Saturday, December 19, 2009
Discipline and Punish and the US Parking Slotted Pay Box
In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault explains how certain spaces work together to form areas which discipline, punish, and control public behaviors. These change and shift over time and by location. While a community designs their towns in certain ways over time, such collections of formations will create such barriers and constraints, which the public never sees or feels. The layers of buildings, torn down, others built in the same place, lanes widened, streets change to one-way, all result in outcomes never originally planned. In a painless but effective formation, such changes will punish and discipline. Whether these are designs and buildings situated to perform those particular outcomes, as with prisons and schools, there are also more subversive and invisible spaces that discipline those of us who willingly walk into a space and follow the implied or written instructions meted to us. I found one such space this week and was shocked when Foucault’s theory met with the place where I stood—in a parking lot across from the Municipal Courts building on Overland Street.
Most of the US Parking facilities are simple blacktop lots with diagonal lines and numbers to denote a space, along with a simple metal box at one entrance that accepts your coins and bills. In the case of this location, US Parking charges $4 to rent such spaces (0-12 hours). On a slow day, as this was, this means I paid for about 15 minutes of space rental time. What makes parking there so byzantine and punishing is not merely the amount you must pay, but how you pay. To pay for a space, put money into the corresponding slot cut into that red metal box attached to a signage pole. On the day I went, a pink piece of paper taped to the sign above the box politely asked people to pay in “cash, no checks please.” It is not so much the price of the parking lot space because this is America and the need and lack of choice drive space rental.
Yes, it is four dollars because hey, they want to see if you will pay with a $5 bill because you are in a rush or do not have change. It is also because the box with its slots work together with this location in a manner where you will pay; that is punish and discipline. The box disciplines by making you cram the money into that box, which you would not have had to do if you had had your car inspected on time. The slot punishes because you must stand and roll your bills so tight that you think about your grandfather rolling his own cigarettes with Bugler Tobacco. It punishes by making you remember that you miss him even though he died in 1975. Before you finish, you must make sure the money drops inside, so you cram the money into the box with a metal shive attached to the box with a chain. Overall, geography can and will discipline and punish, through this place, those spaces, and the box—across from the courts, as no parking is available on the street. Your money, the metal shive, the street, the courts, and the red box—that is discipline and punish.
Note: If you can get your hands on St. Clair's book, " The Secret Lives of Color ," go for it! It's absolutely beautiful...