Don’t Forget About Gaffers: Where Does Blue-Collar Fit in the No-Collar System?

As you guys know, I’m super into film. So, I wanted to contextualize this reading within a topic I care deeply about for this post. I’ve also have been kind of disappointed with the focus on knowledge workers/”above the line” workers in the creative industries (Of course, it makes sense that we focus on knowledge workers in a college seminar preparing us to enter that part of the creative industries). Twenty years ago, these knowledge workers in the creative industries would have been considered white-collar. We never seem to talk about another group of creative workers that exist in the creative industries. These are what I’ll call for the sake of this argument “blue-collar creatives”. In the film industry, for instance, this would consist of individuals like gaffers and grips who, essentially do what would be considered blue-collar work, but their work is creatively focused. My big question for today is, ‘how do these workers fit into this “no-collar” paradigm that is set up in Andrew Ross’s book, No-Collar?’

What’s a gaffer?

Let’s start off by breaking down the role of just one of the film industry’s many bizarrely named, but incredibly important roles: the gaffer. The gaffer is the chief lighting electrician. They’re in charge of fulfilling and often designing the lighting set up for a film or television show. Gaffers lead a team of electricians to get the lighting set up. This is an incredibly important role in a medium that has often been called “painting with light”. Essentially, they have to make sure whatever vision the Director and Director of Photography have for the piece gets carried out. To simplify things, look at the pair of images below. The gaffer has to create a lighting set up based on the Director of Photography’s ideas (image 1). Then, the gaffer has to dress the set in line with this setup (image 2).

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So, where am I going with this? (Hint: I’m not exactly sure)

Ross writes that in the tech industry, “the no-collar mentality applies to knowledge workers whose high-tech skills or aptitude for problem-solving wins them a measure of autonomy in a data-rich workplace purged of rigid supervision and lifestyle discrimination” (Ross 34). In the creative industries, a similar worker is sought out. One of the things I struggled with in relation to the reading is to figure out where these blue-collar creatives fit into the no-collar system that seems to be taking over the creative industries. Obviously, there’s an immediate issue that blue-collar creatives in film aren’t always tied down to one workplace, but I question why the emphasis is solely on trying to attract knowledge workers/above the line individuals with this promise of a relaxed atmosphere.

There’s definitely a class divide in the sense that companies are catering the no-collar image towards what would have traditionally been called white-collar workers. And sure, you can’t really have a no-collar steel mill (though the idea of a cereal bar and a foosball table in the middle of a mill is pretty amusing), but in the creative industries you have that ability to extend your blue-collar workers the benefits no-collar workers receive. However in the the creative industries, despite their reliance on what could be considered blue-collar labor, promoting the image of being a “cool” no-collar company seems to be more important than actually implementing these strategies throughout their ranks.

Well, what do you folks think?

On a completely unrelated note, I’ve had this old Chet Baker song stuck in my head. So, if you like jazz check it out. It’s well worth your time. 

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