The Office, BBC
Now that work has revealed itself in its simultaneous economic irrelevance, political failure and environmental catastrophe, it is deep inside of us, at the very end of our existential trajectory, that its new justification seemingly lies. As perfectly represented by those countless talent shows that have work as their topic and employment as their prize, contemporary work propaganda aims at filling the position of the inner motivational figure with the totemic figurine of the ‘employee’.
If we attempt to frame the idea of work within an existential perspective, many unpleasant activities suddenly escape the realm of work, while many pleasant ones unexpectedly enter it.
In order to achieve our personal existential goals, we might have to undergo periods of repetitive and unpleasant activity, from taking care of our biological needs, to improving our skills and abilities, etc. Undergoing such tedious processes requires both the long-sightedness of placing them within an effective existential trajectory, and the self-discipline of resisting immediate though existentially detrimental satisfactions. Perhaps surprisingly, after decades in which the discourse over emancipation has stressed the evils of discipline and the beauty of a ‘free flowing’ existence, self-discipline reveals itself as crucial for any strategy of existential emancipation. At the same time, much of what is glorified as ‘fun’ – including the imperative to enjoy, shared both by late-capitalist rhetoric and by the pseudo-emancipatory mantra of ‘lad/ladette’ culture – suddenly takes on a very different colouring.
Far from the dream of partying for our right to fight (or of its pathetic Beastie Boys reversal), contemporary culture proposes partying and fun as an integral part of the work process. Like office work, contemporary fun culture unfolds in stereotyped environments of forced socialisation (festivals, clubs and pubs, eerily similar in their atmosphere to late night offices), as mediated by standardised technologies (such as alcohol and drugs), and ultimately leading to the perfect conformity of the mass of ‘fun-ed’ subjects. More importantly, contemporary fun, just like work, requires a level of commitment that barely leaves any energy available for the individual pursuit of our own existential trajectories. Post-party hangover, like post-office annihilation, transforms us into hopeless wrecks, clinging onto the most basic levels of survival. In-party drunkenness, like in-work subjugation, humiliates us, turning us into nonsensical fools covered with our own alcoholic vomit – just like we covered our lap, a few hours earlier in the office, with the crumbs of our sad desk lunch.