PART TWO Public Life
From Private to Commercial Uses
If they could have turned every one of us into sweet quiet Southern belles with velvet voices like Rosalyn Carter, this is what they would want to stamp out on an assembly line.
—Flight attendant, Delta Airlines
On PSA our smiles are not just painted on. So smile your way From L. A.
To San Francisco.
—PSA radio jingle
When you see them receiving passengers with that big smile, I don’t think it means anything. They have to do that. It’s part of their job. But now if you get into a conversation with a flight attendant. .. well.. .no… / guess they have to do that too.
When rules about how to feel and how to express feeling are set by management, when workers have weaker rights to courtesy than customers do, when deep and surface acting are forms of labor to be sold, and when private capacities for empathy and warmth are put to corporate uses, what happens to the way a person relates to her feelings or to her face? When worked-up warmth becomes an instrument of service work, what can a person learn about herself from her
feelings? And when a worker abandons her work smile, what kind of tie remains between her smile and her self?
Display is what is sold, but over the long run display comes to assume a certain relation to feeling. As enlightened management realizes, a separation of display and feeling is hard to keep up over long periods. A principle of emotive dissonance, analogous to the principle of cognitive dissonance, is at work. Maintaining a difference between feeling and feigning over the long run leads to strain. We try to reduce this strain by pulling the two closer together either by changing what we feel or by changing what we feign. When display is required by the job, it is usually feeling that has to change; and when conditions estrange us from our face, they sometimes estrange us from feeling as well.
Take the case of the flight attendant. Corporate logic in the airline industry creates a series of links between competition, market expansion, advertising, heightened passenger expectations about rights to display, and company demands for acting. When conditions allow this logic to work, the result is a successful transmutation of the private emotional system we have described. The old elements of emotional exchange — feeling rules, surface acting, and deep acting— are now arranged in a different way. Stanislavski’s if moves from stage to airline cabin (“act as if the cabin were your own living room”) as does the actor’s use of emotion memory. Private use gives way to corporate use.
In the airline industry of the 1950s and 1960s, a remarkable transmutation was achieved. But certain trends, discussed later in this chapter, led this transmutation to fail in the early 1970s. An industry speed-up and a stronger union hand in limiting the company’s claims weakened the transmutation. There was a service worker “slowdown.” Worked – up warmth of feeling was replaced by put-on smiles. Those who sincerely wanted to make the deeper offering found they could not do so, and those who all along had resisted company intrusions on the self came to feel some rights to freedom from it. The job lost its grip. When the transmutation succeeded, the worker was asked to take pride in making an instrument of feeling. When it collapsed, workers came to see that instrument as overused, underappreciated, and susceptible to damage.