Leisure counselors

by Rob Horning

12 August 2006


The two-day weekend is something we tend to take for granted in America, as natural and normal as breathing oxygen or driving thirty miles in stop-and-go traffic to get to work. Of course it is of relatively late provenance in the history of labor, and I’m sure at the time, capitalists resisted shorter work weeks with all their collective might as if it would mean the end of all productivity gains. But now is no time to elaborate the lump of labor fallacy.

Anyway it’s interesting to read about how it can feel just as unnatural to those not acclimated to it. Yesterday the Wall Street Journal had a story about yeoga kwallisa, or leisure counselors, that the Korean government has begun to use to convince Koreans that it is okay to relax on Saturdays. Though, as the article reports, most Koreans resist the idea and worry about the economic burden leisure will allegedly impose, in truth leisure is business; leisure allows workers to work as consumers and prop up the segments of the economy that rely on free time and boredom to thrive: entertainment, services, luxury consumer goods, lifestyle accoutrements.

Though the article highlights Korea, leisure counselors are by no means limited to nations new to shorter work weeks. In America we have an entire elaborate industry that tries to tell us how to relax and entertain ourselves; because the free time is not especially organic—it’s not a product of needing to take it easy after great exertion, it’s no wonder we don’t know what to do with ourselves and look for guidance. And it’s no wonder that we feel under pressure to enjoy ourselves, constrained and compelled by the fun morality Baudrillard writes about—the imperative to manufacture distinctive signs of being leisured. Leisure, relaxation, basically don’t come naturally; I’d like to think optimistically that this means we are inherently predisposed to be productive, which is why an economy’s chief measure of success ought to be how well it provides people meaningful work, not solely how much growth it is capable of generating. This is basically a nostalgic attitude, I know, conjuring up some non-existent golden age where people worked until they were tired on things that made them happy and then enjoyed themselves with authentic folk culture, lost communal rituals. It certainly was never quite so simple, and who knows if we’d be able to experience that simple, limited life as pleasurable. The modern pleasures may have something to do with building new communities and new rituals from scratch, again and again.

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