Thursday, April 30, 2020

Julia Madsen, "Reframing Place & Labor History"

Julia Madsen

Reframing Place and Labor History: Working Class Politics and the Archival Image in Midwestern Labor Documentaries

1> The image of the American Midwest as “Heartland” is pervasive in the popular imagination. In Heartland TV, Victoria E. Johnson states that “the Heartland has been a central site of desire and fantasy in American popular culture as seen on TV and in dialogue with other everyday media discourse.”1 The constructed image of the Heartland in film, television, and popular culture speaks not only to the region’s geographic centrality, but to its perennial association with the nation’s ideals and values, offering “a myth of commonality rooted in the physical landscape.”2 While the Heartland myth arose during the broadcast era, it speaks to long- standing representations of the Midwest as an idealized “middle.”3 John Gast’s 1872 American Progress4 depicts the region as a site of westward expansion that has been domesticated with railroads and industry—a midpoint between nature and technological advancement in keeping with the Jeffersonian “pastoral ideal of the middle landscape.”5 Marx writes that Jefferson’s pastoral ideal of America sought “to preserve a provincial, rural society” while also being devoted “to the advance of science, technology, and the arts.”6 These “conflicting statements”7 expose the contradictions and instabilities inherent in cultural myths of the region. As Jacobson notes, conflict over the region’s symbolic meaning speaks to “the insufficiency” of the myth of commonality “as a response to the conditions of urban industrial culture.”8 The region’s deep complications arising from its geographic,9 symbolic, and ideological instabilities reveal the need to challenge representations of Midwestern pastoralism which have persisted over time, uncovering the realities of industrial culture. For if the Midwest is the “heart” of the nation, a so-called “ideal middle kingdom suspended between uncivilized wilderness and urban-industrial evils,”10 then it is also a site of (heart) disease and disruption caused by industrialization.

2> In his touchstone novel The Jungle, Upton Sinclair writes of Chicago’s Packingtown as an industrial wasteland, an inauspicious and uninhabitable place not only for animals herded daily into slaughterhouses, but for those laborers who live and work there. Sinclair writes, “most of the men hated their work . . . They hated the bosses and they hated the owners; they hated the whole place, the whole neighborhood—even the whole city, with an all-inclusive hatred, bitter and fierce. Women and little children would fall to cursing about it; it was rotten, rotten as hell— everything was rotten.”11 Sinclair depicts Packingtown as the underside of the American Dream, the place where workers and their families’ faith in the nation is swallowed up by power and machinery. The novel exposes the realities of hazardous working conditions in the urban and industrial Midwest through a documentary approach, and the thrust of Sinclair’s argument serves as a call for workers’ justice and legal reform.

3> The Jungle is an exemplary work of pre-World War I muckraking journalism, and functions as a foundational text and precursor to the Midwestern labor documentary tradition. Several important themes and concerns emerge within this text, including a strong critique of Taylorism and its methods of scientific management which often served to exploit workers for increased production without increased pay. Established by Frederick Winslow Taylor in the late- nineteenth century, Taylorism maintained utopian social ideals, including the idea of the factory as a representation of industrial progress itself, a site of efficiency and productivity free of conflict between workers and employers.12 Labor unions argued that scientific management “was founded on a purely instrumental view of the worker and that it was no more than a speed-up system in analytic clothing.”13 Taylorism not only paved the way for the invention of the Fordist assembly line, but also for the utopic architectural aesthetics and “visual order” associated with Fordism and the rational architectural theories behind the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St. Louis, Missouri, which “forcibly corralled the poor on unwanted urban land”14 and “did little more than remind them of their status as expendable jetsam of postwar Fordism.”15 In retrospect, The Jungle becomes a prescient insight into the brutality of life both inside and outside the factory’s confines—where modern industrial culture determines spatial relations and the slums in which workers must live in order to work another day.

4> During the prewar period in which The Jungle is situated, silent film significantly witnessed “[a] worker film movement” which “made films with social relevance,”16 including A Martyr to His Cause (1911) and From Dusk to Dawn (1913).17 According to Godfried, “[w]orkers, socialists, and anarchists made films exposing capitalism’s contradictions, describing class conflict, and exploring the need for collective action and social reform.”18 While working- class activism and politics helped shape the commercialized film industry we know today, the myth of the Midwest as a populist Heartland shaped television broadcasting,19 the latter of which has served to render the landscape as a metaphorical screen on which to project the nation’s values. Despite the lasting influence of both region and class on popular culture and entertainment, Midwestern labor documentaries remain an overlooked category in film and cultural studies, and scholars have paid little attention to the significant impact of the region on the genre with films like Finally Got the News (1970), Union Maids (1976), With Babies and Banners (1979), Roger and Me (1989), and American Dream (1990).

5> Midwestern labor documentaries depict a non-homogenized landscape beset by corporate and industrial conflict and oppressive work conditions, an implicit critique of the prevailing Heartland myth and its “‘all-American’ cultural values of populism.”20 Relatedly, these films also present tacit critiques of Midwestern pastoralism’s “affirmative interpretation,” privileging instead that which is “exclude[ed] and suppress[ed]” in the pastoral ideal of American society, including “a history of environmental abuse, and the experiences of women, ethnic minorities, and the working class.”21 Elisabeth Chamorand notes, “[a]s portable synchronizing-sound equipment enabled a small crew to get first-hand accounts of everyday experience and the lowly’s efforts to better their conditions, labor documentarists . . . attempted to rescue from oblivion significant struggles that had been forgotten or suppressed,” including the voices of “African-American and women workers in particular.”22 American labor documentaries present a diverse, intersectional Midwestern working class, which is defined here as those people “who are employed for wages, esp. in unskilled or semi-skilled manual or industrial work, and their families,”23 and who reside in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, or Wisconsin. These documentaries reframe both visually and metaphorically the limits of the archive and historical record with respect to place and labor history through the perspective of workers.

6> Charles Merewether defines the archive as “the means by which historical knowledge and forms of remembrance are accumulated, stored, and recovered.”24 Questions over the archive’s frame—its limits, and what is left in and left out—proliferate in cultural studies, and scholars have noted the documentary’s role in imagining “the historical world anew.”25 In Archive Fever, Jacques Derrida addresses the etymology of “archive” as a place where “authority, social order are exercised,” given that arkhé” “names at once the commencement and the commandment” and is “the principle according to the law, there were men and gods command” (9).26 The archive, as Derrida implies, is the house of the “official record,” and the archive’s frame is determined by the “ruler.” As author and critic Carmen Maria Machado compellingly writes, “[t]he word archive, Jacques Derrida tells us, comes from the ancient Greek ἀρχεῖον: arkheion, ‘the house of the ruler’ . . . What is placed in or left out of the archive is a political act, dictated by the archivist and the political context in which she lives.”27 The experiences of the working class, especially female and ethnic perspectives, are often overlooked in American history writ large, despite the foundational role the working class has had in building America.28 American labor history, too, has been blinkered to the experiences of women and minorities. John Russo and Sherry Lee Linkon assert that much of American labor history “has championed the perspective of white, male, native-born workers,”29 including David Roediger’s pivotal Wages of Whiteness. Russo and Linkon write that, although the book highlights race and class, the working class that Roediger examines is overwhelmingly “white and male,” and “[b]lack slaves were not seen as part of the working class, either by Roediger or, equally important, by the white workers he studied. Nor were women included.”30 Broadly speaking, the dearth of public knowledge regarding gendered and racialized experiences of working class labor in America draws attention to the necessity of expanding the archive and filling the gaps.

7> Produced and distributed by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and its central staff two decades before Wages of Whiteness was published, Finally Got the News31 presents a
perspicacious and moving critique of labor oppression rooted in the experiences of the African American industrial working class in Detroit’s auto factories. Produced on the heels of the sweeping cultural shifts of the 1960s as well as the 1967 Detroit race riots and their “violent white resistance,”32 Finally Got the News has been regarded as a powerful work emerging from a radical African American movement, although distribution at the time was limited.33 The film’s legacy has been “able to survive the organization it was made to promote,” and “[s]ome film critics considered it a radical classic comparable to the memorable Salt of the Earth, made in the 1950s.”34 Other precursors and influential films for Finally Got the News include The Inheritance (1964), a labor-sponsored documentary made by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers which became significant for its representation of modern labor struggle through the point of view of workers.

8> Due to increasing technological availability, the 1960s witnessed a resurgence in labor documentaries, a genre which “developed in the late ’20s and ’30s and had seemed to die out in the ’50s when many veteran documentarists of the 30s were blacklisted.”35 Chris Robé writes that “the increasing availability of more user-friendly and affordable printmaking, video, and other communication technologies during the 1960s and 1970s allowed growing numbers of people access to the cultural means of production.”36 The League of Revolutionary Black Workers significantly “made media production an integral activist practice in mobilizing workers,”37 and in doing so “declared that the Black working class represented the vanguard of socialist transformation.”38 As such, the film expresses an innovative rhetoric afforded by visual technology, drawing on archival stills, footage, interviews, and shots from inside the plants. Through visually reframing the archive, Finally Got the News enacts an argument exposing “how slave labor has infused all aspects of white existence,”39 and “how the surplus value produced by Black workers under slavery gave rise to American industrial capitalism,”40 positioning Detroit as an epicenter for national conflict and tension arising from industrial capitalism’s ills.

9> According to Laura Rascaroli, in film scholarship “the frame is usually understood as an element at once of the image, of the apparatus of the cinema, and of film language that participates in, supports, and structures meaning-making in multiple ways . . . The word ‘frame’ itself is ambiguous and multilayered.”41 Rascaroli cites Judith Lancioni’s “The Rhetoric of the Frame” on filmic reframings of North American Civil War photographs, stating that “[r]eframing is for Lancioni a rhetorical strategy that attracts attention to the epistemology of seeing and thus also to the historicity of images.”42 In essence, the act of reframing archival images asks the viewer to engage with history not as a fixed absolute, but as a dialogue between past and present. Lancioni writes, “reframing visually advances the argument that history is not a product, an absolute truth enshrined in libraries and archives, but rather an on-going critical encounter between the past and the present. That encounter, moreover, is not passive or accidental; it is rhetorical.”43 The two techniques that Lancioni addresses in her article are mobile framing and reframing:

"Mobile framing is Bordwell and Thompson’s term for camera work (specifically the pan, the tilt or the tracking shot) that gives viewers the illusion of movement, regardless of what actually took place in the profilmic event. In mobile framing, the camera treats the archival still as if it were a three-dimensional entity, endowing it with depth and motion. Mobile framing . . . problematizes viewing by prolonging, beyond normal expectations, the time it takes viewers to decipher exactly what they are seeing . . . In reframing, an archival still is dissected into several different shots, one of which shows the photograph in its original form and others which reframe portions of the original. Reframing is often used to provide close-ups of individuals barely noticeable in the original photograph, thus inviting viewers to question why this is so."44

10> Using Lancioni’s definitions, mobile framing offers an illusion of motion and depth, while reframing highlights certain detectable elements from the archival image, often singling out an individual or detail so as to draw attention to them. In her article, Lancioni provides an example from the film The Civil War (1990) wherein “an archival photograph of slaves gathered in front of a cabin is reframed to focus attention on one detail of the photograph, a detail that is much less noticeable in the original: a girl holding a book.”45 Documentary films begin to form an argument and critique through these visual techniques of framing and reframing, such that historical photographs are resituated in a new medium and context and endowed with movement, depth, or a new focus, inviting the viewer to collaborate in the meaning-making process.46

11> The dramatic opening segment of Finally Got the News engages with the visual techniques of mobile framing and reframing as a means of eliding past and present in order to represent the ongoing racism and oppression which is foundational and built into modern capitalism, and which was increasingly evident in Detroit’s social landscape in the 1960s and 1970s. Embedded within the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and in-line with black working class activist groups of the time, such as the United Black Brothers movement in New Jersey and the Workers for Job Equality in Maryland,47 the League of Revolutionary Black Workers sought to combat not only the overarching racism associated with the AFL-CIO48 and, more specifically, the United Auto Workers (UAW),49 but the rampant poverty and oppression they saw in Detroit generally. Detroit’s poor housing conditions were upheld by “[t]he aggressive organizing of white homeowners alongside the repressive policing and the discriminatory practices of banks and real estate brokers,” which “maintained the segregation of Detroit” and “left Black workers spatially and economically ‘trapped’ in overcrowded neighborhoods.”50 The film’s opening segment becomes a rallying call for the African American working class enacted through a combination of soundtrack—a “warlike”51 drumbeat which is a kind of auditory pun on the inception of the league with the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM)—and visual rhetoric. At the opening of the montage, the camera uses a mobile framing device by slowly panning a black-and-white image of a crowd of slave children sitting on the ground, an effect which, as Lancioni notes with respect to The Civil War’s slow pan of a photograph of a line of corpses along a fence, conveys a sense that this goes “on and on.”52 Lancioni writes, “[t]he slow camera movement also gives viewers time to contemplate the image and to question its significance . . . prolonged pans and tilts encourage viewers to engage with visual images on both a cognitive and an emotional level.”53 As an opening shot, the image of the slave children encourages viewers to grapple with the fact of enslavement as an anti-humanist atrocity waged against children, who were born into an ideology and system wherein they were viewed as expendable property.

12> The following images in the montage include a contemporaneous newspaper advertisement—“Negroes for Sale”—then black-and-white images of auction blocks presided over by white men, as well as images and archival photographs of slave labor including a slaveowner’s notice of departed slaves. The content of the images then shifts to archival photographs of white factory workers, slowly panning an image of a room full of workers in a similar manner to the opening shot. The resonance between these two mobile framings suggests a parallel between the two distinct periods of time, bringing into focus, also, the white working class as a part of the labor movement. Next there is a succession of quick cuts between images as the tempo builds. The film presents photographs of businessmen in suit and ties, and in one photograph the camera reframes to focus on two businessmen’s hands, then their faces as they look out in the manner of surveilling workers.

13> This invites viewers to question the significance of the close-up on their hands. The reason, it seems, becomes clearer—a montage of archival photographs flashes on screen, including workers’ mass protests where African American and white workers appear in crowds or waving from the windows of buildings beneath protest signs. A rotating/spinning image of a banner which states “Victory is Ours!” appears on screen, and then we see in rapid juxtaposition a photograph of two white businessmen shaking hands, a close up on the word “ours” in the banner, then a close up on the image of the two businessmen’s faces as they smile, and finally a hand-painted or hand-drawn question mark on a white background. The film turns the image of the two businessmen shaking hands into a mobile framing by moving the photograph up and down in the motion of a handshake. There is a stark opposition between the hands of the workers, which thus far have been shown undergoing factory labor or waving from windows in solidarity, and the businessmen shaking hands. At the same time, the hand-painted or hand-drawn question mark brings into fold the film’s own process of production and the hands at work behind the camera making the film possible. Much of the film hinges on that question mark, an unknowable future which looms large for the workers and for the league itself, which will dissolve not long after the film’s production.54

14> In Hands: Physical Labor, Class, and Cultural Work Janet Zandy writes that “homages to the human hand . . . mirror hierarchies of power, control, and ownership . . . Olmstead in Slave States (1856) reports a chronology of hand labor ‘where children begin as ‘quarter hand,’ advancing [my emphasis] to ‘half hands’ and then to ‘three-quarter hands’ and finally to ‘full hands.’”55 The history and meaning of homages to hands in American culture casts in sharp relief the relationship between the opening mobile framing of slave children and the images of the workers’ and businessmen’s hands which appear later in the segment. The children and the working class—both reduced to the labor of their hands, which is marked by a linear conception of time’s progression by the hour, minute, and second hands—are subject to the imposition of a capitalist ideology which masquerades as reality when in fact real lives are being torn asunder, real hands and limbs are subject to dismemberment from hazardous work conditions, and lifelines are cut short by death, poverty, and exhaustion within and beyond the factory.56 While the film imbues the photograph of the businessmen shaking hands with vertical movement, the slave children remain frozen in time, panned and gazed over as a manager might surveil his masses. The children are swallowed by history and their half-expressionless, half-dead faces tell the story—whereas the two businessmen remain smiling with the pleasure of a secret, of having made a deal that only they, and not the workers, will benefit from.

15> Zandy states, “[w]orkers migrate in response to the stillness of their economic lives, to the stasis of poverty or the threat of poverty. Nominally free, but linked in a continuum of economic unfreedom, workers are in the global circuitry of producing wealth.”57 Like the slave children depicted in the film’s opening image, Detroit’s African American working class is bound by stasis and ‘economic unfreedom,’ trapped within “the gross inequalities” of “urban geography.”58 Robé notes that, in the opening segment, “[p]ast and present dramatically converge in the labor of black folk where contemporary labor, in spite of being paid, becomes an extension of slavery’s regime and ideology.”59 The master/slave dynamics ongoing within Detroit’s factories reaches beyond its walls and into impoverished parts of the city.

16> Mitchell writes that scholar William Bunge “sought to work out the mathematical, often geometric, ‘laws’ governing the structuring of spatial relationships” in Detroit, where he used “the tools of mapping and spatial analysis to expose the gross inequalities that constructed an urban geography that was literally deadly for poor and black residents.”60 What Bunge and his colleagues uncovered was “a landscape of economic deprivation, racism, and the scarring power of corporate and elite control . . . It was built on the backs of an exploited, racially divided working class.”61 Bunge ultimately used this knowledge “to empower rather than further colonize impoverished Detroit residents,”62 and the emphasis on colonization within the scope of Bunge’s studies is particularly important when conceiving of the historical and geographical context of the Midwestern landscape’s colonization.

17> I argue that Thomas Jefferson’s Northwest Ordinance of 1785 ultimately paved the way for Fordism and Taylorism’s applications to city planning by suggesting “that harmonizing private financial interest with the public good has been a basic function of the national government from the very beginning.”63 In Shaping the City, Charles Waldheim writes that Detroit “offered the fullest embodiment” of Fordist and Taylorist principles “in spatial terms,”64 and that “[w]hile flexibility, mobility, and speed made Detroit an international model for industrial urbanism, those very qualities rendered the city disposable. Traditional models of dense urban arrangement were quite literally abandoned in favor of escalating profits, accelerating accumulation and a culture of consumption.”65 Looking back on the Northwest Ordinance which imposed a grid over the Western Territories and made way for the purchasing, settling, and colonization of land, one can track a progression to Fordism and Taylorism’s applications to city planning, including the “master plan” of Detroit which served to entrap its most vulnerable residents.

18> Duffey writes of “the principles reflected in the Ordinance,” including “expansionism, development, imperialism, risk (both physical and economic), commercialism, and a certain strain of utopianism,”66 stating that “[t]he utopian aspect of the Ordinance—its description of the nation ‘as it should be’—appears most clearly in the social provisions of the articles of compact.”67 There is a parallel between Jefferson’s idealized “middle landscape” and the utopian vision of the Northwest Ordinance, which both justified expansionism by way of social improvement and imagined an “ideal” nation.68 Writing of the symbolic dimensions of the Northwest Ordinance, Duffey states that

"the utopian, imaginary qualities of the social provisions were expressed most clearly during the antebellum period with respect to the slavery prohibition. The contention among antislavery advocates that the Ordinance freed slaves travelling in the North produced rhetoric suggesting that the free states were enchanted lands. One lawyer argued that ‘[o]n the coming of the slave into the free state, by the mere force of the prohibition, his shackles fall from him’ . . . This phenomenon was identified at the time by a member of the House of Representatives from the South, who commented that ‘[t]he whole controversy in the Territories . . . related to an imaginary negro in an impossible place.’ This retreat from reality was in part facilitated by the character of the Ordinance itself."69

19> The so-called “retreat from reality” that Duffey emphasizes here is significant in understanding the historical context for how the Midwestern landscape, and Detroit specifically, recedes into the social imaginary while the reality of place proves a more immiserated experience for working class people. Finally Got the News exposes through visual framing and reframing what those working class residents of Detroit have known from the street view70—that the “mobility” of Motor City is only for the wealthy and elite, and that the structures, powers, and grids put into place to maintain a model for urban industrial living hold captive the very people who generate wealth for those at the “top.” Finally Got the News gives the perspective from the “bottom up,”71 and in doing so attempts not only to reframe the archive to include voices that have been suppressed, but calls for the reframing of capitalistic structures controlled by “a ruling clique” that is “parasitic, vulturistic, cannibalistic, and sucking and destroying the life of the workers everywhere; and we must stop it because it is—evil!” as stated by league activist Ken Cockrel in a monologue that filmmaker Stewart Bird calls “‘the heart of the film.’”72

20> Mitchell asserts that geography is “central to the very functioning of capitalism, not just incidental to it,”73 and that “[u]nderstanding the intersection of location, place, and mobility in relation to the logic of capital circulation allows us to understand how both social and political contradictions and social and political power are rooted in space and place.”74 If Detroit is the embodiment of Fordism and Taylorism as applied to city planning, a symbol for American enterprise and industry, then it also functions as a critique. Finally Got the News envisions African American and white workers as united in their wage slavery, illuminating the transhistorical exploitation of African American workers as both a national and global75 human rights issue affecting all of those whom are subjected to the effects of corporate industrial capitalism’s oppression.

21> Just as geography is central to the functioning of capitalism, social reproduction, too, is intrinsic to the operation of capitalism in providing a space outside of the workplace—but nonetheless imbricated with it—that “renew[s] life,” and which is itself “a form of work.”76 Laslett and Brenner write, “[w]riting on the gendered division of labor, feminists use social reproduction to refer to the activities and attitudes, behaviors and emotions, responsibilities and relationships directly involved in the maintenance of life on a daily basis, and intergenerationally,” including “how food, clothing, and shelter are made available for immediate consumption.”77 Without social reproduction, feminists have argued that “wage workers could not continue to engage in productive work.”78 With Babies and Banners demonstrates the role of working class women’s labor in social reproduction and industrial work while filling the void of historical understanding regarding gendered labor and class relations, a critical task given that “[a]s late as the 1990s, many labor and working-class historians remained committed to an understanding of class consciousness and class politics that was public, production-centered, and predominately white and male.”79 Foregrounding oral history alongside archival footage and photographs, both With Babies and Banners80 and Union Maids81 emerge from the momentum of the women’s movement in the early 1970s82 and tell the story of women’s involvement in the rank-and-file labor movement in Chicago, Illinois during the Great Depression and the 1936 sit- down strike at General Motors in Flint, Michigan, respectively.

22> While With Babies and Banners portrays the lived experience of working class women inside and outside the home in ways that speak to ongoing gender struggles and sexual divisions of labor, the interview subjects in Union Maids notably maintain “an almost Victorian silence on the question of sexuality and the labor struggle,” and Sonya Michel argues that “[b]y focusing only on discrimination against women by management, Union Maids cannot account for the ways in which family life and patriarchal ideology and culture also situate women within the work force.”83 While the film offers fleeting insights into the women’s life and labor outside of the factory, Union Maids “established beyond question that women were crucial in day-to-day shopfloor struggle in the 1930s.”84 Union Maids includes interviews with Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods, three women who “rose to the demands of their time and became militant organizers for their class.”85 Alan Rosenthal notes that “[t]he film looks deceptively simple . . . But the whole piece of oral history is beautifully edited and was rightfully nominated for an Oscar in 1978.”86 Near the beginning, Woods’s voiceover states that “in the late-20s we all left home looking for a new life in the big city—Chicago” while a rendition of the song “Sweet Home Chicago” plays over archival footage of the city. The footage spotlights Chicago’s growing manufacturing and industry during this time, including images of factories, stockyards, and railways. While Chicago, according to Woods, seemed like a mecca for those looking to move to the city and find employment during the Depression, the women’s interviews depict a darker reality within the factories. Woods says, “it was the beginning of the big Depression when we hit Chicago. Jobs were hard to come by and the employers took advantage of it. Working conditions were just awful, long hours, twelve to fourteen a day, exhausting speeds, low pay— but you needed to eat, so people took whatever work they could get.” For these women, the grinding, often dangerous work was met with lower pay than men. Nowicki, for example, made thirty-seven and a half cents an hour while men made fifty-two cents.

23> Nowicki’s experiences at the stockyards speak to the hazardous labor conditions and lack of safety precautions of the day. She relays a story about a woman who worked a floor below her making hotdogs, who accidentally pushed her fingers into the chopper and cut her fingertips off. Nowicki states, “people reacted to this incident and were horrified, but they figured they couldn’t do anything. Well that night, a bunch of us got together and we wrote out a leaflet on it and came up with certain demands and asked the women not to operate those machines until the company assured us that there would be safeguards.” As she tells the story, the film presents a photograph of a group of female workers huddled over a table while one of them is drafting a document with pen and paper. The film reframes this image by moving close-up on the hands of the woman writing the document. This reframing asks the viewer to make a connection between the story they have just heard about the woman’s fingertips being cut off and the hands of the female worker now drafting a leaflet to management. The connection that emerges here suggests the agency the women find in organizing together by writing the leaflet—when one worker’s fingers get cut off, the others join together in solidarity to protect themselves and their fellow workers. This photograph shows, too, what a union is in practice; it is the unified voice that emerges when pen meets paper, the power of the group when organizing for collective action.

24> The horrors that occurred within Chicago’s stockyards are also well-documented in The Jungle, and though Nowicki’s experiences occur two decades after the book was published, they express similar concerns over work conditions and safety precautions. The film’s reframing of the photograph of female workers, while perhaps a small detail in the film’s larger vision, reveals the action that women have historically taken to better labor conditions at the local level. The film offers a feminist perspective and reimagines labor history through the eyes of women who lived it and witnessed the brutalizing, lacerating effects of power and oppression on both the individual and collective—from hazardous machinery to a lash of the tongue from management. Chicago, once thought of as a land of promise for the women in Union Maids and for main character Jurgis in The Jungle, becomes simultaneously a place of struggle and hotbed for historical unionizing activities.

25> With Babies and Banners dives deeper into the role of social reproduction in union organizing, offering a broader portrait of working class life during the time of the sit-down strike. According to Tom Zaniello, With Babies and Banners “offered new strong feminist perspectives on labor history sorely missed in early documentaries,”87 and the film has received critical attention for its novel portrayal of gender and labor history. Zaniello also writes that “some of the best documentaries of the 1970s, such as With Babies and Banners and The Wobblies, helped launch a golden age of labor documentaries that continues to this day.”88 The film begins with former Women’s Emergency Brigade member Genora Johnson speaking in front of a large audience, and then films Johnson walking up to a house for a reunion with women involved in the organization. Jennifer L. Borda writes that “[t]he spectator watches as Johnson walks up to the first house, and views Johnson from a position inside the house as she opens the door to the closed-in porch. The position of the camera provides the feeling that the spectator already has been invited inside to join the women’s reunion.”89 The scene of the reunion is warm, familiar, and private. Set in the living room, the women sit together looking a scrapbook of newspaper clips and photographs of the strike, recollecting their memories of the time.

26> The setting is significant in foregrounding crucial links between work and homeplace, in keeping with women’s labor historians who “found that families and households shaped the conditions under which both women and men mounted protests and called strikes.”90 The setting also enacts a dialogic space by inviting the viewer into the conversation, and I argue that the film’s use of reframing asks us to engage in meaningful ways with relationships between present and past through the use of archival images. However, the reframing of these images in the form of the scrapbook is a different kind of encounter than mobile framing or the reframing of portions of an original image through close-ups. Here the archival images take physical form through a kind of personal record which comprises them. Ellen Gruber Garvey writes, “scrapbooks are archives in themselves” and “[l]ike archives and libraries, scrapbooks preserve records and documents.”91 The images and newspaper clips, it seems, are not intended to be interpreted or interrogated by the viewer, but serve instead as aids to memory to spur an ongoing conversation between the women—they are “sources of information”92 and in this way they uphold an indexical relationship to reality in keeping with documentary realism. In viewing the conversation as it unfolds, the viewer becomes “part of this revised history”93 through a recognition of the continued significance of the women’s legacy. The viewer gains insight not only into sexual divisions of labor, women’s role in union organizing, and the oppression women faced at work in factories, but they also become cognizant of the corrupt influence of General Motors in the city of Flint.

27> Embedded in the second-wave feminist movement which was “acutely aware of the media’s potential for cultural influence,”94 feminist film emerged in the 1970s for the purpose of “consciousness-raising about the condition of women in society and the struggle to improve her situation.”95 Falling in-line with other feminist interventions of the time such as “theoretical accounts” which dealt with “images of women created and circulated within our dominant culture defined by patriarchy and heterosexuality,”96 feminist film documentarians saw the need for expanding the archive to include women’s experience through the voices and stories of women themselves. Union Maids and With Babies and Banners spotlight the significance of oral history by adding to existing historical knowledge, including stories that have been left out for too long. With Babies and Banners privileges the collaboration of oral history and the archival image by way of the scrapbook, implying that images alone cannot tell the whole story, especially in light of those histories that are overwhelmingly absent from the historical record.

28> This unique reframing of images in the form of the scrapbook upholds the personal nature of the film’s testimonies through which the viewer is able to hear a “fuller version” of the sit- down strike. One woman says, “General Motors was the world’s largest industrial corporation at that time. The heart of General Motors was in Flint, Michigan,” and others help paint the backdrop of the scene, not only with respect to working conditions inside the factories but to the ubiquitous influence of General Motors in Flint generally speaking. The women state that “they [General Motors] were the big wheel here. They had the judges behind them. They had the mayor behind them,” and that “you were dealing with them for everything that you got. For instance, you buy a car from them, okay, you finance that car through their company. They got your money. Even though you work for them they turn around . . . and got it back from you.” In the film there is an abiding sense that General Motors “owned the town or got control of everything.”97

29> The effects of General Motors’ control over the city were felt inside and outside the home. As one woman states:

"Very often the men would go to beer gardens to release all of the tensions and the threats they had received inside the factory. Their wives would be home just crying their eyes out because the money was being spent in a beer garden. Flint was famous for its beer gardens and churches. And, of course, the churches played the role of consoling the wives and promising them that no matter what they had to suffer here on earth that someday in heaven they would be rewarded for their patience and their virtue. And that’s all we had in Flint, Michigan—churches and bars."

30> Flint’s churches and bars provided a nominal escape from the workday’s labor, though inside the home women were often subject to mistreatment. One woman says, “[t]he men were so driven by the speed-up inside the factory that he came home unable to be a decent companion to either his wife or his children, and she had to take an awful lot of bad treatment from her husband,” and another adds “[w]here would anybody be if it weren’t for General Motors? The woman in the home was a very, very isolated person. They were always tied to their kitchens, and to their nurseries, and to their homes. The men could walk off from it, go to the union hall, whatever, but the women couldn’t get away from it.” The film’s subjects ultimately express what it was like to live a life almost entirely determined by General Motors, the effects of that control, and the toll it took on women and children inside the home.

31> The construction of the Midwest as a home or “refuge”98 from urban industrialism speaks to the crucial role of home and homeplace in maintaining the operation of capitalism and labor. It seems that the Midwest’s image as “home” and “heart” of the nation allows for corporate industrialism’s continued march forward, a projection onto the landscape which all too often belies the reality of living and working conditions for working class people. Homeplace, in the example of With Babies and Banners, is a space that has been overtaken and immiserated by industrial corporatism. By reframing history through the women’s perspective, With Babies and Banners positions home and homeplace as central yet overlooked sites of labor. Michael Moore’s Roger and Me,99 similarly set in Flint, implicitly asks what happens to a homeplace when it becomes inhospitable for the working people who live there. Moore provides a portrait of Flint that runs counter to the city’s image constructed by and for General Motors.

32> Roger and Me remains a hallmark documentary in American popular culture alongside other prominent films by Moore including Bowling for Columbine (2002) and Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004). Zaniello describes the film as “the first feature-length postmodern labor documentary”100 which was also “the first film to be denounced by both General Motors and the United Auto Workers (UAW) for being unfair to them.”101 Moore presents Flint as a city that has been under siege by General Motors for decades, emphasizing the changing economic landscape as a result of “the shift from an industrial to postindustrial economy.”102 The film encourages viewers to analyze Moore’s ideas “about why General Motors closed its manufacturing plants in and around Flint, Michigan” and his argument “about its effects on the town.”103 In this film, Flint becomes a microcosm of the changing American economy at large and its effects on working class people.

33> Moore’s attention to the city as a character and the centralization of his own narration may appear to overshadow the voices of his working class interview subjects. Yet the autobiographical elements of the film not only reflect his own relationship to homeplace, including his own working class identity and his father’s employment at General Motors, but evocatively represent the entwined histories of the city and the automobile manufacturer. In the prologue the film presents home movie footage alongside footage of Flint, including a television segment of Pat Boone, a celebrity endorser for General Motors, singing on television. Moore states, “[o]ur hometown of Flint, Michigan was the birthplace of General Motors, the largest corporation in the world. There were more auto factories and workers here than in any city on earth. We built Cadillacs, Buicks, and Fisher bodies...GM trucks, Chevrolets, and AC spark plugs. We enjoyed a prosperity that working people had never seen. And the city was grateful to the company.” In his voiceover, Moore seems to perform the same commercially-inflected nostalgia for the city that one sees in the images and footage on screen. Matthew Bernstein writes that “[i]n the prologue, Moore generally situates himself as a small-town, working-class individual, subjected to all the media spectacles with which General Motors and Flint, Michigan, alternately disguise and proclaim their allegiance to American capitalism,” and that “[t]his segment evokes what Nichols calls ‘a sense of constraint and over-determination’ in the town’s history and its residents’ identity.”104 This so-called ‘constraint and over-determination’ is also evidence of a cultural mythology which inscribes the Midwest as an “all-American” region emblematic of the nation’s values and ideals.

34> As Moore shows in the prologue, General Motors promotes a constructed image of Flint, bolstering a view of the city as a symbol for American industry’s achievement in order to ultimately “sell” the city and the values it stands for to a national audience. Moore presents Flint as both real and imagined, a site where real working class people live under threat of unemployment, and simultaneously a site of capitalist fantasy. That the wealthy citizens of Flint appear to, in fact, live out that fantasy while working class and low-income families struggle to make money and maintain housing is a grim juxtaposition throughout the film. The central focus of the film is General Motors CEO Roger Smith and his extensive closing of auto plants in the late-1970s and 1980s.

35> Near the beginning of the film, Moore states, “I wasn’t back in Flint more than a few days when the bad news hit,” and the film presents footage of television news broadcasts confirming the looming shutdowns and the loss of almost 30,000 jobs. We also see footage of Smith’s announcement regarding the closing of the plants, followed by Moore’s voiceover where he says, “[d]evastating wasn't the half of it. Maybe I got this wrong, but I thought companies lay off people when they hit hard times. GM was the richest company in the world, and it was closing factories when it was making profits in the billions.” In the short clip that follows, Smith states “[w]e do not have any plan to cut our workforce by 80,000. That was kind of a what- happens-if type of thing,” which is succeeded by a black-and-white photograph of Smith appearing befuddled as he scratches his head.

36> The film reframes this photograph by moving up-close on Smith’s face as if to allow the viewer to contemplate Smith’s actions and character. Moore states,

"[s]o this was GM chairman Roger Smith. He appeared to have a brilliant plan: first close eleven factories in the U.S., then open eleven in Mexico, where you pay the workers seventy cents an hour. Use the money you saved by building cars in Mexico to take over other companies, preferably high-tech firms and weapons manufacturers. Next, tell the union you're broke, and they happily give back a couple of billion dollars in wage cuts. Then take that money from workers and eliminate their jobs by building more foreign factories. Roger Smith was a true genius."

37> Moore asks the viewer to interrogate Smith’s character as well as his series of seemingly haphazard and unsustainable decisions. The combination of the voiceover with the reframed photograph reveals Smith as hapless and even hair-brained. Moore seems to question whether such a person is capable of making decisions that are in the best interests of the workers and the city of Flint, or if he is merely looking out for his own interests and those of higher-ups.

38> Tom Kay, a spokesman and lobbyist for General Motors, states in the film, “I'm sure that Roger Smith has a social conscience as strong as anybody else in the country. Because a guy is an automobile executive does not make him inhuman . . . He has as much concern about these people as you or I do, and nobody likes to see anybody laid off or put in a hardship situation.” The film cuts to a photograph of Smith’s painted portrait, and then zooms out to reveal Smith holding the portrait while looking down at his own image and smiling. The reframing of this photograph is a rhetorical move that suggests Smith does not have the workers’ best interests at heart—instead, Smith appears self-centered and lacking concern for the well-being of General Motors employees.

39> Moore also interrogates political figures like Ronald Reagan through visual reframing, who he says visited Flint “[j]ust when things were looking bleak.” The film shows a close-up of a photograph of Reagan wearing a Teamsters jacket, and then zooms out to reveal a smiling Reagan with his back turned to show off the jacket, posing for the camera. Moore states that Reagan “took a dozen unemployed workers out for a pizza. He told them he had a great idea. If they tried it, they'd all be working again.” This is followed by an interview with a woman who says, “[h]e suggested that maybe some of us could find better jobs elsewhere, like in Texas or in the southern states. That's when I spoke up, because I have a son, a home. I'm trying to do it by myself. I can't just pull up stakes and take off by myself.” This interview undercuts the semblance of working class solidarity that Reagan effects in his photograph by wearing the Teamsters jacket, while simultaneously revealing Flint and its working class people as overlooked by prominent figures like Reagan, who offers half-hearted solutions that are not feasible for many of the people who live there. Moore reframes the problems facing Flint as emblematic of national problems centered on corporatism, greed, and the ill-effects of deindustrialization, presenting another side of Flint to the national stage.

40> Barbara Kopple’s documentary American Dream,105 set in Austin, Minnesota, opens with hard-to-watch footage of hogs being processed inside a meatpacking plant, and then cuts to a televisual reframing of multiple news broadcasts on the Reagan administration’s “staggering setback to labor unions nationwide,” as stated in one broadcast. These broadcasts serve to situate the film within an ongoing national discourse on the gutting of labor organization and collective action in the 1980s, weaving a story of tragedy for workers and unions. Paula Rabinowitz writes, “[i]n the brief encapsulated history the film provides, we hear Reagan’s ‘off-the-cuff’ remark about the economy: ‘I’m prepared to tell you it’s a hell of a mess.’”106 From the outset of the film it is clear that “the ragged years of recession, corporate mergers, and wholesale assault on unions fostered by Reagan’s administration have taken their toll.”107 Like Roger and Me, American Dream foregrounds plant shutdowns in “the beleaguered Midwest,”108 and was commercially successful, winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1991.

41> The film’s primary subject is the unionization at Hormel Foods in Austin during the mid-1980s, and the backdrop presented in the film is bleak—a “wretched scene” that anticipates “the gruesomeness of Fargo.”109 Rabinowitz’s connection with Fargo seems particularly evocative for how American Dream effects a kind of dark realism in keeping with labor documentary precursors like The Jungle, depicting “a darker vision of the contradictions and complexities of contemporary union organizing in the heartland.”110 The tone for the film as a whole is foreshadowed by the opening televisual reframing. As a film recording of several television news broadcasts, this reframing includes flashing bands running up and down the screen as a result of the television screen’s low quality, an effect that lends a sense of the authenticity and grittiness that will become evident in the scenes to follow, where we encounter the palpable frustration and anger of workers as a result of Hormel’s extensive pay cuts. As one worker passionately testifies during negotiations, “you better be prepared to give a lot back . . . I busted my ass for you guys for over eighteen years on production and all the sudden you put the goddamn hammer down and we go from our $10.69 down to $6.50.” The opening television news broadcasts reframe the issues at Hormel into a broader national context at the end of the twentieth century, where “there are no easy victories, possibly no victories at all, for labor to celebrate.”111 The reframing of the television news broadcasts via film recording also functions to position the film within the journalistic by drawing attention to the use of the documentary form “as a means of expanded reportage.”112 As such, Kopple aligns American Dream’s concerns with the dissemination of mediated images via media discourses like television news broadcasting front and center, demonstrating reflexivity and awareness of the film’s interjection in the contemporary media landscape as it relates to labor in the Heartland.

42> This reflexivity and awareness mirrors that of the local P-9 union’s campaign depicted in the film. Jim Guyette, president of the P-9 union, states that “unions are getting their teeth kicked in. I think if you’re into a situation where you’re getting beat up, you better try something different.” The film cuts to newspaper clips of labor strategist and consultant Ray Rogers, overlaid with news broadcasts about Rogers and his corporate campaigns on the soundtrack. Guyette says, “we were very ineffective in communicating our message, and ran across an article on Ray Rogers and gave him a call.” The P-9 union hired Rogers to regain $10.69 per hour wages in December 1984.113 The film presents television news footage of Rogers in an interview on the strike, showing the television boxset with flashing bands running across the screen, and then cutting to Guyette as he watches the news footage and winks in approval. Rogers’s interview attests to the union’s robust campaign in “taking the offense, showing workers to move ahead and fight back, that they don’t have to keep taking one loss after another.” We hear Guyette’s voiceover stating, “Ray told me you’re never going to outspend a company public- relations wise. That what you needed to do was look at creating a situation that became a newsworthy situation. The strategy was to go after the money behind the corporation. Ray knows how to put labor’s best foot forward, so that [undecipherable] public can sympathize with our cause.” The P-9 in effect was looking to intervene in the media landscape by creating a newsworthy situation to bolster public opinion regarding the P-9 union’s actions as a means of achieving their aims.

43> Bill Nichols states that “television news represents the world in accordance with the criteria of objectivity . . . [t]he reality of the news takes precedence over the news of reality,” and that “[o]bjectivity, in accord with realism, represents the world the way the world, in the guise of ‘common sense,’ chooses to present itself.”114 Rogers’s “common sense” campaign and appeal over television news broadcasts / interviews suggests awareness and intentionality regarding the importance of the union’s media representation and its reputation nationwide. Johnson writes of the “presumed ‘common sense’ Heartland values” and of “Midwesternness” generally as “the frame through which television was introduced, through which its uses were imagined, and through which its ideal audience was represented.”115 The P-9 union’s campaign centered on “‘common sense’ Heartland values” attempted to appeal to a wide, populist audience as a means of engendering support for workers’ struggle. In another interview in the film Rogers asserts, “we looked out there in society and we saw poor and working people getting the daylights kicked out of them, and we felt that there had to be a mechanism that they could turn to and union could turn to and community groups could turn to that had a lot of expertise in how to really challenge powerful adversaries that were irresponsible in their policies directed at workers.” He later states, “we’re on the right side of things, yes there’s a wrong side, the people realize that we’re willing to fight.” These “common sense” appeals based on good conscience of right and wrong were integral to the P-9 union’s campaign spearheaded by Rogers.

44> The local P-9’s actions and interventions in the local and national media landscape reveal an important yet often implicit theme in Midwestern labor documentaries: the idea that geography is capital, to draw on Johnson’s analysis of the Heartland myth where she writes that “[t]elevision’s role in constructing and reimagining the Heartland is thus a historical, technological, economic, cultural, and political phenomenon. At each of these sites, and at the core of this myth, is the idea that geography—both real and symbolic—is capital.”116 Johnson’s analysis has more expansive implications beyond television and the Heartland myth. Johnson demonstrates how the geography of a region has both real and symbolic dimensions, both of which are imbricated with capital relations. Through these labor documentaries, we begin to see how corporate industrial capitalism attempts to overtake both the physical and symbolic dimensions of a place, including—for example—the creation of impoverished living conditions that trap African American working class people, as evident in Finally Got the News, and the symbolic, almost fantastical ‘over-determination’ of Flint’s image as evident in Roger and Me. Through the use of reframing as a rhetorical strategy, Midwestern labor documentaries both visually and metaphorically reframe the archive to reflect the perspective of workers and in doing so shift the landscape in the cultural imagination. Midwestern labor documentaries serve to deconstruct the constructed image of the Midwest in American culture, illuminating how this image disserves the realities of working class life.

45> The ongoing need for this kind of working class representation is now present more than ever. These documentaries reaffirm the necessity for organized labor and collective action in the contemporary historical moment, as the concerns surrounding working class politics they put forth continue to resonate with the ever-widening wealth divide and the decimation of labor unions in America. However, with the advent of COVID-19 we also see the necessity for increased awareness surrounding labor conditions, especially inside meatpacking facilities, in ways that hauntingly echo Sinclair’s Jungle. In many cases it appears that working class employees have become casualties on the front lines of war as numbers of infections and death within meatpacking facilities soar. One recent news article in the The Des Moines Register states that at a Tyson Foods facility in Columbus Junction, Iowa alone there were a hundred and eighty- six employees who tested positive for the disease, “spark[ing] fears not only for the employees’ health but also for the vitality of this small town and the continuity of the nation’s meat supply.”117 Though corporations like Tyson Foods state that “‘[p]rotecting our team members continues to be top priority,’”118 one may question the extent to which workers’ safety is protected, given the long history of precautional failures inside meat processing plants. The questions that linger over the nation now with respect to essential and working class labor remain unanswered as the full effects of the crisis have yet to be seen. Questions over workers’ pay and protections, however, are significant and find seeds in the labor documentaries discussed here. In the end, these documentaries reflect back on the Midwest as a supposed ‘ideal middle kingdom’ caught between the garden and the machine, leading viewers to question the region’s role in “the point of arrest, the critical moment when the tilt might be expected and progress cease to become progress.”119 


1 Victoria E. Johnson, Heartland TV: Prime Time Television and the Struggle for U.S. Identity (New York and London: New York University Press, 2008), 5.

2 Joanne Jacobson, “The Idea of the Midwest,” Revue française d'études américaines, no. 48/49 (1991): 236, https://www.jstor.org/stable/20872195.

3 Johnson writes that “presumed midwestern ideals and the Midwest as imagined, symbolic Heartland have been central to television’s promotion and development” (5), and that “the foundational concept that energizes the Heartland myth’s historic revisiting and sets an apparent limit to its actual revision is the persistent definition of the Midwest as home of the populist, rural, pastoral American ‘middle’” ( 6).

4 John Gast, “American Progress,” Oil on Canvas, 1872, Autry Museum of the American West, Los Angeles, http://collections.theautry.org/mwebcgi/mweb.exe?request=record;id=M545330;type=101.

5 Leo Marx, Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (London, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1964), 160. Marx writes that “the objective” of “[t]he pastoral idea of America” was “a society of the middle landscape, a rural nation exhibiting a happy balance of art and nature” (226).

6 Marx, 135.

7 Marx, 135.

8 Jacobson, 236.

9 Jacobson writes, “[c]ontinuing conflict over the geographical boundaries of the region (which expand and contract at points from the Ohio Valley to the Great Plains) reflects disjunction between idea and landscape in the Midwest” (236).

10 James R. Shortridge, The Middle West: Its Meaning in American Culture (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989), 7.

11 Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, 1906, (Mineola: Dover Thrift Editions, 2001), 48.

12 Frederick Winslow Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1911), HathiTrust e-book. Taylor writes that “there is no question that, throughout the industrial world, a large part of the organization of employers, as well as employees, is for war rather than for peace . . . The majority of these men believe that the fundamental interests of employees and employers are necessarily antagonistic. Scientific management, on the contrary, has for its very foundation the firm conviction that the true interests of the two are one and the same; that prosperity for the employer cannot exist through a long term of years unless it is accompanied by prosperity for the employee, and vice versa; and that it is possible to give the workman what he most wants—high wages—and the employer what he wants—a low labor cost—for his manufactures” (7-8).

13 Hugo Kijne and J.-C. Spender, Scientific Management: Frederick Winslow Taylor’s Gift to the World? (Norwell: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1996), xiv.

14 David Gartman, From Autos to Architecture Fordism and Architectural Aesthetics in the
Twentieth Century
(New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), e-book Central Academic Complete, 11.

15 Gartman, 207.

16 Nathan Godfried, “Labor-Sponsored Film and Working-Class History: The Inheritance (1964),” Film History: An International Journal 26, no. 4 (2014): 85, https://www-muse-jhu-edu.du.idm.oclc.org/article/567238.

17 Steven J. Ross, Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America (New York: Princeton University Press, 1998). Ross writes that A Martyr to His Cause was “the first working-produced feature in American history,” and From Dusk to Dawn opened two years later “to critical acclaim and crowded theaters” (86, 89).

18 Godfried, 85.

19 See Johnson: “Midwesternness was the frame through which television was introduced, through which its uses were imagined, and through which its ideal audience was represented” (2), and “the Midwest imagined as the United States’s culturally and ideologically populist ‘Heartland’ remains a remarkably consistent and provocative reference point in national media” (3).

20 Johnson, 2.

21 William David Barillas, Midwestern Pastoral: Place and Landscape in Literature of the American Heartland (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2006), 3.

22 Elisabeth Chamorand, “American Labor History in Six Recent Documentaries,” Revue française d'études américaines, no. 56 (1993): 185, https://www.jstor.org/stable/20872353.

23 “working class, n. and adj.” OED Online. March 2020. Oxford University Press. https://www-oed- com.du.idm.oclc.org/view/Entry/230238?redirectedFrom=working+class.

24 Charles Merewether, The Archive (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 10.

25 Bill Nichols, Introduction to the Documentary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017), 118.

26 Jacques Derrida and Eric Prenowitz, “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression.” Diacritics 25, no. 2 (1995): 9, www.jstor.org/stable/465144.

27 Carmen Maria Machado, In the Dream House (Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, 2019), 4.

28 Roy Rosensweig, Nelson Lichtenstein, Joshua Brown, and David Jaffee, Who Built America? Working People and the Nation’s History, 2 vols., 3rd ed. (Boston, New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2007-2008). These volumes recognize the pivotal contributions of the working class in American history.

29 John Russo and Sherry Lee Linkon, New Working-Class Studies (Ithaca and London: ILR Press, 2005), 2. 

30 Russo and Linkon, 2.

31 Finally Got the News, directed by Rene Lichtman, Stewart Bird, Peter Gessner, and John Louis, Jr. (1970; Brooklyn, NY: Icarus Films, 2003), Alexander Street Press Collections online video.

32 Jordan Camp, Incarcerating the Crisis: Freedom Struggles and the Rise of the Neoliberal State (Oakland: University of California Press, 2016), 50.

33 Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin, Detroit: I Do Mind Dying (Boston, Brooklyn, New York: South End Press, 1998). Georgakas and Surkin state that “[a]lthough distribution of Finally Got the News was generally limited to a few politically motivated fringe groups, many contacts expressed an interest in seeing whatever future films Black Star made” (121).

34 Georgakas and Surkin, 123.

35 Chamorand, 185.

36 Chris Robé, “Detroit Rising: The League of Revolutionary Black Workers, Newsreel, and the Making of Finally Got the News,” Film History: An International Journal 28, no. 4 (2016): 126, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/647245.

37 Robé, “Detroit Rising” 126.

38 Camp, 46.

39 Robé, “Detroit Rising” 139.

40 Camp, 62.

41 Laura Rascaroli, How the Essay Film Thinks (London, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 169.

42 Rascaroli, 175.

43 Judith Lancioni, “The Rhetoric of the Frame: Revisioning Archival Photographs in The Civil War,” Western Journal of Communication 60, no. 4 (1996): 398.

44 Lancioni, 397-398.

45 Lancioni, 400-401.

46 As Lancioni writes, “[a]udiences collaborate in assigning particular meanings to a visual text” (403).

47 Georgakas and Surkin, x.

48 Georgakas and Surkin write, “[b]y 1968, more than 2.5 million African Americans belonged to the AFL-CIO. Yet the vast majority of black workers were marginalized and alienated from labor’s predominately white conservative leadership” (ix-x).

49 Robé writes of the “oppressive, racist factory conditions and the bureaucratic racism of the UAW” (“Detroit Rising,” 128), and similarly Michael D. Yates attests to racist union conditions which “prevailed in the more liberal United Auto Workers, where the skilled jobs in the plants were reserved strictly for white workers” in Why Unions Matter (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998), 111.

50 Camp, 50.

51 Robé, 139.

52 Lancioni, 404.

53 Lancioni, 405.

54 Georgakas and Surkin state that “tensions within the League over the appropriate strategies for consolidating and expanding black workers’ movements by 1970 culminated in a split” (x).

55 Janet Zandy, Hands: Physical Labor, Class, and Cultural Work (New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London: Rutgers University Press, 2004), xii.

56 See Finally Got the News when workers speak to their experiences with dismemberment and other bodily harms associated with the factory’s safety hazards: “[w]e work in gasoline all day, and right down the line there was a welder. One day we were working . . . and a spark came from the welder and there was a big explosion and two guys really got burnt bad and they took them away to the hospital. I mean the safety conditions don’t even exist . . . I’ve seen the chain on the lines snap . . . A foreman was unfortunate enough to be caught in between the line and both his legs were cut off below the knee . . . He lost his finger at the second knuckle and he got $3,000. Like, they wanted him back to work two days later, they wanted him back on that press two days later, producing with the bandages and all that.”

57 Zandy, 144.

58 Don Mitchell, “Working-Class Geographies” in New Working-Class Studies, ed. John Russo and Sherry Lee Linkon, New Working-Class Studies (Ithaca and London: ILR Press, 2005), 80.

59 Robé, 139.

60 Mitchell, 80.

61 Mitchell, 80.

62 Mitchell, 80.

63 Denis P. Duffey, “The Northwest Ordinance as a Constitutional Document,” Columbia Law Review 95, no. 4 (1995): 966, www.jstor.org/stable/1123211.

64 Charles Waldheim, “Detroit - Motor City” in Shaping the City: Studies in History, Theory, and
Urban Design
, ed. Rudoplhe El-Khoury and Edwards Robbins (London and New York: Routledge, 2013), 91.

65 Waldheim, 92-93.

66 Duffey, 951.

67 Duffey, 963.

68 According to Duffey, “the society outlined in the Ordinance is utopian not only because it seeks social improvement, but also because it is almost totally impractical” (964).

69 Duffey, 965-966.

70 Mitchell writes that Ken Cockrel’s monologue in Finally Got the News provides a “view of the geography of capitalism from the streets” that “has more than the ring of truth about it” (79).

71 Chamorand writes that labor documentarists—like social historians—adopted the “bottom-up” approach to significant historical struggles (185).

72 Robé, Breaking the Spell: A History of Anarchist Filmmakers, Videotape Guerillas, and
Digital Ninjas
(Oakland: PM Press, 2017), 56.

73 Mitchell, 83.

74 Mitchell, 85.

75 Mitchell writes that Finally Got the News, and Ken Cockrel’s monologue specifically, “showed how the intersection of race and class was deeply structured by geography, a geography that did not necessarily respect national borders but that was nonetheless closely attuned to ethnicity” (79). By way of example, Cockrel states: “What are stocks? A stock certificate is evidence of something which is real. A stock is evidence of ownership. He who owns and controls receives—profit! The man is fucking with shit in Bolivia. He is fucking with shit in Chile. He is Kennicott. He is Anaconda. He is United Fruit” (79). This gets to the heart of what Mitchell calls “a growing understanding of how class-based practices have, in fact, become more, not less important in a world being restructured through what we now call ‘globalization’” (89).

76 Barbara Laslett and Johanna Brenner, “Gender and Social Reproduction: Historical Perspectives.” Annual Review of Sociology 15 (1989): 383, www.jstor.org/stable/2083231.

77 Laslett and Brenner, 382-383.

78 Laslett and Brenner, 383.

79 Elizabeth Faue, “Gender, Class, and History.” New Working-Class Studies, ed. John Russo and Sherry Lee Linkon (Ithaca and London: ILR Press, 2005), 20.

80 With Babies and Banners, directed by Lorraine Gray (United States: New Day Films, 1979), YouTube.

81 Union Maids, directed by Jim Klein, Julia Reichert, and Miles Mogulescu (United States: New Day Films, 1976), Kanopy online video.

82 Jennifer L. Borda, “Feminist Critique and Cinematic Counterhistory in the Documentary With Babies and Banners,” Women’s Studies in Communication 28, no. 2 (2010): 157, https://doi.org/10.1080/07491409.2005.10162490.

83 Sonya Michel, “Feminism, Film, and Public History.” Issues in Feminist Film Criticism, ed. Patricia Erens, (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990), 246.

84 Michel, 246.

85 Quote from the film’s first intertitle.

86 Alan Rosenthal, The Documentary Conscience: A Casebook in Film Making (Berkely, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1980), 317.

87 Tom Zaniello, Working Stiffs: Union Maids, Reds, and Riffraff (Ithaca and London: ILR Press, 2003), 8.

88 Zaniello, 9.

89 Borda, 170.

90 Faue, 24.

91 Ellen Gruber Garvey, Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance (London, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 208.

92 Gregory Currie, “Visible Traces: Documentary and the Contents of Photographs,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 57, no. 3 (1999): 288, www.jstor.org/stable/432195.

93 Borda, 159.

94 Borda, 160.

95 Borda, 162.

96 Janet McCabe, Feminist Film Studies: Writing Woman into Cinema (London and New York: Wallflower, 2004), 3.

97 Quote from the film.

98 Jacobson, 235.

99 Roger and Me, directed by Michael Moore (Burbank, California: Warner Brothers, 1989), Swank Digital Campus. 

100 Zaniello, 10.

101 Zaniello, 320.

102 Miles Orvell, “Documentary Film and the Power of Interrogation: American Dream and Roger and Me,” Film Quarterly 48, no. 2 (1994): 18, https://doi.org/10.2307/1213092.

103 Matthew Bernstein, “Documentaphobia and Mixed Modes: Michael Moore’s Roger & Me,” Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video, ed. Barry Keith Grant and Jeannette Sloniowski (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2014), 409.

104 Bernstein, 413.

105 American Dream, directed by Barbara Kopple, Cathy Caplan, Thomas Haneke, and Lawrence Silk, (Los Angeles, California: Prestige Films, 1990), DVD.

106 Paula Rabinowitz, “Melodrama/Male Drama: The Sentimental Contract of American Labor Films” in The Documentary Film Reader: History, Theory and Criticism, ed. Jonathan Kahana (London, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 842.

107 Rabinowitz, 843.

108 Orvell, 10.

109 Rabinowitz, 842.

110 Rabinowitz, 842.

111 Orvell, 18.

112 Corner, John. The Art of Record: A Critical Introduction to Documentary (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1996), 2.

113 As stated in one of the film’s intertitles.

114 Bill Nichols, Representing Reality (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991), 128.

115 Johnson, 2.

116 Johnson, 6.

117 Tyler Jett, “Columbus Junction Pork Processing Plant,” The Des Moines Register, April 14, 2020, https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2020/04/14/testing-rural-iowa-covid-19-coronavirus-tyson-food- pork-processing/2989203001/.

118 Jett.

119 Marx, 226.

Julia Madsen is a multimedia poet and educator. She received an MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University and a PhD in English/Creative Writing from the University of Denver.

Poetics & Poetry / Literature & Culture

Volume Six (2020)
Artifacts & Works / Communities & Fields


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