Daily Archives: April 12, 2006

Office Space

CPC wrote in wondering about Office Space.

I mentioned that Dawn didn’t think much of it and in fact had thought she was renting something else when she picked it on NetFlix. She said it certainly was no Office (British version). But I didn’t mention just how sublime I think it is. With certain reservations.

As a work of art, or more probably a work of satire, it’s just so generally perfect in tone. About the only performance that I think is a little too mannered is John C. McGinley as one of the Bobs. Or maybe it’s just the idea that the Bobs get all worked up in their admiration and willingness to promote Peter after he goes all slacker. That’s about the only note to me that’s wrong.

The rest is just so exactly on target. The soul-crushing boredom of the office work. The passive-aggressiveness of Lumbergh the boss. The nauseating fake perkiness of the waiter at Chotchkies. The geeky Michael Bolton and geekier Samir Nagheenanajar, computer nerds who use the word “fuck” and all its variations a refreshingly large amount of the time. The blue collar but realistic neighbor Lawrence. Looking up “money laundering” in the dictionary.

It surprises me sometimes that something coming out of Hollywood could understand the tiny details of so many of us out here in the real world. But apparently Mike Judge, the writer, as well as director, grew up in Albuquerque NM, got a BS in physics from UC San Diego and then did in fact work as some sort of electronics or computer or software engineer, so he lived in the cubes and knows of what he speaks.

I think I especially love when Peter, Samir and Michael discuss the guidance counseler’s trite little exercise about finding your true calling by asking yourself what you would do if you had a million dollars. Peter never really had an answer, and Michael understands that the “question is just bullshit to begin with.” Samir hilariously misses the point, and the scene ends with Michael raging at the malfunctioning printer. “PC load letter. What the fuck does that mean?” Structurally, the scene is great because it serves up this basically inane and unanswerable question, looks at it from the various sides, and then, because it’s unaswerable the scene turns left and ends with a sort of vulgar absurd segue. And furthermore, while these characters are much younger than I am, I still don’t especially feel like I have any sort of career path or goal in mind. I still don’t know what I want to grow up to be. And as little as I know now, I knew only a fraction when I was in high school, having to think about what I needed to grow up to be. And so probably the inane question is not only not helpful, but it’s maddeningly not helpful. So, therefore, PC load letter. What the fuck does that mean?

And but then again the whole movie really isn’t satire. The narrative is fairly conventional, not nearly at all subversive. The arc of the story itself is about redemption. Peter is lost at the beginning, but then he has a transformative experience. He therefore faces hardship as he seeks to live according to these newfound principles, such as they are. And in the end he finds a truer calling.

Good things happen in the end, says Tom Symkowski, bandaged and in a wheelchair. How can you not love that? And “PC load letter. What the fuck does that mean?” How can you not love that too?


But, also, what are we all whining about? While yes, it’s true, “[h]uman beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about about mission statements.” But just what exactly were human beings meant to do? And staring at our compute screens, it’s a hell of a lot better than working in a coal mine, or a garment work sweatshop, or a sewer pipe manufacturing plant, or a chicken processing plant. Remember the Sago miners at the beginning of this year? How often do we face imminent violent death sitting in our little cubicles? Sometimes I feel like we dishonor the miners, dishoner the women of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, dishonor all those injured and killed at McWane, dishonor the workers at the Imperial Food Products plant in Hamlet NC. We dishonor them all when we mewl about how hard it is to sit in a warm, dry office, surrounded by modern safety and conveniences, drinking the free coffee, looking forward to the weekend or our vacations.

And not just workers here in America. How we whine so, when too many in the world are just trying to get by and find clean water and a living wage. When many in the world have no access to any sort of decent healthcare at all, much less health insurance. When too many are in the grip of famine or civil war, or both.

But I understand that I can’t let that paralyze me. I can’t mope all day, unable to enjoy anything, unable to laugh or smile, just because someone is suffering somewhere.

But I can’t forget them either.