About a week ago, I went and did a shoot for a commercial. It was my first time doing so for pay. After everything I did, I’m not sure I’ll be asked to do it again.
Here’s how it went:
I show up. There are a variety of people sitting around the lobby of one of those corporate offices that makes a token nod to startup culture, but just barely. An office that has the same faint whiff of despair that you’d expect from a white-collar workplace, but with maybe a bowl of warheads by the reception desk and one or two slightly more colorful chairs.
There are two young white women who already have their makeup ready. A distinguished-looking older man. A latina, a notably mild-mannered black man, and me.
The makeup artist gets me ready. We chat about her child, and skiing. We have very little of substance to say to each other.
All six of us actors are arrayed in a board room. We get laptops. I make sure to switch for one that actually works, and start googling furiously and surreptitiously. The director explains that we’ll be acting out a meeting between a marketing team and a PR agency. They’ll dub out any words we use, so feel free to say whatever we want. This will be mostly b-roll footage, no worries. Okay, the cameras are rolling. Go!
One of the women starts timidly talking about the cactus on the desk, and how it should be included in the meeting. Aha. A joke. I nod along, and still surreptitiously Google.
Okay, I’m ready. I clear my throat, prepare my hands for natural gesturing, and say, conversationally:
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord
and serf, guild-master and
journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition
to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight,
a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution
of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.
The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal
society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established
new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place
of the old ones.
Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct
feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more
and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes
directly facing each other — Bourgeoisie and Proletariat.
Then – the floodgates! We talk about class struggle. We talk about why americans have yet to take to revolution.
One person ventures that the working classes are content. I remark that, rather, they’ve given up.
We talk about a job my girlfriend had once, and how all the managers at a golf course were white, all the staff were black, and almost none of the staff hoped for a better life than calling snotty 14-year old brats “sir”.
The older man (a conservative, I suspect) detours to a talk about golf. And how those jobs might actually be the best jobs around in that rural area.
We go back to joking about the cactus.
When it comes time for me to speak again, I try and redirect the conversation by paraphrasing Anatole France:
How wonderful the law is! In its majestic equality, both the rich and poor alike are equally
prohibited from peeing in the streets, sleeping under bridges, and
The older (conservative?) man quickly rejoinders that peeing in the streets should be allowed. But should breastfeeding?
We consider the matter. All the while gesturing and nodding as if an important business meeting is going on. The cameras roll.
I point out that we have free public restrooms in America because of an activist campaign by a teenager in the 1970s.
No one seems as impressed as I am. They talk about sports. They talk about work. Someone mentions their union. I am excited. They don’t like their union. I am disappointed.
Finally, the shoot is almost done. The director asks each of us to speak uninterrupted for a minute or two in case that’s needed for B-Roll footage later. I go last.
This is my chance. My last, best chance. It’s time to bust out Mario Savio:
There comes a time when the operation
of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that
you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve
got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the
levers, upon all the apparatus – and you’ve got to make it stop!
And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people
who own it – that unless you’re free the machine will be prevented
from working at all!!
(All this while gesturing and pointing as if I was presenting a proposal for increasing CTR through better targeting google ads or somesuch nonsense.)
The shoot ends. Each of us will be getting a check. Each of us is eligible to get our acting reel.
Did I end up radicalizing a whole room full of actors, cameramen, and crew? Probably not.
Did we have a good conversation based on socialist frames? Yes.
Did I help garner sympathy with a labor/radical agenda? I hope so.
But I tell you this – I had a hell of a time.