Spectral Servants and Haunting Hospitalities: Upstairs, Downstairs, Gosford Park and Babel



In the two films discussed in Chapter 1, the status of the undocumented workers as living ghosts is predominantly a consequence of their legal position, yet it is aided by the lack of social capital associated with the jobs they perform. Jenny Wills even argues that, in Dirty Pretty Things, Senay is ‘objectified by […] the dehumanizing nature of her employment’ (117, emphasis added). The problem, however, is not that cleaning, sewing, driving taxis, packing meat or harvesting in themselves reduce people to living ghosts. This is achieved, rather, by the prevalent perception of these tasks as low-skilled, undignified and unimportant. Aguiar’s insightful analysis of the representation of cleaners in popular culture reveals how cleaning is either invoked as something to be left behind in American Dream-like tales of self-advancement or aestheticized into a general symbol of marginalization. Both possibilities deny the importance of cleaning services, refuse to constitute cleaners as knowable subjects with a valid perspective on the world, ignore the actual issues cleaners face on the job, including an ever-increasing work tempo, constant surveillance and a lack of stability, and disavow any sense of the cleaner as part of a work community. While Ghosts counters this trend by critiquing the working conditions and paltry wages undocumented migrants receive, and depicting the jobs themselves as worthy and involving skill, Dirty Pretty Things conveys a sense that Okwe and Senay are somehow ‘too good’ for the work they do.


Domestic Worker Servant Class Undocumented Migrant Domestic Service Television Series 
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Copyright information

© Esther Peeren 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Media StudiesUniversity of AmsterdamNetherlands

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