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.

—Airline passenger

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.