Movies, TV, spin office life into comic relief

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Every office has one, or three.

There's the blissfully unaware inappropriate one: "This is our receptionist, Pam. If you think she's cute now, you should have seen her a couple years ago."

Or the one who hates his job: "So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that's on the worst day of my life."

And the ever present passive aggressive boss: "Would I rather be feared or loved? Um ... Easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me."

These quotes are from "Office Space," and "The Office," a movie and television show, respectively, that are centered on working in an office, putting hilarious touches on workplace routines that will sound familiar to anyone who's ever sat at a cubicle.

In these shows and films, it's all there -- tongue-in-cheek parodies of "motivational" talks from the boss, staff meetings, frustration with copiers, corporate "mission statements," and the quirky office personalities, each with a comic ring of truth to them.

And that's what makes them so popular, especially for those who see a glimpse of their own life in the images.

"Everyone thinks in terms of the cubicle from hell," said Dr. Harvey Hecht, an English professor at Southeast Missouri State University who teaches classes on film. "People like these shows partly because they can look at a TV or movie and think, 'It's worse than my situation.'"

Local office employees said the shows and movies are funny because they can relate, in an exaggerated way.

"You can identify with the characters in a lot of ways," said Jennifer Hendrickson, vice president and chief financial officer at Capaha Bank. "You can see almost everyone you know in corporate America in those characters."

You can also feel their frustrations, too. In "Office Space," the workers get so annoyed with a copy machine that keeps malfunctioning that they take it out to a wooded area and beat it to smithereens with baseball bats. Bosses make them work Saturdays and in "The Office," the boss, played by Steve Carrell, says the most inappropriate things with abandon.

"In the past, I have worked for a Bill Lumbergh," said Hendrickson, laughing at the thought of the boss in "Office Space." "I have worked for that guy, absolutely."

In "Office Space," which was released in 1999 and has become a cult classic, Lumbergh was a stammering idiot who loved to hold his power over people.

"Oh, oh, and I almost forgot," he says at one point. "Ahh, I'm also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday, too."

Sound familiar?

"There's just enough truth in some of the ways that corporate America is portrayed that really rings true," Hendrickson said. "Like with the copier. You really would like to take it out to a field somewhere and do away with it."

Employees play pranks on each other in both "Office Space," and "The Office," and Meg Davis, sales manager for River Radio, said they do that at her office, too.

"Harmless, fun little things," she said. "We've Saran wrapped someone's cubicle and filled it with foam peanuts."

She also is familiar with quirky co-workers.

"There's always that one weird dude in the office," she said. "He's the one who hordes the Post-Its and the pens. He doesn't need that many, but he has hundreds. What is he thinking?"

David Dalton, a Southeast Missouri State University graduate who now works at A.G. Edwards in St. Louis, is in an environment where there are rows and rows of cubicles.

"Of course, sitting in cubicles all day, one can imagine it doesn't take much to amuse us," he said.

Hendrickson said such shows and movies also give office workers a chance to relieve a little stress about their work-a-day world.

"I think it helps you realize that sometimes it's just better to laugh at it," she said. "Work can be frustrating, but it's just a reminder that the best answer is to laugh at it and move on."

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