White Collar Workers Turn on the Red Light

May 8, 2013 Topic: EconomicsPolitical TheorySociety Blog Brand: The Buzz

White Collar Workers Turn on the Red Light

For job seekers, sometimes there's no substitute for pounding the pavement—or even putting yourself on display in a storefront window, hoping to catch the attention of a potential employer passing by. In Denmark, the Wall Street Journal reports, some white-collar professionals have resorted to this awkward, sidewalk self-exhibition, a practice often associated with prostitutes in Amsterdam's red-light district.

The Situationist International, postwar Marxist activists who decried the "society of the spectacle," would have a field day pointing out this commodification of the individual worker. Perhaps they had a point, anticipating that there are instances in which capitalism really does start to resemble a theater of the absurd.

But in the market of our time, where flexible labor is valued over job security, workers are already in the habit of constanty advertising their services in very public albeit virtual forums such as LinkedIn. The window stunt may simply acknowledge that for the unemployed, posting to online forums and sending out dozens of resumes via email per day has limited utility—particularly when many of these messages are lucky to be read by a computer algorithm, let alone a human hiring manager. And to be fair, it's not as if the shop window is akin to some medieval slave market: the job seekers sit in relative comfort, tapping away on their laptops.

One window in Copenhagen may not signal a coming revolution. Yet it is a tangible sign of how intractable long-term unemployment has become in many Western countries. Even the credentialed professional must hang like meat at the butcher, waiting for a willing buyer.

Photo: Reputation/Facebook