Monday, May 8, 2017

Richard E. Ocejo's "Masters of Craft"

Richard E. Ocejo is associate professor of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY. He is the editor of Ethnography and the City: Readings on Doing Urban Fieldwork and author of Upscaling Downtown: From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City.

Here he shares some ideas about adapting his new book, Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy, into a mini-series:
While my book is about people working in fun jobs, it would be rather difficult to turn it into a single movie, but it’d make a great television mini-series. My book looks at the transformation of traditionally low-status manual labor jobs into “cool” taste-making occupations that many young people want to do as careers. I studied cocktail bartenders, craft distillers, upscale men’s barbers, and whole-animal butchers. I divide the book into two parts, each with four chapters. In Part I, I devote a chapter to each of these jobs, describing their history and renaissance. In Part II, I bring them all together in each chapter, based on particular themes: how these people pursue these jobs, how they apply a sense of craft to their work, how they teach taste to their consumers, and how their work constitutes a performance. So we’d have to break up the people and action in Part II and combine them into the chapters in Part I.

Episode 1 would be about the cocktail bartenders. Costume and set designers will have fun with this one. Most of the people I studied wear fancy attire (think Boardwalk Empire) and the bars often model themselves on swanky speakeasies (again, think Boardwalk Empire). I like “day in the life” stories, so it’d focus on a Saturday night: the prep, the growing crowd, the busy period, and the comedown. A busy bar provides plenty of drama. I can see Robert Altman-style filmmakers having fun with it.

Episode 2 would be about the craft distillers. For them, I think it would be cool to show them as mad scientists working tirelessly on a recipe over many months. Distilleries have big machines with all sorts of tubes and wires going everywhere making hissing and whirring sounds. The ones I studied, with copper pot stills, could be out of a Jules Verne story. The distiller would be on a mission to make the essential rye whiskey. It could be somewhat humorous.

Episode 3 would be about the barbers. For them, we’d have to focus on relationships, between the barbers and between some barbers and their clients, especially over time. I observed a lot of men show some insecurity toward their bodies while in the chair, and I often saw the barbers try to set them at ease. (“Your hair moves really well!”) After a few visits they’d seem much more comfortable. Barbers also talk so much shit to each other on a daily basis that we’d have to just show them talking. For this one I wouldn’t mind if we used documentary footage.

Finally, Episode 4 would focus on the butchers. I’d want this episode to be the philosophical one. The dialogue would revolve around ethical themes related to life, death, and moral culpability in eating animals and participating in the food industry. It can’t be preachy. It’ll just raise a lot of questions for the audience to ponder. All the while butchers will be breaking down whole animals.

I’ll leave casting to someone else. They all kind of come from similar backgrounds and look alike. Someone with a better eye for such distinctions would have to determine what makes an actor more “barber-like” than “butcher-like.” I’m sure people like Adam Driver and James Franco will be asked, though.
Learn more about Masters of Craft at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Upscaling Downtown.

--Marshal Zeringue