Vacations are a lot of fun. They are guaranteed to us in both school and work. Most students and workers also get some portion of the week off, in the United States this is known as the weekend. We look forward to these periods as an escape from the daily routine of our lives. Instead of working, we do stuff that we want to do (I use working to mean both the daily routine of workers and students). Applying Certeau, it can be said that working is a strategy employed by capitalism, while weekends and vacations are tactics used to subvert the capitalist need for work. However, these vacations are a false tactic given to us in order to further cement the foundation of capitalism within society.
Capitalism is no longer how Marx described it. Marx based his theories of capitalism on the notion of labor time of a worker in a factory. For example, someone in a factory would work for eight hours per day, five days per week. This is not applicable to the labor time of middle/upper class white-collar workers. Professions that fit into this categorization include professors, programmers, architects, and lawyers. Franco Berardi, an Italian philosopher, called this new form of capitalism “semiocapitalism.” Labor time is no longer bound by when one punches in and out. Instead, people within these jobs are always working. They are given long-term projects where it is expected that they bring their work home. It is impossible to divorce the work in these professions during periods of rest as their labor is cognitive in nature.
Since work can no longer be delineated within hours per day, vacations are no longer vacations. How we treat vacations has now changed. People bring their work with them when they take a vacation as they are forced to. Additionally, there is a decline in the amount of paid vacation time used (Langfield). There is a mentality that it is shameful to take a vacation. Yet, people still look at vacations as an escape, even if they are not really used. They are now a false promise. This shows that vacations cannot be considered a viable tactic as it is not used as it was once intended. Vacations are thus a calculated concession on the part of capitalist institutions.
Even if one takes a “typical vacation,” this act feeds into the mass production of cultural goods. People go on vacations and support capitalist systems. This is evident if one goes to Disneyworld, or as Jamaica Kincaid pointed out, visits a foreign place. People go to these places to escape their lives, yet as depressing as it sounds, there is no escape in semiocapitalism. Horkheimer and Adorno offer a much more compelling explanation of culture that can be applied to vacations. The culture industry is consumed during these vacations. This culture industry is then used to make the capitalist means of production stronger. For example, Disney produced movies that became ingrained within American culture, and then people go and visit Disneyworld during their vacation. These movies fit into the mold of cultural goods produced for the masses. Other features of the culture industry, such as televised sports events, are targeted for consumption over the weekend and are used as a vehicle to promote commercialization. Not only do people not take their vacation time, but also when they do, they only make capitalism stronger by participating in the culture industry.
Capitalism has evolved to form a positive feedback loop by using vacations as a false means of escape from its system. Vacations are not tactics as a true tactic would require subversion of a system. However, typical vacations are still trapped within capitalism, ultimately showing that it is very hard to escape from this system. I do believe that the points outlined above can very well explain why there are people in their mid-twenties to late thirties that quit their jobs and decide to vacation for an extended period of time. It can also be used to show why so many more people want to work in Silicon Valley as opposed to Wall Street. Some questions to consider would be where do traditional workers fit within this analysis? Is there an example of a vacation that can be used as a tactic against the system of capitalism?
Langfield, Amy. “Unused Vacation Days at 40-year High.” CNBC. 23 Oct. 2014. Web. 8 Dec. 2015. <http://www.cnbc.com/2014/10/23/unused-vacation-days-at-40-year-high.html>.