The Fixer

I keep coming back to Steven Van Zandt’s character, Frankie Tagliano in the Netflix TV series “Lilyhammer.”  His nickname is “The Fixer”.  J.J. Abrams  TV series “Person of Interest” (CBS Thursdays)  also has “a fixer”; an armed and dangerous guardian angel played by Jim Caviezel.  These guys are the opposites of  what we call managers.  Both of them encounter huge public bureaucracies with rules and regulations and they choose to help somebody in trouble by breaking those rules; going around authority.  They don’t seek to control or manipulate the situation or keep it calm.  They fix it.  Okay, and I should add they are very good at cracking heads and are crack shots to boot.

I’ve been a bit obsessed lately with the idea of a “manager” and “management”.  I don’t get it.   Why manage something?  You either fix it or you don’t.  Okay, when somebody is feeling blue or just wants to vent, you can listen to them.  But that’s called “being present”.  You aren’t fixing it; or controlling or manipulating anything as per the dictionary definition of “managing”.  You listen and you let them breathe.

A business manager is said to manage your money.  Does she tell it to behave when it gets out of line?  Don’t you just need an accountant? She counts your money and accounts for the fact you have some and gives it to people who say you owe them some.

There is a team manager and a coach.   The coach decides how the players will win the game.  What does the team manager do?  Make sure the team has equipment and a place to practice. In small towns, the coach does it all and tries to find a kid that wants to be part of the team to help him carry the equipment and make sure it doesn’t get lost.  But the players could take care of their own towels, bats, and uniforms.

A theatrical manager actually was the producer of the plays.  So that term is what is used now in theater and film.  The producer makes it happen.  She’s a fixer.  A stage manager is hired to make sure the sets and lights don’t fall on top of the actors and that the play starts on time.  Then they call the show.   They literally turn the lights so the actors can bring the story to life.  In film they are called assistant directors.  Director is the better term.  It’s…direct.

Sometime after World War II, there came about the elevation to power of somebody called the middle manager. It was part of  what some called managerialism” or “The Management Revolution”.  Ha. Ha.  Again the use of the word “revolution” to imply some sort of great change you can believe in.  It implied something strong and brave; rebels with a cause.  And now you could get degrees in managing and administrating other people.  But workers could tell that rather than a help, it often hindered ideas and innovation as it separated the owner of the company from the workers on the floor; the boss from the researchers; the shareholders from the CEO.  The administrator separated the parents from the teachers.  Communication could get all screwed up.  And eventually some sort of “management speak” arose.  Dull meaningless phrases strung together in sentences with no verbs were taught to bored and future boring power point presenters.  Bullet points replaced flow of prose. Orwell called this kind of language “anesthetic”.  Yup, put you to right to sleep.

Political writer and intellectual Paul Street in regards to the economic crisis, writes, “Compared to the corporate and Wall Street elite, “professionals and managers, no matter how annoying, were [shown to be] pikers. The doctor or school principal might be overbearing, the professor and the social worker might be condescending, but only the 1 percent took your house away.”

So “managers” can be “annoying”, “overbearing”, and “condescending”.  But they are not the villains or the fixers.  The villains in our society today are the looters and their lackeys, the 1%, who do control our social system.  But we have virtually no fixers to help the 99% escape their grasp.  So we are all caught up in a big old pile of poop with a bunch of politicians and media bloviators yapping at us to clean ourselves up and get back to work.  You know, that personal responsibility weasel idea.  But they  are just managers.  They are trying to control our lives without doing anything to fix them.  They are annoying for sure and heap on a us a lot of condescension, but they aren’t fixing anything.  You can’t fix what’s wrong right now without going after the looters.  And you can’t do much because of what professor Colin Ward calls “the dreary polarity between public bureaucracy on the one hand and private profit on the other”.

Anthropologist David Graeber has a suggestion.  He says that we should come together in our communities with strong and often opposing convictions and then try to find a way to solve the problem not to convince the other side that they are wrong.  Wow, what a simple but profound concept.  We can reinvent something different than the strangulation and oppressive wrongs of both so called free market capitalism and managerial socialism.  Martin Luther King, Jr. called for a synthesis between the capitalist system that forgot the “we” and the socialist system that forgot the “me”.  It should happen locally, voluntarily, temporarily, and with an eye to getting the job done.

Where are the fixers?  Who will let us breathe?  Ah, it is us.


Paul Street in “Two Bubbles That Went Pop”

Colin Ward in “Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction”

David Graeber in “Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology”

and from Neuroanthropology blog “David Graeber: Anthropologist, anarchist, financial analyst.”

Don Watson’s “Death Sentences: How Cliches, Weasel Words, and Management-Speak are Strangling Public Language.

7 responses to “The Fixer

  1. From reading your post, it seems to me that you are asking whether we need a “coordinator class”, as Michael Albert, who is the force behind Participatory Economics (ParEcon), calls them. Personally, I think we do need coordinators. The issue for me is transparency and democracy – once a class is established, then those outside the class become objects to manipulate. You ask who are the fixers and declare them to be us. Yes, right answer. But “us” are so conditioned to bow and scrape before authority that there is little chance that the fixers will ever see the light of day. Every day, we reproduce the mechanisms that ensnare us. We stare into our iPhones and iPads, listen to everyone except the people next to us with our iPods, and engage in escapism with GameBoys, television and similar gadgets. The ruling class wins, every time. Nothing will change until it all comes crashing down and it becomes a very serious struggle for survival. Only then will people put some of their prejudices and bigotry to one side and reach out to others to build community. It hasn’t gotten bad enough yet, unfortunately. I’ve password-protected my blog (it has lots of links to sources about anarchism) but if you want credentials to access it, e-mail me.

  2. I would like more sources. When I finished the piece this morning, I ended it with “Where are the fixers?.” I didn’t have an answer as to who they were or where to find them. I stared at it and after re reading it twice, I thought the answer was us and local action. But I agree that from my experience with this Tea Party town I live in with real militia types, that most are bow and scrape types. I’d like to know more about this “coordinator class”.

  3. A piece on the coordinator class from Infoshop. There’s plenty more out there to be found. I question your statement that the militia types in your area “bow and scrape”. To whom?

  4. I guess I mean bowing and scraping to money. They worship the wealthy. I hear the expression “but he’s got or he’s made a lot of money.” And in the West, there is a huge reverence to landed wealth even if they don’t wear Armani.

  5. Ha! Name me an American who doesn’t bow and scrape to money. Isn’t that what America is all about? I got mine and f**k you? Interesting comment about the reverence to landed wealth. You should write a blog post about that – it would be most interesting reading, I’m sure.

  6. A friend of mine last night when I described a middle manager in a company said, “Oh, it sounds likes he’s an insulator”. I like it. He insulates the CEO from the workers. And I did look up “coordinator class”. I like the idea of having a coordinator. But seeing a “coordinator” as in a class above a worker makes no sense to me.

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