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Working, the musical by Studs Turkel

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tonight, I watched the musical that was created with the creation of a book called, Working which was written and researched by the legendary Studs Turkel. The words that the actors used were the words of real people as they described to him why they work and how they work among other things. Some of the phrases that struck me most was:

“people want to find meaning in their lives. They want to be remembered and recognized.”

“When the arm starts working, the brain stops working.”

“People know their own worth or lack of it.”

“Everybody should have something to point to, to be proud of.”

And these were common themes, stated in various ways by the interview subjects. Working is a required part of life but we’ve noticeably lost a connection to the work we perform. The laborer mentioned how he doesn’t know what happens to the steel once it leaves the mill, he doesn’t know if it’s being made to create a car, or a steel girder, etc. but other’s, for example someone who works to create a building, while they don’t own that building, they can still point to it and say, I helped make that.

Another common refrain was one of power, and this was most prominent with the people who had jobs that they hated. They recognized that they did their job well, usually a little too well, but they would make the job interesting by doing something that made that job unique to them. The newspaper boy loved to throw the newspapers into the bushes, the secretary would deliberately make mistakes with her typing and transcription, the gas man would scare his clients by sneaking up behind them and yelling, “Gas man!”

There was a common thought from the people working at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder, that their children would do better. Their children wouldn’t be laborers, cleaning women or farm hands.

When the Hispanic laborer who worked on various fruit farms started talking about how people don’t even know how the food that they eat gets to their grocery stores, it made me think of Arendt’s “banality of evil”. There are children who believe that our meat naturally comes packaged the way that they see it in Safeway. We don’t understand/comprehend/or care about the backbreaking labor and inhumane working conditions that make it so that I can eat strawberries and oranges all year around. What’s evil is the thoughtlessness of our actions, that we go through the motions and not think about what we’re doing. It’s scary because we’ve become accustomed as a society to operate in this fashion.

 

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