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Say It Like You Eat ItLe Manger et Le Dire

Barista Memes

  • Elise Boudreau Graham

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Last year during a particularly hard winter I was invited to a (now defunct) private Instagram chat group of femme and trans baristas.  We logged on mornings at 6AM to wish one another a good morning and swapped anecdotes of misogyny and appalling customer behaviour in the workplace.  I considered this a form of free group therapy:

“[laugh-cry emoji] [handclap emoji]”

“Lol yes.”  

“I like a lot.”  

“Relatable content.”  

“Same.”

“Lmao.”

“[laugh-cry emoji] [laugh-cry emoji] [laugh-cry emoji]”

“Lolololol.”

“My hero!!!”

“So good!”

Another coping strategy I used was making memes at work. Like the commentary I shared with my barista chat group, my memes affect a greater visual public as well. They travel in ways that I cannot.  The supportive space that I’ve cultivated online cannot disrupt the negative interactions I experience while working but it does validate my frustration, my anger, my hurt.  Service industry work is precarious and often without benefits so we need to rely on informal systems of care. Women and trans people have always cultivated these networks and with our current economic shift towards the tertiary (or service) sector — what has been described as the feminization of the economy — we are simultaneously experiencing more abuse from the general-public-as-clientele and a dwindling of “the elements of the social democratic good-life fantasy — job security, health and retirement benefits, steady hours, a living wage, vacation, weekly nonwork time, among others[…].”[1] In other words, it is “impossible to write about precarity without writing about gender because undifferentiated labor is reforming along these lines.”[2]

To ferment is to seethe with agitation or excitement, to work up, or to incite (trouble or disorder).  I’m not supposed to ferment at work.  My memes are about what I wish I could say to customers but am unable to do because my position in customer service requires amenability and a friendly attitude. This subversion is a contemporary iteration of travail de la perruque, an expression conceived by French scholar Michel de Certeau and used to describe personal work that happens during/is disguised as work hours.[3] Social media can serve as a repository for the frustrations and anxieties that arise during a shift. I can post flippant content on the internet without feeling the need to contextualize or provide nuance because the majority of my followers are navigating similar circumstances.  The hyperindividualism of late capitalism functions to break down of class solidarity yet to open a dialogue is to be an agent of fermentation.

Figure 1

Barista Memes #1, copyright Elise Boudreau Graham, 2017

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Figure 2

Barista Memes #2, copyright Elise Boudreau Graham, 2017

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Figure 3

Barista Memes #3, copyright Elise Boudreau Graham, 2017

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Figure 4

Barista Memes #4, copyright Elise Boudreau Graham, 2017

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