In his book The Play Ethic Pat Kane proposes an alternative to work/play of the play ethic, the alternative he suggests is play/care. This is all very well but I don’t believe there can be a society in which some of its members, if not all of its members, have tasks to perform that are neither playful nor caring but are hard labouring or boring or repetitive but just necessary for that society to function. These jobs do not relate to class – labour can be manual, telephony, accountancy or running a home. However, I do see that to have a more playful existence there should be a counter-balance which need not necessarily be entirely work focused.
By way of explanation, last night I watched Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. This isn’t a great film, but it does illustrate quite well the dream like state that one can enter if one’s entire life is playing. It succeeds in conveying two things very well – the boredom of leisure and the strange turns that a human can take if a life is entirely leisure based. Marie-Antoinette lives a life of gambling, shopping, drinking, partying, she is surrounded by beauty and even creates a idealised farm for herself and a theatre for herself to put on plays. This is all fact, she really did these things when the people of France were near starving in the country side to pay for the French involvement in the American War of Independence and the excesses of her husband’s court.
There is a tradition of conservatism springing from the old arisotocracy that the rich take care of the poor – the players take care of those who can’t play through charity and often express their giving through enabling huge extravagances of play for instance Baron de Rothschild would throw a huge tea-party every year at Waddesdon Manor for the local children and their families and this was very common practice. At the end of Marie Antoinette the workers come from Paris to demand not revolution or distruction of the French monarchy but bread. The aristocrats have failed to sustain the proper balance of play and care and neglected to ensure that “their people” are fed and it is this which drives the French Revolution. Sobering stuff.
So a play/care ethic does work, but only if there is work going on elsewhere to support the play/care activity.
But an ideal world would also recognise work not dismiss it out of hand, an ideal world would recognise the value of work in relation to play and value those who work to enable us to play. Work needs to be put in its proper place, our society is rebels against work by demanding play but at the same time we move towrds a 24hr culture. Who mans our servers so that we can play World of Warcraft ? Who sits in the power station making sure that everything functions for the servers to run? etc.
I think that play is a good expression of what should be expected of players or the pay off for players against which they are empowered to play more, but you can’t take work out of the equation. Battling to do that you only come unstuck against those who strive for a work ethic. So how about a three-sided position of play/care/work.