Thursday, May 16, 2013

And Then We Came to the End--Or Do We?

I've written before about the world of work as depicted on television.  In this post, I said, "I'm struck by how the shows of my childhood and adolescence show people working in real jobs, jobs that I might grow up to have. Shows these days on network T.V. show people competing to get the kind of jobs most of us will never have (chef at a celebrity restaurant, pop singer, pursuer of supernatural creatures). Even the police procedurals, the CSI shows and the Law and Order shows, depict the kind of law enforcement that is not the ordinary realm of regular police folks."

In many ways, The Office is also one of those shows, and it comes to an end tonight.  The TV critic at The Washington Post, Hank Stuever, has written a great appreciation of the show, even of its last 2 years, when it seemed to go astray:

"My own contrarian streak runs so deep that I might be the only TV critic on the planet who put the first post-Carell season (when James Spader’s Robert California character briefly helmed Dunder Mifflin) on my top 10 list of 2011.

So sue me. The overall narrative epic of the lives of the Scranton branch employees began to drift, and yet I always believed that the show’s writers should have done exactly this, concentrating on the tale of a rudderless ship. That felt precisely like what happens in an office when one idiosyncratic boss leaves and is replaced by a steadily declining parade of micromanaging weirdos. That felt more real."

He concludes this way: 

"My last impression of “The Office” was the miracle suggested all along by its basic plot: that there was a paper company that hadn’t been subsumed by Staples or OfficeMax, and that it had a branch office in which the white-collar division worked alongside the blue-collar warehouse. That the Oscars and the Kevins and the Phyllises and the Merediths and the Creeds — played by a superb comedy troupe that formed the real backbone of the show — all had full-time work in this mythical paper supplier as employees rather than contractors; that they came in at 9 and left at 5, collecting a salary and benefits; that they were never downsized, right-sized or otherwise laid off; and that they toiled in relative peace for nine years and counting.

It’s the sort of American Dream job — and job security — many people stopped believing in eons ago. That’s why we loved “The Office” and hated the office. It was meant to look real, but it was pure escapism all along."

I came late to this show, but I'll miss it.  I want scripted TV, not reality shows with foul-mouthed contestants who have to be bleeped.  I wouldn't spend an hour of my non-TV life with those reality show people, so why should I watch these shows?  The world of scripted TV gets smaller and smaller, especially for those of us who don't want to pay for cable.

I used to say that I couldn't watch The Office because it reminded me too much of life at the office, which I was living, so why would I want to watch it on TV?  But then, somehow, my view changed, and I found it a comfort.

Last night, I spent an hour on the phone with an old friend; we tried to interpret the actions of her department chair.  Is the department chair tormenting my friend with her plans for teaching improvement and such?  Or is the chair just one of those First Year English true believers?  Is my friend's job in trouble?

For the life of me, I had trouble coming up with a word that described the actions I wanted my friend to avoid.  Of course, 10 minutes after I hung up the phone, I came up with it.  I wrote this e-mail:

"Insubordination--that's the word that wouldn't come to me.

Just don't do anything that could be construed as being insubordinate, and you'll be fine. Administrators hate insubordination. Ineptness? Not as bad, and in fact, possibly endearing. Trying hard and not quite getting there? Definitely sweet.

But undercutting and undermining--no, nothing that could be painted as insubordinate.

If I had world enough and time, I'd write a book in this vein. But since I don't . . . just remember, this too shall pass, and some day, we'll look back on it and smile at the things we thought were critical. We'll say, 'Man, back then, I could climb stairs, I never lost control of my bladder, and I had all my teeth--why was I complaining again?'"

My friend periodically consults me, as someone who has gone over to the management side, to help her see from the point of view of the boss and how she should respond.  Could I develop those ideas into a book?

I've written before, in this blog post, about my idea of writing a management book that's partly serious, partly comedic, and most of all, just a recombining of what's come before.  This morning, it occurs to me that I could write the same book from the other side of the management desk.  I've been a boss and I've been an underling.  I could write the same book, just change the perspective!

We're all just looking for our cheese, after all.

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