If Berardi wrote the ‘Precarious Rhapsody‘, then Spring Offensive – a 5-piece band from Oxford – offer us an ode to precarity in their recently listener-funded album ‘Young Animal Hearts‘. They are very melodramatic, but whether they are to your taste or not, I think they have an uncanny ability to write refrains which point to the plight of being young in a post-crash world of competitive capitalism (recently picked up in this brilliant article by the Guardian). This is a world in which one of the most educated generations in history – one that has tirelessly rehearsed the rhetoric of aspiration and meritocracy throughout their education – now finds itself in precarity.
Let us consider two tracks. Firstly, ‘Worry Fill My Heart’ is a poem about a position that many young people find themselves in: having to borrow money from parents and/or work a job which is only a means to an end just to gain some sort of independence and freedom. The song begins with describing the boredom of the job the protagonist has had to settle for:
Oh me, oh my heart’s just not in this
I’ve felt a lagging beat since my career path shifted
And I asked no one for the life I’m leading
It dragged me in both feet first
With my tie tied too tight and an ear pressed to the clock
I am counting down the seconds until my shift is up
Don’t mention how stale we feel or we will both grind to a halt
Despite being promised that they could be ‘anything you want to be’ so long as they worked hard enough and got the grades, there is now a whole generation who have seen that dream melt into non-existence. Neoliberalism is based on losers and many twenty-somethings now face a number of stark choices: to be laden with debt through further education, to take on a job that their ‘heart is just not in’, or to suffer the stigma of being NEET. This is coupled with the experience of vertigo created by short-term contracts that keep the young forever anxious and working hard for jobs which mean nothing to them just for the slim chance of future sustainability.
This demonstrates the holes in meritocracy. Whilst asserting that we can gain independence if only we work hard enough and suffer shit jobs in the short term, the very logic of the system is based on the continued existence that this won’t be possible for everyone. It is based on the logic of inequality. Take for example the idea of ‘means testing’ financial support for further education:
All I need, is just a couple of hundred.
It should keep me for a few weeks.
I’m like a child to be asking.
And if I can’t pay my rent then I’m completely dependant
I never thought that I would be so in line with convention
How dare I even think that I could be any exception?
Whither the promise of self-respect and self-fulfilment in a culture that considers your personal wealth as based on your parents? I’m not saying, of course, that this shouldn’t be the case, but only that the problem is one of structural inequality not individual failings. A rising tide does not lift all boats and there is no trickle down for those who have sunk, let alone opportunities for self-respect and true independence. We find ourselves in a utopian system that is based on aspirations; not realities.
The same themes are probed into even more deeply in the fantastic precarious love song ‘No Assets’ which considers the personal impacts of serving the needs of the market over one’s personal fulfilment. We join the story with a couple trying to decide which of their beloved possessions (or ‘assets’) they should sell in order to raise much-needed money:
So we gather in a big heap all that we own,
We couldn’t work out what to keep and what to throw
If it doesn’t mean the world then they have to go.
We need the money…
Oh our parents didn’t wait for this long to have big ideas and buy up big homes
But our young blood could never be so bold.
Can’t help but feel like we’re at fault. Can’t help but feel like we’re at fault.
When everything is measured by money and market standards, then even our own possessions and biographies simply become ‘assets’ that need to be sold. Furthermore, the stress of being measured by money puts psychological pressure on the individual and emotional pressure on the relationship:
You said you’re sick of not sleeping and money would change this completely
The future is investments and pay-days, and I think that we should start saving…
If we’re serious then we should start saving,
We’re serious, so we should start saving,
We’re serious, so we should start saving up…
Love itself is measured economically by the ability to save. No longer a commitment or fidelity to one another, a relationship appears as something that should be economically invested in for the future.
No assets are kept as the debt unfolds
I cannot help but feel that we’re at fault,
The depth of our debt is deeper than love
The measure of which is stronger than us.
There is a universal contradiction in capitalism which effects all (no matter how well-off you are to begin with) in that it must rely on inequality and exclusion. Feelings of worthlessness and precariousness abound even for those who are supposed to be the ‘winners’ and this points to an inherently flawed logic. As previous generations work longer and businesses are run for efficiency (and profit) rather than for the benefit of their employee’s, it is the young that suffer the most. Yet is seems that they are so precarious that they would rather run their own services voluntarily than take the risk to bring about positive change.