Love Less

by Matthew Stollak on Thursday, June 3, 2010

So what do Barbara Ehrenrich, Seth Godin, "The Music Man" and Jarvis Cocker have in common?

As noted in the previous blog post, I spent the last 2 weeks in May on the Norbertine Heritage Tour. When you are traveling from Prague to Amsterdam by bus, you find yourself with a lot of idle time to read. One of the books I chose to read was Seth Godin's "Linchpin." In "Linchpin," Godin writes about how to become indispensable in the workplace; what scarce and "artistic" qualities do you possess that will make you standout amongst your peers?

As I was riding through the German countryside and reading the book, I was struck by the song "Common People" by Pulp. From the seminal 1995 album "Different Class," lead man Jarvis Cocker (or if you prefer the William Shatner/Ben Folds/Joe Jackson version ) tells the story of a wealthy, female art student who wants to slum with the lower classes:

"I want to live like common people
I want to do whatever common people do
I want to sleep with common people
I want to sleep with common people like you"

Cocker initially feigns interest, singing humorously:
"I said pretend you've got no money,
she just laughed and said,
"Oh you're so funny."
I said "yeah?
Well I can't see anyone else smiling in here."
Cocker eventually sings:
You'll never live like common people,
you'll never do what common people do,
you'll never fail like common people,
you'll never watch your life slide out of view,
and dance and drink and screw,
because there's nothing else to do.

Sing along with the common people,
sing along and it might just get you through,
laugh along with the common people,
laugh along even though they're laughing at you,
and the stupid things that you do.
Because you think that poor is cool.
Cocker tells her why:
'Cos Everybody hates a tourist,
especially one who thinks
it's all such a laugh.
Yeah, and the chip stains' grease
will come out in the bath.
You will never understand
how it feels to live your life
with no meaning or control
and with nowhere left to go.
You're amazed that they exist
and they burn so bright,
while you can only wonder why.
So, what does this have to do with Linchpin? Godin writes that a person may possess significant technical skill, but if he or she doesn't "know the territory" like the traveling salesmen in "The Music Man," he or she will not be a linchpin. "Depth of knowledge is rarely sufficient, all by itself, to turn someone into a linchpin.

Barbara Ehrenrich's "Nickel and Dimed" is an excellent read detailing her attempt to find out people survive on minimum wage jobs. She took the cheapest housing, accepted whatever jobs she was offered, and found that those efforts to be the common person required a great deal of effort; what Godin referenced and Arlie Russell Hochschild in "The Managed Heart" referred to as "emotional labor." However, there was a false note in Ehrenrich's book. She could return to her more comfortable life. The art student in Cocker's song may attempt to be common, but she does not possess the authenticity needed to be that common person. She still has an out. In the end, the linchpin can't simply pose if the safety net is still there.

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