Marxist critique of Crayola Factory Tour

DT sez, "A very swell Marxist deconstruction of the The Crayola Factory: A Hands-on Discovery Center. Slightly self-depreciating, somewhat wry, very erudite and extremely accurate. Complex but very, very good."
And so was born the Crayola Factory [sic] Tour. A single production line of original machinery was reassembled in a glassed-in, toplit soundstage. It is tended by a lone, young worker/performer, who demonstrates the crayonmaking process a couple of times each hour. Armed with a headset mic and a remote, he controls overhead lights and cameras and guides the audience's attention to monitors which show close-ups of each step. In other words, the entire Crayola Factory Experience is geared to the re-enactment and re-viewing of the original Mister Rogers/Sesame Street films.

But what, besides the jazzy soundtrack, is missing from this picture? In its attempt to recreate the authentic production line, which actually makes the little souvenir 4-packs of crayons handed out to the audience, Crayola has eliminated the labor. Instead of the five older, unionized workers seen in the Sesame Street film, the Factory performance is run by one young retail/service industry employee earning minimum wage.

Which sucks for the folks stuck in a depressed central Pennsylvania town with nothing but retail or restaurant jobs, sure, but it doesn't let us, the shopper/viewer off the hook, either. As the very act of seeking out an authentic reliving of a memory of a TV show demonstrates. By emphasizing the production of works of culture, which we all share, Karl Mannheim expanded Marx's theory of alienation from the proletariat to everyone. These works of culture which we internalize, and which which we identify our selves, are beyond our control. Adorno and Horkheimer, meanwhile, saw capitalism exploiting this alienation, by transforming self-expression into the consumption of "cultural commodities."

The Triumph Of The Crayolatariat (Thanks, DT!)


  1. i can see how that might be complex if you’ve never read this kind of work before but really it isn’t overly theoretical or anything. actually kind of light for an academic work.

  2. I love these mock-academic critiques, like the post-modernism generator or The Journal of Cartoon Overanalyzations.

    Surely, nobody in modern academia still treats Marxism as a serious form of criticism? Well, excluding those idiot professors who have ignored their field for the last sixty years, has anyone had the stereotypical ivory-tower-bourgeoisie-hating contradictory stereotype Marxists for an instructor?
    Don’t get me wrong, Marx’s contribution is duly noted and everything, though surely that is not the end-all to be dwelled upon?

  3. Feh.

    Why do so many Marxists forget the obvious (and very sci-fi) point Marx made about automation? Most people would be un/under-employed, and forced to invent new ways of “communal” living to survive independently of the industrial culture (and as part of this, they would reconnect with their work).

  4. @versh: The critique definitely has marxist roots, but it draws most heavily from the situationists, who are notable for taking marxist thought in a direction much that’s more relevant to modern society.

    I thought it was very insightful, though definitely jargon-heavy. Are there particular sections you take issue with, or was it just the word “marxism”?

  5. I’d still expect “academic” writing to be better written, without hard-to-parse sentence fragments and “which which we identify ourselves.” Erudite is *not* the word I’d use to describe it, and therefore I question the claim for accuracy as well. I, a reader, cannot really tell what it’s about. “In other words, the entire Crayola Factory Experience is geared to the re-enactment and re-viewing of the original Mister Rogers/Sesame Street films. ” I’m rather challenged to discern exactly how crayonmaking re-enacts Mister Rogers/ Sesame Street films. Were there films on those shows?

    But then, “self-depreciating” says it all.

  6. @ #4 Zikzak
    I have no issue with The Triumph Of The Crayolatariat, it was wonderful read.

    I was just wondering if other people noticed Marxism’s secondary status, and as you said, only derive significance through specific interpretations. There seems to be more and more “critiques” written to appeal as “pure Marxism” as a post-modern joke to pick at the theoretical flaws therein.

    I had a high school teacher (Mr. Ware) that tried to spin the Cultural Revolution as a good thing… it made me wonder what college he got his degree from. That was in 2002! In college I didn’t encounter any hard-core Marx/Engels fan club members, though I wondered if that “influence” still pervades elsewhere.

  7. If you’re just describing the situation in Marxist terminology (to comedic effect, I guess) and not making any particular point, is that really a “critique?”

  8. One small nit to pick: As the article notes, the Crayola “factory” is in Easton, Pennsylvania. As the name itself hints, Easton is pretty much the eastern-most city in Pennsylvania, right on the Delaware River, and thus not a “central Pennsylvania town” (unless you were measuring from north to south, which would be silly).

    Geography aside, a very amusing and interesting piece.

  9. Versh – Marx is certainly still taken very seriously in many universities – at least those outside the US anyway. I’d definitely never argue that the cultural revolution was a good thing, but then again I wouldn’t ever argue it was Marxist either. Just because someone claims to be doing something in the name/based on something, does not mean that its reality bares any resemblance to that which it claims to be based on/in the name of.

  10. IIRC, the “fantasy bottling plant” at the World of Coke exhibit in Atlanta doesn’t have any workers at all.

  11. The first time I went to this place I too thought “Where is the factory?”. It’s exactly as he describes it – one guy making a bunch of boxes of crayons. I find more enjoyment visiting places where they actually mass produce things.

    My kids like this place. Me – not so much. If you go, get their early.

    There’s an ultra-crappy McDonalds in the same building.

  12. If they don’t like it, audience members should break down the barrier and seize the means of production.

  13. Very nice. But I was wondering, how did he know the worker was paid minimum wage?

    Ever look at the want ads? Maybe the worker does get more than minimum wage, but I bet no more than $9 which itself is below what the minimum wage should be IMHO, which in PA, I see is a pitiful $7.25

  14. Thank you, #11, I was going to point that out as well. Easton is practically in New Jersey! Well, apart from it being across the Delaware…

  15. #8 Geonz is right, if it were more in the guise of an “academic paper” I’m sure the text would consist of more impenetrable, top-shelf thesaurus words.

    #10 Moriarty, That’s true, but pointless sentiments written in pretended schools of thought are Liberal Arts’ bread and butter. Postmodernists make it a point to say that they’re “saying nothing”, and hence, claim it a critique on reason, language, or society. (Derrida, Foucault, Fish, etc.)

    #12 Anonymous, well said. And I suspect Marx is prominent in the US colleges too, as he should be, I just hope every catastrophe since Das Kapital is appended to any lesson about it. And yeah, Karl would most likely retract all his work if he knew what it was twisted into.

    #16 wgmleslie
    Children revolting in a crayon factory= comedy gold.

  16. @Versh

    Popular conceptions of Marx (i.e. that he was a crank) never cease to amaze me.

    Marx remains a central figure for any serious study of sociology, literature, discourse, history and political theory.

    And Marx will continue to be one of our most important thinkers as long as capitalism remains in place. If the relevance of a sustained and radical critique of capitalism isn’t clear now for all to see, I don’t know what is.

    The greatest disaster of “Capital” is that it wasn’t/hasn’t been more widely read. Blaming Marx for the labor camps and purges of Stalinist countries is like blaming Jesus of Nazareth for the Spanish Inquisition and the antisemitism that enabled the Holocaust.

    The “ivory tower” of academia is not self-imposed you see. The guiding impulse of Marxist theory is that it can be turned into action.

    You should really try to read Marx sometime.

  17. nah, can’t let that pass as a ‘marxist’ critique.

    just a bit of whining on someone elses behalf with some name dropping at the end.

  18. At least they have someone real there. At the Hershey “factory tour”, it’s just some fake cows singing to you with some chocolate smells blown on you occasionally.

  19. #20 Anonymous
    Quite right, Marx is essential reading for understanding 1790 – 1975, covering a massive amount of events and cultures.

    However, Marx had no reasoning for emerging technologies, justified individual property rights, motivation for innovation, non-monetary systems (see Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price), and postindustrial societies in general. Sure, one can try to stretch his words to keep him relevant, but then they should realize he died in 1883, and there are now whole libraries of thought to further understand the modern era. Command Economies, Authoritarian Dictatorship, Class Warfare– all concepts from a bygone era that at the time seemed practical, which are now rather unfeasible.

    Why do you assume I haven’t read Das Kapital? Because I disagree? Marx may have had an interesting take on history but he was proved wrong in theory and practice in Economics & Philosophy. I wouldn’t know that without reading Marx & his followers.

    Perhaps you should read beyond Marx sometime:
    Herbert Spencer
    John Maynard Keynes
    Ludwig von Mises
    F.A. Hayek
    George J. Stigler
    Milton Friedman
    Stephen Hicks

  20. From a response I’ve posted over on our Easton-area blog, echoing #11 and #18:


    [I]t’s an unfair slap at the Canal Museum upstairs to dismiss the whole thing in just two seconds. That place has some excellent exhibits and toys — not the least of which is a miniature canal system with working locks and boats. I could play at that thing all day, even if my kids weren’t with me.

    And finally, the blogger gets some key things wrong about our fair city of Easton, which he describes as “a depressed central Pennsylvania town with nothing but retail or restaurant jobs.”

    Ahem. Sir, the City of Easton is at the very eastern edge of Pennsylvania, not in central PA.

    Also … well, there’s not much left here in the way of retail jobs.

  21. @ Versh

    On the contrary, Versh–the near future (emerging technologies, climate change, class tensions that will soon hit a tipping point) and capitalism’s inability to adapt to the coming transformations will demonstrate precisely how right Marx was in the 19th-century and how valid the critique of capitalism remains in the present.

    That you date Marx’s relevance to approximately the moment when the USSR’s long-term ability to compete economically with the capitalist world was beginning to be thrown into doubt stinks of McCarthyism.

    That you should list a string of free-market wackos and complicit Analytic philosophers as some sort of antidote to Marxian thought after the economic collapse of 2008 shows how out of touch with reality you are.

    As for Marx and Marxist theory having been somehow disproven: in economy: the inability of capitalism to deal with economic stratification (it has rather exploded it exponentially in the last 200 years) and to work toward a more peaceful and happy world is hardly a refutation of the critique of capitalism; in philosophy: I see you belong to the cult of Empiricism and will have a hard time, as hard of a time as a racist has swallowing his prejudices, in making a sincere attempt at dialogue. Don’t think I missed your stab at French theory in an earlier post, but your grouping of Derrida, Foucault and Fish under the title of “Postmodernists” as if anyone ever identified with such a club, as if Derrida and Foucault never were at odds against each other, and as if Fish (who writes regularly for ever thought himself a Derridean or a Foucauldian seemed sufficient indication that you don’t know what terrain you’re treading on.

  22. #26 Anonymous
    (I’ll assume you’re the same Anonymous, lol)

    Okay, it appears the ideology lines have been drawn, and due to your solidified views on Marxism, clearly, there is nothing someone like me (I don’t have a degree in Philosophy, Economics, or History) could hope to convince you.

    That “stab at French theory” was just a list of influential Marxists, all prominent sources of Postmodern Nihilism. (Surely, both you and I can agree Nihilism and Anarchy are no good, right?) Anyway, that’s why they were grouped.

    So the economic crisis was Capitalism’s death knell eh? C’mon, really? Sure market growth has slowed, unemployment is rampant, and poverty levels are on the rise but it seems to keep going, business as usual. Pure Free-Market Capitalism may seem like a dour prospect, but the regulated brand is still endorsed across the globe. Even prominently with Authoritarian-Capitalist China booming with expansion.

    However, judging from that “string of free-market wackos” line, further discussion will not be attempted. You gotta’ stop criticizing disagreement as synonymous to insanity– only irrationality is insanity. Without civil discourse, we have no hope of understanding. (Yes, Rational, Objective Empiricism, but hey, you’re probably against that).

    Thanks for the discussion Comrade Anonymous, most other Boingboing users ignore my comments because I’m not a regular visitor or something. (Seriously, no sarcasm intended, I genuinely enjoyed these insights).

    Also, if you could name a few authors or titles to recommend, I’d be much appreciative.

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