Jasmine Gibson and Madison Van Oort’s Time Theft: A Love Story (The Elephants, 2018)
Review by Rahsaan Mahadeo
What does it mean to use that which does not belong to you? For Jasmine Gibson and Madison Van Oort, it means that you are likely to be labeled a time thief and that your “time use” will be read as “time theft.” In their zine “Time Theft: A Love Story,” Gibson and Van Oort offer a glimpse into labor lives of low-wage workers through a collage of Tweets, Facebook posts, and Instagram photos. Each visual reads as a tribute to the worker featured in the post, while also signaling an enduring love for insurgent workers everywhere who transgress time and thus defy the logics of capitalism.
The “love story” begins with, “All Hail the Time Thieves.” It is a sort of when Madison met retail work in New York City-story, as well as a when retail met worker resistance in the form of time theft. However, it is important to ask what it means to steal that which is already stolen? As Van Oort notes,
The dilemmas out of which time stealing arise are thus anything but frivolous, forcing us to consider the very material questions of who owns time, and who, in these scenarios, is actually stealing from whom. Under capitalism, time is never our own.
Because capitalist lending restrictions make it so that members of the proletariat, many of whom are, to use Nandita Sharma’s phrase, “negatively-racialized,” must first borrow time before using it, low-wage workers are inured into an unpayable debt. If we consider the fact that time is money and all capitalism is “racial capitalism,” it makes sense that the poor and negatively-racialized persons owe, rather than own time.
The second section, #timethefts, is comprised of over 50 pages of the authors’ favorite posts from alleged “time thieves.” In posting to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, workers make mundane experiences matter. As one worker tweeted, “I’m back on Twitter. I need something other than Facebook to distract me from the misery of my job all day. #ihatework #timetheft” (47). Through Tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram and art posted to social media, workers resist the temporal strictures of work by not only taking their time, but simultaneously taking their bosses time.
In section 3, Gibson contributes to the love story with three poems, which you will want to read, read, and read again for good measure. Gibson centers the body and in doing so de-centers time and capital. Linking retail to the criminal-legal system and the plantation, Gibson also exposes the psychic tax time imposes on low-wage workers.
The love story then transitions back to more illustrations of time thievery. A memorable meme exemplifying Gibson’s “defecation labor practice,” is a picture of restroom toilet with the caption: “Pooping at work an average of 10 minutes each day equals 40 hours of paid vacation time every year.” Perhaps a shit a day keeps the bosses away and, to quote Peter Tosh, “the shitstem” at bay. It then only seems right for this love story to conclude with an interview with Buzzfeed’s Guy Debord, inventor of #HITBRAW (hiding in the bathroom at work). Can bosses really expect workers not to spend an inordinate amount of time on the toilet when they feed them hefty portions of shit every day?
Bosses warn workers, either tacitly or explicitly, not to bite the hand that feeds them. But when the hand that feeds them is feeding them shit, workers have no other choice but to bite and fight back!