Parc de Bercy – Butte aux Cailles 11 Sept 2012

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Suppose it is granted that a plongeur’s* work is more or less useless. Then the question follows, why does anyone want him to go on working? I am trying to go beyond the immediate economic cause, and to consider what pleasure it can give anyone to think of men swabbing dishes for life. For there is no doubt that people–comfortably situated people–do find a pleasure in such thoughts. A slave, Marcus Cato said, should be working when he is not sleeping. It does not matter whether his work is needed or not, he must work, because work in itself is good–for slaves, at least. This sentiment still survives, and it has piled up mountains of useless drudgery…

…I believe that this instinct to perpetuate useless work is, at bottom, simply fear of the mob. The mob (the thought runs) are such low animals that they would be too dangerous if they had leisure; it is safer to keep them too busy to think.

George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London, 1933

*a plongeur is an employee of a restaurant charged with washing dishes and other tasks; in Orwell’s book it is described as extremely arduous work.

Gender-swapped street harassment

Catcalling and street harassment get some brilliant gender-swapping treatment in a French animated series from the late 1990s.

Gender-swapping is one of these increasingly popular motifs that is so simple but that can be incredibly powerful. It can seem kind of mundane; I mean, why should a man dressed in women’s clothes modeling a perfume be so inherently strange or funny? But the fact that it does seem so strange to us is exactly what starts to reveal the norms that rule our society. Why does it seem so absurd for women to be catcalling a man like they are in the video? How come women almost never act this way in real life? Because, well, there’s this thing called patriarchy, and it dictates how we act and feel even in the smallest interactions. It is what makes men think that it is okay to mutter towards a woman in a public space, in an effort to remind her that the space, and her own body, do not belong to her. It is a structure that is reinforced constantly, even at an everyday scale, and that has be come so normalized that we barely even notice it. Luckily some simple gender-swapping can bring it back into focus.

Violence is required to achieve the new urban world on the wreckage of the old. Haussmann tore through the old Parisian impoverished quarters, using powers of expropriation for supposedly public benefit, and did so in the name of civic improvement, environmental restoration, and urban renovation. He deliberately engineered the removal of much of the working class and other unruly elements, along with insalubrious industries, from Paris’ city center, where they constituted a threat to public order, public health and, of course, political power. He created an urban form where it was believed (incorrectly, as it turned out, in 1871) sufficient levels of surveillance and military control were possible so as to ensure that revolutionary movements could easily be controlled by military power.

David Harvey, Rebel Cities, 2012.