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.