The Process Genre

posted by Jason Kottke Feb 14, 2020

From Duke University Press and author Salomé Aguilera Skvirsky comes what looks like an intriguing book on the beloved phenomenon of "how things are made" media — you know, things like "how to" cooking videos and IKEA instructions — The Process Genre: Cinema and the Aesthetic of Labor (at Amazon). From the book's introduction:

Chapter 3, "Aestheticizing Labor," argues that the category of labor is central to the process genre. In my account, the process genre is, in effect, always symptomatically reflecting on the interactions of human labor, technology (i.e., tools, instruments, machines), and nature. The chapter first examines the genre's relation to technique. Then it surveys the political implications of the ways in which labor is poeticized in the genre. In its most exalted examples, the process genre presents a striking paradox. On the one hand, it is the most instrumentalist of genres. After all, it is a genre constituted by the presentation of a sequential series of steps, all aiming at a useful result; it is a genre that is usually associated with what scholars call "useful cinema." On the other hand, it is a genre that has produced some of the most romantic, utopian depictions of labor in which labor figures not as that from which human beings seek relief in the form of listless leisure, but as the activity that gives human life meaning. The philosophical basis for the centrality of labor to life — what has been called the "metaphysics of labor" — finds expression in the process genre; thus, the genre stands in opposition to the politics of antiwork.

The photos on the cover of the book are stills from the Mister Rogers video on how crayons are made:

As you've probably observed, I am an unabashed fan of the process genre, with dozens of videos & tutorials in kottke.org's how to tag alone. Some of my particular favorites are the crayon video above (along with a similar one from Sesame Street), an Oscar-winning short from 1958 about glassmaking, the Primitive Technology videos, how marbled paper is made, how candy is made at the Teddy Grays factory, and the National Film Board of Canada's video about how to make an igloo. (thx, jason! (no relation))