The episode “Nosedive” from the Netflix series Black Mirror (dir. Joe Wright, Netflix, UK, 2016) provides a dystopian version of a popular narrative about digital culture, according to which the ascent of social media marks the “feminization of the Internet,” its transformation from an open wilderness of hackers to a domesticated web of social performance and consumerism. This essay draws forward an argument implicit in “Nosedive”: social media use is a specific form of labor that Marxist feminists have taught us to call reproductive, the un- or underpaid labor sustaining domestic and social life (and thus also the global economy), which is compelled through normative idealizations that erase its status as labor. Reading the episode and the contemporary social media economy in dialogue with the Marxist feminist Wages for Housework movement, the essay argues that individual social media users’ unpaid digital labor—creating, sharing, and responding to content—sustains the platforms that extract their data as “surplus value.” It further draws on sociologist Erving Goffman’s account of “face-work” in order to clarify the way in which a person’s digital identity is produced in collaboration with others through ceaseless labors of interactive self-maintenance. This analysis foregrounds the limitations of Black Mirror’s political vision and reveals the political and theoretical resources provided by a materialist feminist critique of the tech economy.
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Erin Greer; Wages for Face-Work: Black Mirror’s “Nosedive” and Digital Reproductive Labor. Camera Obscura 1 December 2020; 35 (3 (105)): 88–115. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-8631571
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