African-Americans in LA. Henry Sanders as Stan works for many hours at a slaughterhouse in Los Angeles. He is socially alienated by the monotonous slaughter. In this movie, Burnett outlines a strict working-class lifestyle, in which Stan is alienated because he feels that he cannot influence his life.
Capital is essential because it transforms the circulation of commodities. Commodities are those things or objects. They satisfy human needs through their qualities. They are exchanged for either money or something else. Commodities possess a natural and value form. The tangible nature of commodities consists of the material provided by nature such as gold and linen, as well as the labor expended to produce it. The structure of the capitalist economy provokes a social conflict by inducing a conflict between workers as they fight for a better pay. In this end, they are alienated from mutual economic interests. The division of labor in the contemporary workplaces exploits employees by limiting their power to determine the purpose, to which the products will be used. Human beings are naturally satisfied when they have control of products (goods and services) of their labor. By means of labor power and commoditization, workers are reduced to meager wages and psychological estrangement. Consequentially, the capitalist mode of production limits the right to control a product of labor. It ultimately restricts the laborer an ability to consume or buy the goods and services. Social alienation reduces employees to instruments, objects; thus, it cannot psychologically meet every aspect of their human nature.
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Alienation and Work
Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (1989) explores the estrangement of labor in the United States’ capitalist economy. In the mentioned movie, the Wall Street scriveners, Turkey, Bartleby and Nippers serve as the ideal examples of objectified, subdued and alienated wage-laborers. They are slaves to capitalists. Working classes are more affected than recognized, with a variation between the skilled and unskilled labor as the variation between the lower and middle classes. Labor-power is the abstraction of a human resource into the commodity that is traded for money. The link between labor-power to actual labor is analogous to the connection of selling commodity-value to monetary-value. Ideally, workers should be able to choose freely to get into a contract with an employer, who buys the workers’ labor-power as the commodity and owns the products produced by the employee. However, in a capitalist environment, workers are exploited because they do not have any other options. In other words, a capitalist owns the means of production. In an ideal world, the process of creating commodities should not result in alienation. Instead it should be satisfying since people expend their subjectivity into commodity. In a same line, one can be satisfied by the fact that other society members benefit from the created commodity. In capitalism, workers are exploited to the extent that they do not work to create the product being sold.
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Vice versa, a proletariat works for survival. That is to say the proletariat does something in order meet the fundamental needs of life. It can only be achieved by offering labor to capitalists for a meager wage. To this end, the proletariats labor is treated like a property that can be traded at any price. Consequently, workers are alienated from their products because they no longer own that product. Capitalists that have it purchase the proletariat’s labor power in exchange for the private ownership over the workers’ products. Proletariats are a group of employees in the lower working classes that being under capitalism should sell their labor power in order to earn a living. Unfortunately, capitalists own all the profits accrued through the exchange of those products. Given that proletariats do not own the commodities or products of their labor and do not have a free access to means of communication or of production, they are alienated from their workmates as well as from the products they create.
In classical organizations, workers are alienated by the notion that classical theory processes and approaches involve standardizations, predictability, replacing, and specialization. In such companies, individuals do not matter. The movie Office Space (1999) explores various organizational practices precisely in the American society. The humor in this movie points out that modern working environments are dreadful and alienating.
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The main character, Peter, works for a software company called Infitech. His job entails crunching numbers, which almost makes him go crazy. The work environment is depicted as unsatisfactory and oppressing in an attempt to illustrate ineffective and unhealthy practices many organizations and businesses utilize. By demonstrating an unhealthy environment created by such organizations, Office Space serves as a framework of what productive and ethical organizations should avoid. Classical organizations have a clearly defined organizational structure, a strict emphasis on rules, and centralized power. The top management is concerned with getting the work done irrespectively of the means of production. Communication takes a top-down line and centers on work-related issues. Workers are motivated to deliver strictly for owners rather than private interests. In Power Office, all these classical traits are evident. Power is centralized with Bill Lumbergh and the peak of a hierarchy. Lumbergh is authoritative, greedy and abuses power in numerous ways. For example, he patronizes his employees and forces Peter to work over the weekend.
Bread and Roses (2009) is Ken Loach’s movie performed by Adrien Brody. This drama movie deals with a struggle of poorly remunerated janitors in Los Angeles. They also struggle for better working conditions as well as the right to unionize. Massood (20) notes that the violence in Los Angeles was linked to the police brutality, poverty, and government disinterest. They had alienated the African-American community. Rebellions in LA induced riots in other cities. It is an illustration of the class-consciousness and fight against the causes of alienation.
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Bread and Roses is associated with class-consciousness in the sense that disadvantaged workers unite and fight for a better pay and healthy working conditions. In the same context, the movie criticizes the inequalities or alienation in the United States. Bread and Roses highlights health insurance in relation to low paying jobs. From these resources, it is quite clear that employees are alienated if they do not feel any recognition or achievement. Furthermore, work becomes not interesting if it is not challenging. According to Miller (21), the lack of the means of self-actualization discourages employees to reach a full potential. It should be addressed because it is essential in workplaces as conceptualized in the theory proposed by Maslow called the Hierarchy of Needs. Alienation breaks the normative relationships in employment. It also outlines the human conditions under capitalism. That is to say, alienation is the reflection of labor homogenization and economic exploitation. Consequently, classes with identical interests are created. They are rooted in social ties of production. Furthermore, organized struggles create a class of consciousness to reinforce some opposed interests and define a political change. Class-consciousness entails the identification with other similar groups, opposing the interests of the capitalists’ class and visualizing an alternative for their workplace.
Based on these aspects of alienation and work, alienation can be addressed through motivation. For example, Fredrick Herzberg Motivation-Hygiene Theory outlines a number of workplace characteristics that lead to happiness and satisfaction. For laborers to be both happy and satisfied with their input, some certain motivating elements must be present. They include an achievement, responsibility, challenging work, recognition, and advancement at the workplace. Other physical aspects include a salary, benefits, technical quality of supervision, company policy, and some better physical working conditions. If these sets of conditions are present, then workers will be happy and satisfied. Consequently, alienation will be overcome, and employees in such a company as Infitech will be motivated.
Except a capitalistic mode of production, alienation can be propelled by such cognitive distortion as overgeneralization and mind reading. Many workers feeling alienated assume that no one will be in their rescue. The antidote for this is to examine the emotional evidence, which requires education, motivation, trust, and openness. A strategy for self-blame is retribution, which entails considering all the possible causes of negative practices and emotions at workplaces.
Theoretically, the U.S. is built on the ideals of justice and equality. In spite of everything, America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, where capitalism and individualism induce the notion that any person can succeed if working hard. Under this perception, education and employment are supposed to be the pillars of achieving equality and the American Dream. However, by examining the state of America’s economy, especially employment levels, being the reflection of an unequal society, this reality contradicts its founding ideals. Therefore, education is essential in the underserved communities. It is because educators can transform the lives, education and employment opportunities for their students. Educators willing to go beyond the fundamental requirements can set the disadvantaged people on a path to the life success. In other words, dedicated educators that understand and care about the impact of alienation are vital and valuable components of the solution.