Exit Music (For a Film): Office Space

In Mike Judge’s 1999 comedy Office Space, its protagonist Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is described by the downsizing consultants as a “straight shooter with upper management written all over him.” It’s a gross misjudgment on the part of the consultants, as Peter’s casual demeanor charmed them much the way that George W. Bush was able to charm almost half the voters of the United States of America the following year. Peter’s boss, the endlessly imitated Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), is a lousy manager himself, but he’s driven by enough of a sense of self-preservation to disagree with them, explaining that Peter isn’t the caliber of person they want in upper management, and that “he’s also been having some problems with his TPS reports.”

Satire is Mike Judge’s strongest suit, and the disintegration of American society into various facets of stupidity is a topic he confronted more broadly in his following film, Idiocracy (2006). But the focus in Office Space was much sharper, where work life in general was the target, but the workplace managers came under the heaviest fire. Playing a cameo as the manager of Chotchkie’s, Mike Judge himself is willing to step in as the target of ridicule, repeatedly castigating Peter’s girlfriend Joanna (Jennifer Aniston) for her insistence on wearing the minimum number of pieces of flair. It’s meaningless minutiae such as this that are clearly a source of such exasperation for Judge; cover sheets on TPS reports and pieces of flair are not important to how a business functions, and are a waste of time for management to concern themselves with.

The Film: Office Space

The Song: “Shove this Jay-Oh-Bee”

The Artist: Canibus (feat. Biz Markie)

Ultimately, management is the science of making decisions. In order to make intelligent decisions, it’s essential to gather as much information as possible prior to each decision point. And where possible, these decisions can be reevaluated to include new information. It’s this aspect of George W. Bush’s performance as President that has been so frustrating for many Americans – once he’s made up his mind, generally based on a “gut” feeling, he digs in his heels, puts his hands over his ears, and shakes his head, chanting “nyah, nyah, nyah” any time someone tries to provide him with new information that contradicts a decision he’s already made.

Serving as President of the United States of America is basically the biggest management job that exists, and John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate has called into question how he makes decisions. Few details have emerged as to how the rumors of Lieberman, Pawlenty, and Romney as vice-presidential picks were all shattered by the selection of a VPILF from the most sparsely populated state in the union. My own viewpoint is that McCain had anticipated a successful convention for the Democrats and had planned to announce his vice-presidential pick on Friday to blunt the impact of Obama’s speech and dampen the typical post-convention bounce. But I think McCain was overwhelmed by just how powerful Obama’s performance was (let’s remember that Pat Buchanan referred to it as the greatest convention speech in history) and his reaction was driven by a sense of panic.

Good managers gather as much information as possible and consider it carefully before making decisions. The emergence of information about Sarah Palin over the weekend makes it clear that McCain had done very little consideration of Palin as a candidate before choosing her. I’ve seen a lot of speculation that his decision was driven by a desire to motivate the fundamentalist wing of the Republican party, and I don’t think that this is too far from the mark. I suspect that Lieberman (as a Connecticut native, I loathe Lieberman more than I can possibly describe) was McCain’s preferred choice for vice-president, but when he witnessed the spectacle of Obama’s magnificently delivered speech in front of 84,000 people at Invesco Field, McCain realized that a Lieberman candidacy would whip the already-enthusiastic Democratic party loyalists into an absolute frenzy, and that he simply could not compete with this sort of ground game. His reaction was to roll the dice on a vice-presidential candidate that would not only provide adequate diversion for the media herd, but on paper also provided the fundamentalist credentials he would need to help build a GOTV machine. I don’t believe that he thought he could trick disgruntled Hillary voters into supporting him simply to see a woman in the vice-presidency; they’re not that stupid, and neither is he (though Geraldine Ferraro might be).

A lot of hand-wringers in the left wing fear that that too many body shots against Palin will backfire, that overly aggressive attacks will generate sympathy votes for her, but it’s an argument that’s easily countered – should she assume the presidency, will Putin treat her gently? Or Ahmadinejad? Obama’s campaign has been wise enough to essentially ignore her altogether and take the high road with regards to the gossip about her newborn infant’s delivery. My prediction (caveat: it’s easy money to lay bets down against Zack’s predictions) is that Palin will withdraw herself from consideration within two weeks, citing family and privacy concerns. McCain, after being told to shove the Jay-Oh-Bee, will select a new vice-president, and he’ll be given a massive do-over on one of the most important decisions a presidential candidate makes.

I won’t be surprised. But the problem here is that as an American president, John McCain would face many decisions where he wouldn’t be given the opportunity of a do-over. And as president, there are lots of situations where he wouldn’t have the luxury of taking six goddamned months before fucking it up on his first try.

Since Youtube and Dailymotion won’t let me post end credits anymore, I’ll post one of my favorite bits from the film instead. Enjoy.




  • dslifton

    Dr. Cox & Leonard Smith!

  • http://www.popdose.com Ted

    Sadly Zack, I've worked with more managers who are like Bush than the good ones you mention. Good managers are rare, and I suppose that's why Office Space is so “on the money” when it comes to skewering the bad ones.

  • jay

    and meanwhile, the evidence that Obama would be a good manager is just….overwhelming. I mean, look at all of it. Everywhere you look, there are the signs of excellent decisions Obama has made in the past.

  • http://www.popdose.com Zack

    When asked in early 2007 how concerned should voters be that he hasn't had meaningful experience as an executive — as a manager and leader of people, Obama responded, “Watch how I run my campaign.”

    If he's a lousy manager, how did he manage to beat Hillary Clinton and the entrenched Democratic power machine? Magic Celebrity Power? His ability to sink three-pointers? His oh-so-bright smile?

    He won because he was able to effectively expend his resources, inspire his supporters, and coordinate their efforts to maximize their efficiency. That's good management.

  • jay

    and meanwhile, the evidence that Obama would be a good manager is just….overwhelming. I mean, look at all of it. Everywhere you look, there are the signs of excellent decisions Obama has made in the past.

  • http://www.popdose.com Zack

    When asked in early 2007 how concerned should voters be that he hasn't had meaningful experience as an executive — as a manager and leader of people, Obama responded, “Watch how I run my campaign.”

    If he's a lousy manager, how did he manage to beat Hillary Clinton and the entrenched Democratic power machine? Magic Celebrity Power? His ability to sink three-pointers? His oh-so-bright smile?

    He won because he was able to effectively expend his resources, inspire his supporters, and coordinate their efforts to maximize their efficiency. That's good management.

  • eurasia15

    It’s a shame youtube won’t let you post the end credits. I really liked the ending song, I think it fitted with the film perfectly, me and some co-workers are making a short spoof of the film at our Chicago office space, hopefully we will put it up on youtube soon.

  • eurasia15

    It’s a shame youtube won’t let you post the end credits. I really liked the ending song, I think it fitted with the film perfectly, me and some co-workers are making a short spoof of the film at our Chicago office space, hopefully we will put it up on youtube soon.