Talking Heads

Processed World is back (again). The last time we were back (again) was in 2001, September to be precise, with our 20th anniversary special issue. Maybe you saw it, but probably not. It got a little lost in the hubbub of “everything changing”… go figure.

We always called this introductory column “Talking Heads,” following the 1970s band and our own proclivity to stand around hawking magazines in San Francisco’s financial district wearing papier maché terminal heads, a habit we gave up more than fifteen years ago. But the incessant chatter of the anti-journalistic talking heads of U.S. media have come to saturate our environment in ways we could have never imagined when we started publishing back in 1981.

A few of us longtime PWers have joined with some newcomers to start publishing regularly again. We are planning to appear annually for now, given the painful realities of publishing costs, distribution headaches, rent, etc. It is a hostile environment for small, subversive projects, especially publishing ones.

Nevertheless, in spite of the heartening appearance of other journals we greet fraternally (The Baffler, LiP, Other, Mute, The Sarai Reader, to name but a few), Processed World still has a unique role to play. This issue began with a call to describe “what the hell is going on out there?” and then morphed into an examination of life in a dying empire (“USSA”). As often happened in the past, neither suggested theme captured what finally appeared. Actually, no theme really unites the contents of this issue beyond our consistent interest in the condition of working and living.

As we go to press we are surrounded by the quadrennial madness that passes for politics in the U.S., the presidential election. This time around we get to choose between a wooden caricature of conservative corporatism and the palpable madness of a mental midget Christian zealot bent on maintaining a “Mcfriendly” global empire based on bombs and oil. Many will sit it out in disgust while others will hold their nose to repudiate the latter. In either case, the basic trajectory of global pillage, meteorological catastrophes, and rising barbarism seems tragically safe from derailment.

One of our pals recently commented, “sure the world is falling apart, but not fast enough to avoid being boring.” Perhaps tedious is a better way to characterize the larger dynamics we are forced to watch in slow motion, but meanwhile, in our daily lives there is still much to note.
Ramor Ryan takes us inside a banana boat in “High Seas Adventure.” The globe-straddling delivery systems on which our tenuous standards of living hang are themselves caught up in curious contradictions of exploitation, migration, desire, and coexistence. Sandwiched between an old-style German captain and a largely Filipino crew, he accompanies a boatload of bananas from sleepy, exotic Caribbean islands to the gaping maw of European consumerism at the port of Rotterdam. Along the way he searches the seas longingly for pirates, only to be stuck in the oblivious tedium of a humdrum shipment of tropical fruit to the gray Old World.

Ramor’s is certainly a tale, but we have several more in this issue too. In “Trauma Tango,” Tom Messmer, who works the Emergency Room at San Francisco General Hospital, dissects the horrifying consequences of our dysfunctional medical system with surgical precision. “Starring Mr. Green, in the laundry room, with the knife” is our first second-generation contribution to Processed World. Our unnamed contributor gives us an insider’s view of who is deciding our fate and how they go about it when we submit ourselves to the California Workman’s Compensation system. If you are “lucky” enough to get hurt on the job, depending on the attitude of the underpaid clerk at the other end of the process, you may be able to extend your time away from work or you may find yourself being followed by rent-a-cops trying to prove you’re committing fraud. But the fraudulent structure of work that systematically injures most workers, mentally or physically, and then denies adequate time to heal is what she really reveals. On a lighter note, long-time contributor Zoe Noe updates us on his never-ending saga of lost jobs with “Fucked by the Dildo Shop,” a tale of toil that painfully illustrates the hypocrisy of workers’ self-management in a feminist sex toy emporium.

Since the early 1980s Processed World has focused on the condition of white-collar wage-slaves, a category that has recently come to be called the “Cognitariat.” Similarly, the magazine has always paid special attention to the observable fact that most of us are temporary workers, whether our jobs are so designated or not. This latter truth has recently set in across Europe where a more sophisticated political milieu has dubbed the workers newly made insecure as the “Precariat.” This issue features two articles that take different looks at our precarious, temporary existence. First Primitivo Morales returns with an examination of his “good job” as a highly skilled, relatively well-paid programmer in “On The Bleeding Edge.” He tries to unpack the curious conundrum facing thousands of workers across the planet. They are engaged in profoundly collaborative work processes and yet are part of an extremely atomized and fragmented workforce which has no conceptual sense of solidarity nor jargon-free language to describe it, let alone a practice of mutual aid. He describes some specific ways he has run aground in his workplace trying to address this predicament.
Taking a more broad look at the general insecurity that the new precariousness has imposed on the working class in America, Adam Cornford details the many facets of anxiety imposed in “Everyday Terror: The Insecurity State.” The noisy reinforcement of fear and loathing by the powers-that-be are the tip of a systematic iceberg of isolation, leaving many easily manipulated by fear-mongering campaigns and less likely to seek the solidarity that is the natural and powerful antidote.

Of course there is still opposition, and the plans of corporations and governments do not go forward uncontested. Though strikes and worker resistance are at historic lows, there are still the remnants of the once revered Union Movement. In “A Strike By Any Other Name” Natasha Moss-Dedrick shows how the United Food and Commercial Workers Union was as much to blame for the disastrous defeat in the 2003 southern California grocery workers strike as the powerful grocery chains like Safeway they were up against. The UFCW’s well-documented role in de-unionizing most meatpacking in the Midwest during the 1980s (covered in Barbara Kopple’s documentary “American Dream,” reviewed in Processed World #30) helps to contextualize their otherwise puzzling behavior during this recent strike.

Recent actions contesting corporate globalization have “reclaimed the Commons” as a viable concept denoting our shared dependence on water, air and land, and as a way of extending a claim to a new sense of Commons encompassing shelter, food, and more. Ztangi thinks the feudalistic category of the Commons needs some critical analysis and provides it in “Reclaim the Commons?” Resistance these days often takes the form of “Technopranks,” as Jesse Drew outlines in his piece of the same name. Homeless families and their supporters successfully contest the San Francisco Housing Authority in “A World of Possibilities at 45 West Point,” showing that those with the least are sometimes the best at challenging the limits of political action.
We welcome back to these pages p.m. with his short story “No Nonsense,” a piece that challenges all of us to think through our vision of the world we’re fighting for. And in “Burning Man: A Working-Class DIY World’s Fair” Chris Carlsson recasts the famously hedonistic art festival in the surprising terms of working class recomposition.

We have book reviews to round out the issue, along with returning poets klipschutz, Raven, William Talcott, and Summer Brenner, plus our usual collection of art, photography and satirical images.

We will be moving to a new home in San Francisco next year and look forward to new projects in coming years. You are invited to participate and contribute. It’s time for a new generation to take Processed World’s subversive current to places we cannot anticipate. Please get in touch!