Workers in a Field
Jean-François Millet’s “The Gleaners” (1857) shows three peasant women gleaning a field after a harvest of crops, its depiction of the lower class most irksome to the French upper class, who didn’t want rural poverty and intimations of the 1848 French revolution in their Salon. I imagine artisanal cheese melting in their mouths and coursing straight to their hearts. Millet is just as known for “The Sower,” later copied by Van Gogh, and from which Simon & Schuster’s colophon is derived. Realism is used to describe Millet’s paintings, implying a kind of artistic integrity or moral clarity necessary for the unglamorous staunch view of the world; the problem is that Realism is also used to describe our later Renoir and Manet, whose pasty bourgeois subjects are safe from the sun under parasols and hands of shadows taught by the leaves above to protect the smiling faces. In fact, from the field to the park, the real R-word is Romantic, the aesthetically adroit projection of an ethos by which the lesser, us, learn to live. In 1999, three actors were allowed to do what they, likely with grim office jobs themselves in their past before said success, had, like us, fantasized doing. They were told to walk into a field subconsciously on the perimeter of an office building and destroy a fax machine with only their feet, fists, and one bat. They took turns with the bat, a phallic democracy both homoerotic and most American. Directer Mike Judge (Office Space, Beavis & Butthead), whose genius shall not be argued here, later added a Geto Boys song as an ironic, and mildly racist, “juxtaposition” to the whiteness of their white collar plight and excised rapture. When faceless bureaucracies are embodied by the broken means meant to convey them, it’s time to freak out. That a fax from afar is printed on recipient paper and not the sender’s is often forgotten, with people getting angry at the sender for being out of paper. The age of reason is now unreasonable. To come full circle is to start all over again, and I sometimes wonder if I’d be happier before the industrial revolution. I’d have strong arms, a nice tan, and no tweets to worry about. If the reader does not know where this is headed, may he or she be pointed outside, to workers in a field, whose very work seems futile but is somehow necessary in small unseen ways, from flax to fax, of horrible jobs existing for a reason, of civilization moving along slowly, before the sun sets, through near darkness and its nightly requiem of crickets, until it rises again.