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Student Author: Erin Sweeney: On “Making The Scene”

Over the course of many decades, artists, creatives, hipsters or bohemians in the city have turned to the service industry for employment. These jobs are thought to solely support them while they establish themselves as artists. In Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Post-Industrial City,  Richard Lloyd helps expose what seems to be a simple side-gig, is in reality, a trap set by service industry entrepreneurs to increase business. The struggling artist is exploited for profit.

In Chapter 8, entitled “Making the Scene” of Richard Lloyd’s book “Neo Bohemia:” the author thoroughly explains the lucrative qualities of an artist in the service industry. He begins with the reason why the middle-class youth turns to service-level jobs. It stems from resistance to the corporate-world and finding a simple way to support their craft, Lloyd states “Typically, service sector jobs are considered to be temporary stops on the way to something else” (Lloyd 187). Lloyd Then delves into the appeal of service jobs (he focuses on bartending) to the young bohemians, “… young artists also value these jobs for the freedom they provide to cultivate one’s “own look” and cultural tastes” (188). The bar industry is flexible in its aesthetic, which can distract from the rigid business outline it follows.

Next, he introduces the “game” that is is played in the service industry. The game revolves around winning the favor of customers in order for tips to be obtained. Tips are a large source of the workers’ earnings, so they must cater to the customer tirelessly, physically and socially. Focusing on the bartending, Lloyd introduces the idea of the neo bohemians getting caught up in the industry. Basically, the young workers enjoy the bars they are not employed at and here they make new connection, but spend a large sum of their new paychecks. A portion of the workers’ paychecks stay in circulation amongst the bars, thus benefitting the employers even further. (Sum 183-208)

The exploitation of the neo bohemian worker is especially evident in the treatment of the female staff. Richard Lloyd states “Women in the bar industry must endure exposure to harassment routinely. They find themselves in a tricky situation, since flirting and sexy dress can be effective ploys in the tip-maximizing game” (194). The businessmen behind the scenes set up a system where the workers must vie for tips to make a living. By giving the working artists a creative freedom, they work hard to hone in a craft of their own. Lloyd sums up the process as “Allowing the bartender this shallow social authority helps maintain “soft” control over the workforce… playing a game whose score is registered in the proliferation of dollars in the tip jar. The reward to owners comes in intensified labor” (196). The neo bohemians are hoodwinked by their employers. They believe they run “the game,” but this is very untrue. The worker may feel in control of the game at times, but can also sense the exploitation, “… dress strategies were geared to instrumental concerns, concerns that mirror those of bar owners wishing to sell a distinctive ambience” (195). Every effort of the worker contributes to the employer ten-fold compared to the benefits the worker reaps.

Urban Nightlife, Social Capital, and the Public Life of Cities” by David Grazian supports Lloyd’s piece on the exploitation of female workers in the service industry. He also sees the employment of females at bars as a tactic used to ring in more business. Grazian says, “… women currently hold a majority of all bartending jobs in the Unites States” (Grazian 912). This statistic could mean anything, but Grazian elaborates “Nightclubs, restaurants, and cocktail lounges rely on the physical attractiveness and sexual magnetism of female service staff and the promise of eroticized interaction to recruit customers” (913). The employers of service industry establishments hire based on the premise of sexual exploitation. Grazian’s piece and Lloyd’s piece both cater to the point that women are expected to dress a certain way to obtain a higher profit. This is not for the benefit of the worker’s wallet, but the employer’s, because satisfied or intrigued customers create a more lucrative business. The two pieces also share the topic of harassment female employees endure in settings such as bars, “Restaurant and nightclub servers also commonly experience sexual harassment from fellow co-workers, including owners and managers,” who are directly responsible for the exploitation of the neo bohemian workers.

Neo bohemians are further exploited through their own self-expression. The unique qualities of the artistic youth are transformed into an attraction by businessmen. Richard Lloyd’s “Neo Bohemia: Making the Scene” describes the process as “… the bohemian milieu is a setting on which a cool demeanor and hip fashion sense are nurtured… the neighborhood is a place where these competences are convertible into economic value” (Lloyd 185). The neo bohemians come to the cities to participate in artistic movements and to do this, they must work. The artists go for jobs in the service industry for pay, but in turn they pay the service industry. Lloyd continues that, “… aesthetic self-work on the part of young service workers “make the scene” in Wicker Park and may be highly valued by discerning consumers” (185). People are attracted to “new,” so when a youthful current moves into the city, its appeal is marketed by businesses. The artists that resisted the corporate world become just another building block in its grand plan. They do not realize there are many aspects that go into the decision to hire the artists. The entrepreneurs are strategists and, as Lloyd puts it, “Entrepreneurs strategize to take advantage of these attributes, going out of their way to hire individuals whose exotic and funky personae elevate them to the status of attractions” (185).

The neo-bohemians, seeking artistic self-expression are commercialized by their own cities. Richard Lloyd’s “Making the Scene” expresses the exploitation of artist in the service industry. His work is supported by other established works, such as “Urban Nightlife, Social Capital, and the Public Life of Cities” by David Grazian to show how businesses use whatever they can to rake in profit.

Published inCapitalism

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