the fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@gmail.com

The next time you see a barista with a bushranger beard dec­o­rat­ing the crema of a flat white with a fern leaf de­sign, don’t think what I’ve se­cretly thought for the past few years — why don’t you just shave off the beard and get that job you stud­ied for at univer­sity?

That is old-econ­omy think­ing. If you want to shift into the new eco­nomic par­a­digm you have to reimag­ine what’s go­ing on in the work­ing lives of young men, and that bearded barista is a good start­ing point.

Young men are rein­vent­ing the tra­di­tion of trades. They’re do­ing it in a mas­cu­line tra­di­tion — ergo the 19th-cen­tury beards; they’re do­ing it even if they have higher education and, along the way, they’re re­defin­ing old trades and rein­vig­o­rat­ing in­ner-city economies. Oh yeah, they’re do­ing a good job of it, too.

The sorts of jobs where you’ll find new men in old trades in­clude craft-beer mak­ers, pot­ters, whole-an­i­mal butch­ers, her­itage vegetable grow­ers, tex­tile mak­ers, cus­tom welders, nat­u­ral wine­mak­ers, glass blow­ers, be­spoke print­ers, mixol­o­gists (cock­tail mak­ers), bi­cy­cle as­sem­blers, dis­tillers, bee­keep­ers, fur­ni­ture mak­ers and suc­cu­lents grow­ers.

And yes, their labours are most ob­vi­ous in in­ner suburbs such as Syd­ney’s New­town and Mel­bourne’s Fitzroy, but they can also be found in re­gional towns, life­style cen­tres and, well, most of Tasmania is a hub for peo­ple tak­ing old stuff and mak­ing it new.

This maker move­ment may have been the hot trend of 2012 but the fact it has per­sisted — and turned a few young men into mil­lion­aires — in­di­cates some­thing more sus­tain­able is hap­pen­ing here, and it’s not just in the sus­tain­abil­ity of their hops sup­ply chain.

The idea of an ar­ti­san ca­reer is now firmly set in the minds of young men who might oth­er­wise be wear­ing white col­lars. And, as ed­u­cated men take up th­ese trades, the sta­tus of what was once a tin­ker’s work has risen, as have the prices of their prod­ucts.

Some of the rea­sons why young men are do­ing this and the im­pact this sort of work has on neigh­bour­hoods is can­vassed in a forth­com­ing book called Masters of Craft by New York so­ci­ol­o­gist Richard Ocejo. But even an am­a­teur so­ci­ol­o­gist can spot a co­in­ci­dence in the ar­rival of mas­ter crafts­men. The re­vival of 19th-cen­tury men’s work is hap­pen­ing as 20th­cen­tury men’s work dis­ap­pears.

Men’s work oc­cu­pies many deep thinkers at the mo­ment, not just be­cause it’s dis­ap­pear­ing but be­cause work­ing men have been blamed for the rise of Don­ald Trump, the exit of Bri­tain from the EU and the ap­peal of Marine/Pauline.

Men are peeved. In par­tic­u­lar, men who used to work in man­u­fac­tur­ing and other hi-vis-vest jobs, are an­gry th­ese old jobs are be­ing re­placed by gigs such as Uber driv­ing and pack­ing bunches of kale for in­ner-city elites.

This shift in the jobs mar­ket is on such a steep graph that the last man who will turn off the lights on male em­ploy­ment is al­ready alive. And women shouldn’t feel smug, be­cause the ro­bot that will turn the lights off on their em­ploy­ment is al­ready vac­u­um­ing floors in some Sil­i­con Val­ley start-up.

Out of the blue, old jobs have started reap- pear­ing. And th­ese are re­ally old jobs: jobs that need hand tools, pedal power, mat­u­ra­tion times, lo­cally sourced in­gre­di­ents, mus­cle power and pa­tient cus­tomers — ev­ery­thing China thought it had elim­i­nated from pro­duc­tion.

And that’s the point. All this stuff is crafted, awk­ward even; it makes you feel all 19th-cen­tury; it makes you talk about it with the creator; it makes you want to be part of it and tell your friends about it. It’s craft for In­sta­gram.

The urge to use body and mind to pro­duce good stuff seems par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to men. And they don’t need beards to do it. Sure, at the start of the maker move­ment a bushranger’s beard sig­nalled to ev­ery­one the work they were do­ing wasn’t women’s work. It was 19th-cen­tury work for 21st-cen­tury men. They won’t need the beard for much longer be­cause ev­ery­one will see them for what they are — men do­ing work that men have al­ways done.

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