Readers Write In #306: Of lacking Office Space… or not!

Posted on November 30, 2020

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(by An Jo)

The name of the movie, ‘Office Space’, itself spells out such a broad spectrum of imagined meanings that it made sense, or makes sense, now, in these days of CV-19 that have dictated WFH [Work? from Home]. And so, there are articles/pieces coming out that decry the necessary evil of WFH.

Be kind, and rewind back to that time and space when you actually had ‘Office Space’ and there was a separation, as the Americans put it, between church and state. You slogged for 12 hours IST [8 hours the American time zones for reporting purposes] everyday but once you left the office, you would be so tired that even Arnab yelling sounded like a lullaby and put you to sleep!

I recently, again, for the umpteenth time, revisited one of my favorite films, of which I own a DVD too, and kept wondering about the human nature of ‘complaining.’ It was fascinating how Mike Judge was able to conjure up the emotions in a 1999 movie when all we had for coming to America was Y2K! . I have always loved this film but it is incredible how  that movie captures all one felt and had taken things for granted ; and in these days of home-imprisonment how articles galore come out regarding the psychological dangers of WFH. When we were working from office [WFO], we used to complain about not getting time at home, not spending enough time at home. Now, we just want to get out!

Peter Gibbons smashes a cubicle while working to ‘break’ free. Don’t you miss that cubicle now? I am amazed at how representative it was of the times we were working in; and how dear it is now. Nina monotonously uttering ‘Corporate Accounts Payable’ and Stephen Root’s fantastic portrayal of a guy trying to stay ‘rooted’ in his ever-changing ‘office space’ is hilarious. And who can forget his constant ‘shift’ till he is moved to the basement? There are so many questions that the film answers, but many more that it asks. Peter’s neighbor tells him. ‘Why would you need a million dollars to do nothing?’ I laughed out loud at that line, but ain’t he making sense?

The way Mike Judge deconstructs the IT world is remarkable. And we – at least I – as IT coolies in the US could recognize that. It is so potent a film that all that is depicted in the film holds true after 21 years! During WFO, who amongst us has not had to change cubicles—or space—if there was any? Who amongst us wasn’t called out for not having a cover report? [TPS reports..Um kay]. Mike Judge reveals satirically the beauties of working in a corporate environment, and the uglies that most of us have to go through! Peter Gibbons has upper management written all over him while a PR guy Tom Smykowski is a people-person that gets specifications/requirements from customers and is blissfully shouting at that! And then there is of course, the ‘Indian’ trope, who is less offensive here, in the form of Ajay Naidu’s ‘Sameer’ whose last name, that’s so important in the US after the SSN, nobody gets to seem right.

The printer, thence, serves as a metaphor for folks stuck in the ‘office space’ while they don’t know what would happen to them if that distinction between home and office is severed- as it has now. Mental illness numbers are getting high, domestic abuses are getting high, and people are, of course getting high on drugs and low on alcohol! No talks with colleagues; more than half of them don’t even care whether you are alive or dead; it has revealed the true nature of the human beast!

When Jen said that most of the folks hate their jobs, but one has to work, to put food on the table, it sounded cliched then, but how true is it now! I recently watched ‘KARWAAN’ and saw a sign in the company that Dulquer works in, which said, ‘Be grateful you have a job’, and I couldn’t but wonder: Truly, did we take the world and ourself so granted? Dulquer hates his job but…

Till I saw this movie, I had never heard of the term/profession ‘Occupational Hypnotherapist.’ [ All the while one thought that occupational hypnotherapy meant coming to work drunk or working drunk.] In the end, one needs to think about how things have changed, priorities have shifted. And how important it is for humans to mingle and interact with each other. We seldom realized that the importance of working in an office space was because we were working with colleagues; those whom we like, and those whom we dis-like. I believe it is important that we train our mind to forget work when at home, and home when at work. However, in a globalized world, where India wakes up when America/western world tries to sleep; this is hardly possible.

It is important to note that the ‘burn-out’ and the reduction of human intelligence and the growth of so-called ‘artificial intelligence’ was so well-captured by the Master himself; Charlie Chaplin in ‘Modern Times’! That was in 1936! ‘Office Space’ is in 1999! It is hilarious that I myself dismissed Alvin Toffler’s ‘Future Shock’ as propaganda when I read it in the 10th grade! Now I remember some passages vaguely, and how truly futuristic it was!

While capitalism is the lesser of all evils, one wonders where it will end? Remember how we never cared about that poor girl in Bangladesh who worked on our 3$ Aeropostale T-shirts while we went about shopping in the malls? How that factory building collapsed? Who cared? Life just..continued.Now that is coming back to bite us middle-class couch-potatoes. Already, Mr. Tim Cook has announced that he is ready to allow permanent WFH for mostly all of his employees! Now, other companies are following suit citing that WFH has actually increased ‘productivity!’ What they are hiding from you is, they get the benefit of cutting costs since you use internet, electricity off of your personal bills! Why have a real estate? Why have a building with Keurig coffee-makers and printers?

I haven’t written this piece with any agenda, so if it doesn’t make sense, just ignore it. It is just that I found a connection to a movie I have always loved and is one of my favorites. And I always, always admire people who think ahead of their times, precisely because I have neither the knack nor the intelligence to do so.