One labor network?: Frameworks for Understanding Media Unions and Organizing Across Borders

Panel Overview: In October 2021, with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) on the brink of a strike, film and television unions around the world began to issue statements with the intent to strike in solidarity with the US union. This panel will bring together scholars from around the world who study different sectors of the industry and labor organizations to discuss how global flows of content, information, and people generate challenges to labor organizing. They will bring historical and contemporary knowledge of workers, unions, and guilds to bear on questions including: What does “global” mean in relation to organized labor and unions? What are the most productive theoretical frameworks and historical or contemporary case studies for understanding media labor movements and unions? What can media scholars contribute to understanding the barriers to organizing? What are the key policies, laws, and documents for understanding global labor relations? How can media scholars contribute to advancing these actions and conversations?

Labor, celebrity, and the carnivalesque in Tiger King

Abstract: When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States and people across the country began to shelter in place, viewers turned to the big personalities of the big cat world, including Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, and Doc Antle. On its surface Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness might seem to be an escapist series about the world of murderous and feuding zoo owners who operate outside the law, however, the documentary and the world of big cat exhibitions merely spectacularizes uneven economic development and common forms of labor exploitation. The worlds of Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin and Doc Antle embrace a superficially carnivalesque atmosphere. The “carnivalesque,” as derived from literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, describes a literary mode that, like a carnival itself, temporarily upends cultural hierarchies and norms. To varying degrees these big cat exhibitors have created their own moral universes, worlds that permanently shirk societal conventions such as monogamous marriage and disregard acknowledged standards of care for animals and compensation for employees often in service of the celebrity of the zoo owners. Rather than constructing a liberated environment, these zoos operate under their own rules and systems of control that mirror many of the labor conditions and inequities of late capitalism. Although many people watched Tiger King with shock and awe, this chapter considers the unremarkable qualities of performance and capitalized labor in the series.