Wednesday, July 05, 2006

mental blog space

Lynn o' Sprigs commented to me the other day, in one of our all-night wine-guzzlin' poetry-debatin' french-phrase-employin' sessions, that my new job seemed to be affording me ample time (un abondance de temps) for my weblog. I told her that it was not a matter of time but of mental blog space, or l'espace mental pour blog, as I actually said. In French and all, because it was a high-minded intellectual type talk.

She liked the phrase. I liked the fact of mental blog space. Which is exactly what this job affords me. I had plenty of face time with a computer in my last job, but I found myself so crushingly bored and irritated that I had nothing to offer people but crabbed cryptic lines of despair. Who wants to read that? I don't want to read something like that. I certainly didn't want to write it. Consequently I wrote less and less, increasingly convinced that what I had to say was of no interest to anyone.

In retrospect, I probably should have complained online. I should have screamed out loud and rolled around in some fine stinky self-pity. Then you all, in your wisdom and kindness, would have told me what my smart and spanky spouse had been telling me: your job sucks, you have no support mechanisms there, and you're typically left to dangle and then made to feel as if it's your fault. I did not see this at the time. My job previous to that, which was really my first full-time work, had been such a chaotic mess that anything looked good after that. It was a small independent production company created and run by people who, for all their fine qualities, did not know how to run a production company. It was like a top that constantly had to be kept spinning or it would just hit the ground and carome off under the couch (stupid top). They promoted an atmosphere in which everyone had a say, which seemed egalitarian at the time, but which I now suspect was a ploy to get a whole lot of input for very little investment. Or an attempt at a ploy.

Plus one of the producers was a drunk who would show up red-faced, stuttering with drunkenness as he eased himself into his office after lunch, eyes swimming in a bath of pure vodka. Eventually he quit drinking. This was even worse, because the alcohol turned out to be sedating a detail-oriented bully. He still didn't know the first thing about his job, but now we had to deal with him stomping into our offices and shouting at us, fists on hips, all dressed up in a lifetime's worth of humiliation and looking for some pride. His behaviour became so predictable that it took on a ritual quality. The call of "Where's that goddamn deal memo?" demanded the response "I put it on your desk last week," which in turn prompted a "Well, I don't have it". Then you'd fish out the deal memo from underneath a pile of field tapes in the edit suite and put it back in his inbox. Twenty minutes later he'd walk by your office with the deal memo in his hand, on his way to the edit suite to yell at the latest editor (our editors would quit regularly, or walk off with the hard drives) and leave the deal memo on a shelf or something. The memo would go unsigned, the funding deadline would pass, the broadcasters would get more and more pissed off. The blame would slide off him and splash over us. We hated him.

So it's pretty obvious that my next job looked like the manna that comes down from the heaven. Where Company 1 was all Dionysian chaos (right down to the drink), company 2 was pure Apollonian order. Comp 2 had figured out a method for refining the creativity of young people and extracting pure profit. The production process was Taylorist in its zeal for monitoring employee time. The CEO gathered us all together at one point and announced that every minute of our work day that wasn't spent working was a minute stolen from the company. That's right: talking to coworkers constituted theft. They also had a policy manual, which was constantly being expanded as new situations arose. One day an employee showed up with a shirt that showed her poky nipples. Within a few days the policy manual was revised to include the stipulation that "employees must wear appropriate undergarments". The girl was fired for some other infraction, but the truth of the matter there was: if you do something that requires a revision of policy, you're on your way out. Especially if the policy changed involves nipples.

Atop the policy sat a shifting layer of agreements and documents that we would occasionally be compelled to sign, reprimands, discipline, reviews, little documents of understanding that we had broken some rule or other, that we understood the nature of our offense and would not be so foolish as to commit it again. From the point of view of management, the documentation looked perfectly reasonable; it was a record, a means of protection, a way of backing up management’s position in case of dispute. Because disputes were common enough there to warrant that kind of bureaucratic ass-covering.

What I didn’t really get at the time, even when I ended up in middle management, was that the low-level ambient paranoia, in which employees are seen as a liability more than a resource, was built into the company’s strategy. Hire young people, work them hard for next to nothing with lousy training until they burn out or get fired, and then hire the next crop. Don’t spend more than a week training, because that costs. You’ll end up with low morale and a bunch of productions that are okay but not great. And you’ll be extremely successful. There are always young people with energy and naïveté to parasitize. The model ran more like a fast food outlet than a film production company.

So that was the role of a producer at Company 2: something like a shift manager at the Burger King. Your job was to make sure that the employees were keeping up with the demand for delicious flame-grilled burgers, plunging those crisp fries into the hot fat and releasing just the right amount of refreshing soda into each company-mandated drink container. If you could keep those slackers in line and keep the customers from getting pissed off, you were one heck of a shift manager. And shift managers do not get mental blog space.

16 comments:

schmutzie said...

Sweet jeebus, am I glad that you wrote that after the fact.

Lynn said...

I wish my nipples had the power to cause policy to be revised. Sadly, they do not. My ass might, but not my nipples.

palinode said...

Your ass must have super policy-revision powers such as are unheard of in our part of the world. It's actually a little known piece of info that Canadians do not have asses. They are taken from us in the first year that our federally taxable income exceeds $8,384.00. This means that I still have my ass, but the richest man in Canada is assless. Probably.

JennC said...

Holy hell.

After all that, thank goodness you now have l'espace mental pour le blogue ...

I'm glad for you.

P.S. Do you have to speak French at work now ?

maarmie said...

J'adore la ligne: "All dressed up in a lifetime's worth of humiliation and looking for some pride."

Je pense que tous les brutes sont le meme. C'est bon que tu quittes ces travails. Tu sembles plus content.

Felicitations!

Grand Tuma said...

Wow. When you were talking about Comp#1, I thought you were refering to Comp#2. I was desperately curious(as I also worked at Comp#2) as to who the red faced drunk was. I guess I was disappointed. But not as disappointed as I was to learn that I left the company before the nipple scandal!

Working From Home Today said...

Sing it, Brother Palinode! Holy Christ, you are a voice for all of us former Comp'lings. Maybe I could add a line or two on the relevancy of Stockholm Syndrome.

Anonymous said...

Having worked at both Comp 1 and Comp 2, I'd have to say that even a year after I left Comp 2 and several after I left 1, I'm still not sure which one was worse - both seemed to thrive on cutting us all as fine as they could, making us feel useless and then using said uselessness to justify treating us like crap. Maybe, aside from the booze and the nipples, the two companies aren't that different.

That being said, I have way more funny stories about Comp 1 (because of the drunk producer, and the lecherous one who eventually replaced him, and you, of course, and your plan to force sea animals to evolve by dropping them in the desert).

Good times. Oy.

palinode said...

Anonymous: I had a plan to leave fish and whales in the desert and force evolution's hand? I don't remember that one. But then, I have so many plans. I guess I'm a utopian.

Working: Yes, Stockholm Syndrome is the right phrase. I didn't understand the problems with Comp 2 until I left. I really lucked out with this job - all the benefits of government in a field that I actually enjoy - but after the first couple of days here, I realized just how bizarre our former place of employment is. I met up with a couple of old employees there and they told me stories about work that, a few months ago, would have been par for the course. Now they're just kind of disgusting.

Grand Tuma: I too missed the nipple scandal - I think I was on the road at the time. The nipples offended one of the more conservative producers, apparently. Stupid nipples, always ruining things for everyone else. After that I just gave my buttless chaps to a homeless person.

Maarmie: Oh, I truly am plus content maitenant. I used to think that pain and stress produced good writing. It turns out that I misunderstood pain and stress.

JennC: No, I do not have to speak the French at work, or drink wine, or wear a goatee. We ride chopper bicycles around the office while yelling "Zoom!" and drinking from beer hats.

Schmutzie: Yes, if I'd written that a few months back, I think I would have been dragged into the office.

cenobyte said...

It's a good thing you and your co-workers can wear all the nipply shirts you want, now.

Life is so dull without nipples.

I hear.

palinode said...

The unnippled life is not worth living.

Average Jane said...

And to think I've sometime taken offense that creative people where I work are openly referred to as "resources." I guess that's a compliment compared to the way your last company dealt with the same sorts of people.

savia said...

Hallelujah for government jobs. Hey, do you think you'd be able to get away with wearing a mesh shirt on casual Fridays?

K.Z. said...

Ah, work. The complaint of the labor force each and every given day. How I wish we could all get our dream jobs, or be our own boss.

Wow, your French is impressive. I'm so dying to learn the language.

And yes, unnippled life is not worth living for. But, can you imagine having a nippled life but concealed with nipple covers? Oh well. *sadness ensues*

palinode said...

K.Z. - Many thanks for that link - I had no idea that nipple covers were such big business.

K.Z. said...

No problem. Just because most people have no idea what they look like. :P