David Beer, a Professor of Sociology at the University of York, recently highlighted the ominous mirage of ‘crew-neck capitalism.’
“Capitalism has long been defined by collars,” he explained. “Blue or white: collars have crudely demarcated belonging, status and position. A different collars is now taking on a defining role in contemporary capitalism: the crew neck. Like the collars that went before, this collar symbolises an underlying agenda and logic.”
This ‘crew-neck capitalism,’ argued Beer, “projects a certain image, of a non-hierarchical, non-commercial and carefree status.” It conjures an image of the casual attire sported by billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg up until his recent appearances before U.S Congress. “An apparently anti-elite elite is created that has positioned itself in a way that seems to render it immune to the anti-elite sentiment,” added Beer.
Zuckerberg is probably the poster-boy for this ‘crew-neck capitalism.’
While a student at the prestigious Harvard University, Zuckerberg created several innovative computer programmes that proved popular on campus, from enabling his peers to better plan their courses and study groups, to the arguably stolen and more crude Facemash, designed to enable students to pick the ‘best-looking’ person from a choice of photos, leading to a ranking system for ‘hotter’ students, separating the supposedly good-looking from the rest. This was the beginning of Facebook as we know it today – no surprise a cause of lack of attention, addiction, stress, jealousy, bullying, and suicide.
The structure of the site and its subsequent social interactions (or indeed anti-social interactions) are merely the tip of the iceberg, however, when it comes to the ice-cold world of Facebook – now a tax-avoiding multi-billion dollar corporation with its headquarters in Menlo Park, California. While joining the site may not cost a monetary fee, Zuckerberg’s a billionaire for a reason: the personal preferences and information each user has entered into the Facebook site has provided them with a perfect opportunity to conduct free and easy market research for advertisers, and in turn offer advertising platforms to market directly to those users based on not only their Facebook ‘profiles’ but even their browsing habits online that Facebook had been tracking after the user had left the Facebook site (and they were tracking you even if you hadn’t registered with Facebook, but had visited facebook.com; Facebook refer to you in this case as simply a ‘non-registered user’!) Meanwhile, Zuckerberg is planning a residential and retail area for Facebook employees to live on, right next to their work, raising all kinds of questions.
One employee who probably won’t be expected to live in Facebook’s own town is former Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg – he instead got his own £7million mansion just down the road after being appointed Vice-President for Global Affairs and Communications at Facebook. As part of that role, he will be assigned the task of tackling such public relations as the above, and also utilising his extensive political reach as a lobbyist, just what Facebook needed considering their recent scandals and battles with government officials.
Nick Clegg is the man who in 2010 formed a coalition government with David Cameron’s Conservatives, arguably the most right-wing government in British history, warned by Oxfam at the time about its Victoria era policies – a government infamously overseeing the dismantling of the welfare state and the opening up of the National Health Service to privatisation, while using the global financial crisis caused by the market deregulation of their friends as an excuse to shut down or sell off parts of the state entirely, introducing a devastating austerity programme that has been condemned by the United Nations.
David Cameron didn’t need Nick Clegg after 2015, when incredibly he won a majority against a pre-Jeremy Corbyn Labour party failing to offer genuine radical alternatives. But of course Cameron deserves some credit for his own performance: his smarmy public relations rhetoric came with his shtick inspired by Tony Blair, and his propaganda about pulling communities together and empowering them through his ‘Big Society’ was ‘BS’ indeed. Whenever a politician from the right, such as Ronald Reagan, talks about getting the state out of your business, it’s usually code for them continuing with a neoliberalist agenda while taking away any of your safety nets to save you from its devastating consequences. Cameron knew this, and he used the code well.
The Conservatives, with such a small membership, are still not the bringers of democracy and power to the people by any stretch of the imagination. The media talked about Theresa May being ‘next in line’ to the Conservative leadership after David Cameron’s resignation following his EU referendum which resulted in ‘Brexit,’ in direct opposition to his calls.
But it’s important to note that Theresa May herself has adopted the same techniques as David Cameron – the same trickery as Ronald Reagan. The same ‘crew-neck capitalism’ as Mark Zuckerberg.
While she believed her own hype – presumably by watching the Sky, ITN, the BBC, or reading The Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, or even Owen Jones in The Guardian – in 2017, May called a general election to take on Jeremy Corbyn, a man those around her, on screen and in print, were calling weak, but if they were honest, they were simply hoping it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Corbyn’s two massive leadership elections have defied the Labour establishment, turned Labour into the largest left-wing party in the entire continent, and proposed popular policies, all delivered by a man who had no leadership ambitions and dedicated his life to activism. “Are you a Marxist?” the BBC’s Andrew Marr almost tripped over himself to rush to finally ask Corbyn on his television programme.
May undid Cameron’s majority – or, rather, Corbyn did. Again, the media figures who gave grovelling apologies after Corbyn’s incredible election performance likely suspected that was the inevitability, hence their vitriol and smear tactics against Corbyn himself (that have started up yet again, and will – rest assured – continue until Corbyn and his game-changing politics are gone). Again, May herself maybe didn’t know; perhaps these people really are just that out of touch. But either way, she was browbeaten, and left with an even weaker government to try and handle the whole Brexit saga.
But her leadership speech at the Conservative conference after that election battering was delivered while wearing a bracelet bearing the image of Frida Kahlo.
Frida Kahlo, of course, was a feminist artist and activist who had a love affair with Leon Trotsky and was herself a Marxist. Andrew Marr never bothered to ask Theresa May if she was a Marxist – he already knew the answer. We all did. Of course not. Wearing that bracelet was all part of a technique still being applied by politicians seeking to co-opt symbols and images and even criticisms. It’s the ‘crew-neck capitalism’ Prof David Beer was talking about. It’s even why, when she’s a bad dancer, May’s advisors encourage her to co-opt the bad dancing itself and robotically strut on to the stage – even as she visibly dies inside – so that the corporate news sources can all talk about what a good sport she is, in the same way they did when Cameron and Clegg held a double-act press conference together after the 2010 election and had a good old laugh with us all before going about ripping apart the fabric of our society and increasing inequality.
What matters are actions. Not comedic press conferences, or self-deprecating dances, or bracelets, or slogans. Actions, based on policy, are what matter – and also what receive less coverage. We are forced to look beyond the headlines, behind the news ‘stories,’ in order to learn that, for example, so many of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies are wildly popular, as he pushes parliament to declare a climate emergency. Yet it’s the same government in power, one that does nothing after such a declaration. Just as it did nothing on Windrush, or Grenfell, or the food bank epidemic, or Brexit itself – a calamitous state of affairs with a crucial turning point for the future of the people of Britain, used instead too often for politicking.
So you may find it hard to feel sorry for the ‘crew-neck capitalists.’ Judge them on their actions alone, and you may feel no sympathy whatsoever for the likes of Theresa May.
A community educator and lifelong anti-capitalist activist, Jay Baker (he/him) is the founder of SilenceBreaker Media and has written, produced, and directed documentaries in addition to writing for numerous newspapers, magazines, zines, and websites. His own website is at dukeofhardrock.com.