Saturday, December 27, 2014

UPDATE: Temp Slave Sounded The Early Warnings

Ah, now there's an image that brings back memories...glad to see some of you going back to The Squawker's original post of 2/6/12 ("Temp Slave Sounded The Early Warnings").  For those who don't know, Temp Slave was the brainchild of Jeff Kelly, who called himself "Keffo." For Squawker and myself, reading this '90s-era 'zine's attacks against the temp industry -- which soon broadened to a critique of the work world itself -- provided hours of merriment, because so much of it rang true for our own experience.

I only communicated with him once, following a blistering exchange with
Hate cartoonist Peter Bagge -- who wrote in to say that he'd picked up a copy and liked it, but found most of the tone overly negative (as if anybody in a permanently insecure lifestyle has anything to feel upbeat about, right?), and -- being a libertarian -- couldn't get all worked up about how the political system was treating people.

Keffo's response was suitably blistering and pointed ("You're a libertarian? I guess that means you smoke pot and exploit people"), which he signed off by saying: "You draw funny things, but you think funny thoughts." When I wrote to order a back issue, I thought only fair to get Keffo's take on the whole affair, which prompted him to expound thusly in his letter to me:

"Yeah, this whole thing with Bagge is stupid. Partly it's my fault. I assumed he was open to all kinds of material, but he isn't. I guess he's more oriented to pop culture kinds of things. But I just detest that cynical hip attitude he displayed. He talks of being proactive, but he draws cars with big tires, drunken twenty somethings etc...  I mean I like it for what it is but the only person he cares about is himself. I get shit like that all the time so it really doesn't bother me."

Keffo's response always stuck in my brain in the late '90s, when I moved to Chicago in hopes of trying carve out some kind of literary or musical niche there. My excitement quickly dissipated, however, after I picked up a copy of the Illinois Entertainer, and my eyes spied an ad for some local multi-band bill or other. Down the list I read: "Art Phag...Epstein's Mother...Walkin' The Dogma." Turning to the Squawker, I asked, "Wow, you mean these are actual bands?" I sighed.  "Man, oh man, is this place gonna's nothin' but a hotbed of irony."

As it turned out, Smashing Pumpkins' Big Dumb Rock Pose became the Windy City's defining alternative era export, but the lame attitudes that Keffo criticized continued to persist -- and I hated them, too. I had no time for that jaded-for-its-own-sake-I'm-so-cool-for-school bullshit that burped forth movies crammed with esoteric pop cultural references and loud video backgrounds...slick pop bands masquerading as "edgy" once they turned up the gain switch on their amp past five...and self-appointed Gen X lit "spokespeople" like Douglas Coupland, who went on and on about what "we" were thinking and feeling. Nobody asked me, though!

Anyway, I thought I'd see what happened to the man since Temp Slave faded into the ether of 'zinedom after its print comp, The Best Of Temp Slave, appeared in 1997. (And it's not hard to track down, either: last time I checked, Amazon had 31 used copies selling for a penny (!) apiece, while a few nearly new/"collectible" copies were fetching between $13 and $16). So I type in, "whatever happened to temp slave guy," and -- lo and behold, I find a March 2014 interview with Mark Maynard, done as part of a 'zine history project (see link below).

Now working full-time in the probiotic industry, of all things, it's good to see that the man is alive and well -- although, sadly, no longer moved to do any writing (even if he talks about finding other outlets like painting, photography and video, which is fine). However, Keffo's observations are spot-on as ever, and it's good to age that hasn't mellowed him on that score. This comment on young people, in particular, reminded me of our exchange from so long ago:

"After all, despite the best efforts of our generation, not much has been accomplished. Technology is their addiction, but, really, who, or what, do they have to turn to? The liberal left in this country stands for nothing. Their only goal is to elect a corporate Democrat, just so a Republican doesn’t win. Whether we like to hear it or not, Obama is nothing but a center right politico friendly to Wall Street. Republicans come up with insane conservative ideas and then the Dumbocrats come up with a lesser version."

That comment follows an observation from interviewer Mark Maynard, who notes that the satirical edge of programs like "The Daily Show" is often criticized for making rebellion less likely -- and that's before we get to the other relevant issue: what will people do with all that knowledge once they have it?

As Keffo suggests, if you look at the upheavals in places like Egypt, Greece or Ukraine, you'll get a better feel for what real political activity looks like, which often requires doing things that inconvenience us personally: "Remember, the powers that be, our exploiters, are working 24/7 to maintain their grip on power. We as a people can’t be weekend warriors about social change."  I couldn't have said it better myself.

Two decades after Temp Slave started blowing the horn about the inequality gaps that were rapidly heading into a chasm, we find insecurity is now a permanent feature of the American landscape -- whether you call it contracting, consulting, freelancing or temping, the long-term outcome is basically the same, as Keffo notes in this 2002 interview (which you can also read in full below): "The longer you temp, the longer you don't contribute to a retirement fund, or to health benefits."

Then again, the power structure's first loyalty isn't to provide everyone with a job...why else are they rolling out innovations like driverless cars and drones to drop off those bright, shiny packages that you order from Amazon (for less than the other guy, remember)? It's all because, as Keffo states, "business doesn't want an empowered workforce. They want you to kiss their asses and always be fearful about your job."  Keep those words writ large in your brain when you're deciding what type of action to take...whatever form it takes. --The Reckoner

Links And More Links (Here's Yer Lot, Then):
The Untold History Of 'Zines...
Jeff "Keffo" Kelly On Temp Slave!

Temp Slave: The Musical (A Brief Rundown):

Weekly Universe: Disgruntled Temps:
True-Life Tales Of Woe!

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