S1: Hello and welcome to the Office Space. Episode of Slate Money Goes to the Movies. This is going to be a fun one. I know it. I’m Felix Salmon of Axios. I’m here with Emily Peck of Axios.
S2: Mm kay. Hello there, Felix.
S1: Oh, you’re creeping me out already. We have a very exciting special guest for this one, Mr. Cardiff Garcia. Welcome to the show.
S3: Thank you. Yeah, great to be here. I’m psyched about this one.
S1: It’s a good one. Cut off, introduce yourself and plug your podcast.
S3: I am the host of The New Bazaar, which is a weekly longform podcast about all things wonky and economic.
S1: I should make one concession to the format of this show and ask if where you are when you go. Do you remember the first time you saw this movie?
S3: Sadly, I don’t, because I always I don’t.
S1: Think anyone does. I think this is this is one of the movies. And I think this is kind of interesting that basically no one saw when it came out.
S3: Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised. I was a freshman in college and so I wasn’t really seeing a lot of movies in the theater anyways. But what I remember was that by the time this movie took hold as a kind of underground hit, it was in everybody’s mind. It was in every way. It affected everybody’s language. So by the time I did start working a few years later in an office very similar to this one, it had very similar dynamics at a bank I was at JPMorgan, everybody was quoting office space, which was satirizing these places, but it had also become a part of the language of the office.
S1: Yeah, it’s it’s almost as though it’s become part of the collective unconscious of every office worker where people who have literally never seen the movie, if you start talking to them about TPS reports, they will know what you are talking about, right?
S2: Yeah. Yesterday I was very tempted to talk about having a case of the Mondays because that is legend from this movie. There are just like several this movie that did.
S1: Not exist before this movie.
S3: It’s a.
S2: Mystery. Yeah, it is a great question. Did people have a case of the Mondays prior to Mike Judge’s office? It’s released in 1999, probably.
S3: I like the neighbors response to hearing about it from Peter when the neighbor says, I do believe you get your ass kicked for saying something like that. You know, it is construction site office space.
S1: Coming up on Slate, money goes to the movies.
S2: So should we say what this movie is about for anyone listening who maybe hasn’t seen it? Is there anyone who hasn’t seen it over the age of 30 at this point?
S1: I guess my point is that even if you haven’t seen it, you know what it’s about. I guess it kind of invented the whole genre of office satire, right?
S2: Well, I mean, there are other movies like The Apartment from the Fifties that sort of satires, The Office. Right. And shows like Long, Soulless Spaces filled with desks, you know, men in gray flannel suits. It’s like an update on that, in a way. Right. Because it’s now it’s not gray flannel suits.
S1: I mean, it’s not it’s not like Brazil. It’s not like a dystopian, terrible, you know? Yeah, it kind of made cubicles. Funny. It also really identified a very, very specific moment of late nineties office architecture where which was in this kind of liminal space between people having offices and open plan offices. And it was all about cubes. And it’s not easy to find cube farms anymore, but there was a point that everyone worked in cube phones. I remember when I when I moved to Reuters, like everyone had a cube, it was totally the thing we went from like no one had a cube in say 1992, no one had a cube come like the mid 2000. But like in between there everyone had a gib.
S2: Yeah, everyone had a cube. They put up sad like pictures and posters on the cube walls and you go visit your friends cube and like pop your head over the cube wall. I read that Mike Judge wanted the cubicle walls to be very tall, like he was very specific that you would have to kind of like peek over the top of the cubicle wall in the movie. That was important to him.
S3: Yeah. I mean, the name of the movie is Office Space. Like, this movie is partly at least about design and the kind of strange social codes and social behaviors that come out of that design. And this was a time and this was a movie about experimentation and these new tools that we had. So there was experimentation in the design, as Felix you just described, but there were also these weird new things like email and all these databases everybody wanted to use in ways of expensing things. And now workers who had specialties in totally different things like updating Y2K codes and things like that, that now had to figure out how to use all these new things that allowed you to hire fewer workers. But it meant that you were also layering onto existing workers and people who were not trained or meant to do stuff like this. They were these new tools that they had to learn how to use, which can be like really frustrating because those tools were still quite immature. And so you end up with the TPS thing, you end up with, you know, a boss coming by the desk and just interrupting you all the time. And so, like, this was a really weird time in these office spaces to work and to try to figure out just what the hell you were really supposed to be doing.
S1: I think my theory, though, is that while the architecture changes and the office design changes, and this is definitely a movie about a certain type of office design and the art direction is just so on point. It is so perfect. The psychological aspect of working in a bureaucracy is eternal and never goes away. And one of the things that I kept on thinking about rewatching it for this show was my other favorite office satire, which is W won a the BBC show about the BBC where the design is completely different. It’s open spaces, it’s hot desks, it’s soft furnishings, it’s enforced jollity. It’s almost like it’s very, very different from the sort of gray exurban office park. It’s right in the heart of London. So there’s, you know, on a design level, everything’s different. It’s as though the designers of the BBC have watched Office Space and just said, We want to do the exact opposite, but they’ve wound up creating exactly the same kind of dysfunction because that’s an endemic to any large organisation.
S2: I think you’re totally right because when I was watching it I said I was thinking, okay, well Silicon Valley and tech companies have evolved away from this very like uniform cubicle, grey walls, space, but they mask it all now with, you know, talking about changing the world or bringing in the ping pong tables or breaking down the cubicle walls and hot desking, whatever. But it’s still, at the end of the day, kind of a soulless job that you do for money. Like you can’t, at the end of the day, just disguise that really. And that will always get you in the end.
S3: Maybe you guys will know the answer to this question, but the three of us are now, you know, in in media journalism fields that are at least half creative. Do offices of this type still exist? In other words, like have all offices started to migrate away from this kind of soulless, strange environment where there’s all these weird there’s all this weird, insipid messaging like in the movie where it’s like, ask yourself, is this good for the company? There’s a big sign like that. Like, does this kind of thing still happen? I just I actually haven’t worked in an office of that kind.
S1: It it does. It does. There’s I mean, you know, they’re they’re a bit flashier these days and they might have a bit more Herman Miller furniture. But, yeah, the middle managers are going to middle managers.
S2: And there’s always going to be those, like, weird slogans that are like the language of the company that you must learn and internalize and ask yourself while you’re doing work. I can think of a few in my head that I want.
S1: Yeah. Like there’s that whole Netflix work or whatever about like, you know, you have to know all of the precepts and tenets of the company and have them top of mind to keep on dropping them into, you know, performance reviews. Oh, my God. I mean, they they I can’t believe there wasn’t an actual, like, official performance review, although there were, like, unofficial performance reviews in this in this thing. But it will never die. It will never go away. But I did want to come back to one of the things you mentioned very early on. Cut it and talk about as a movie. This is very conventional. I think it was the very first episode. It’s like money goes to the movies when Taffy brought us and they came on and started talking about this trope, which is that whenever you have a relatively large amount of money in a movie, the way that you achieve like nobility in a happy ending is by giving that money away and ending up with none of it. And what we have in this movie is this hero who has a well-paying job and gets a promotion and then and also steals, like $300,000. And by the time and by the time that the movie ends, he doesn’t have 300,000. He has none of the $300,000. He doesn’t have his job. He doesn’t have his promotion. And he is much happier working on the building site for like half of what he was making before.
S3: Yeah, I love this theory, by the way, and I guess there’s two things I’d say to that. First is that in the movie, there’s this kind of warped sense in which the noble thing to do in giving up the money is actually just returning the 300 and something thousand that he stole in the first place. Right. Like that was the thing where he realized, okay, I need to give this up, not care about it, just transcend all the misery. Do something else and wait.
S1: And did he give it back with his mechanism for giving it back? I love this. I mean, this is so 90. It’s like, so pre-digital. His mechanism for giving it back was converting it to traveler’s checks and putting the traveler’s checks in an envelope.
S3: Or he put their money under the he put the money under the door and then.
S1: He put the money under the door in the form of traveler’s checks, which are basically Barry Bonds. And then, you know, Milton stumbles across the envelope just before he burns the place down, literally. And, you know, and Milton, who is is a you know, we can talk about the character of Milton, which is, you know, mildly problematic. But but Milton winds up just sort of saying, well, if I’m going to burn the place down, I may as well walk off with these travelers. Jackson Fox, off to the beach.
S3: Yeah. I mean, that’s that’s pretty much what happened, which also raises the question of how does Peter and his two buddies, how do they still not get caught just because he converted the money to traveler’s checks and put it in like wouldn’t that, you know.
S1: Because all of the records have been destroyed in the fire.
S3: That’s that’s yeah. I guess it’s a nice, clean solution. The second thing I would point out is that this is this is one thing where I think the movie may have gotten something a little bit wrong, which is in kind of overly romanticizing those tangible physical jobs of the past. Those jobs are obviously like super important, they’re very noble and so forth, but they’re hard jobs. And so it draws this equivalence between Peter, who’s a computer programmer, white collar guy, works in an office all day and probably gets paid a decent salary. And his construction worker neighbor and his job, which is obviously in construction, gets paid a lot less money. And like that is a tough job and it makes it seem like it’s this sort of, oh, it’s a nice job. You get exercise, you’re out in the sunshine all day and at the end, like, you’re creating something that’s good and like, that’s great. Like, obviously there’s nothing wrong with the job like that. But if you were to ask like the average construction worker, hey, would you like to get paid up to two and a half times more money? And in exchange, you get a safer job and you get to sit in door all day, indoors, all day, looking at a screen. And yeah, your boss is kind of a dick. A lot of them would probably take that trade. So I don’t think it’s this simple thing where you’re just trading one job for another one.
S1: We should also add that like if you ask the an average construction worker, like could some guy who’s spent the past few years sitting in front of a screen filling out TPS reports, just walks onto a construction site and do your job. They would be like, it’s insulting.
S3: Oh, of course not. It’s insulting, you know. So anyways, I just wanted to make that point that it may be overly romanticized. Those other jobs. I don’t think work is easy anywhere is the point I’d want to make, which is also, by the way, the point that Jennifer Aniston makes at the end of the show when she essentially tells them, like, dude, like nobody’s happy with their jobs. You want to go out? Find yourself something that makes you happy. You go do that. But like, honestly, the message I took away from it was that Peter and his buddies just, like, kind of whine a little too much, you know? Like, you know, if you want to take the initiative and go find something that’s awesome because you’re alienated from work. I get it. I’m with you. And it makes for a wonderful comedy. I love this movie more than I can express. But they were like these kind of sad, whiny, mopey dudes. And they shared a lot, actually, with another movie that came out that year, which was Fight Club, and you can imagine those guys swapping places. But whereas in Fight Club, they got all super aggro and destructive here, they tried to like put into put into motion this Superman three inspired penny stealing plot device, right? So it was really funny. But yeah, that was, that was what it meant.
S1: Although yeah, I mean, the endings of both movies are the same where the big like faceless corporations get destroyed.
S3: Yeah, great point.
S2: I love that you made that comparison with Fight Club and Office Space Cardiff. I was thinking about it more and I was wondering like, was something going on in 1999 where men and like masculinity felt particularly threatened by the advent of technology which made like so much of the things prized by masculinity, kind of like beside the point, such as like strength and the ability to make things. Like all of a sudden the best jobs are like to be found in the cubicle sitting on your butt all day, you know, not using your physical body anymore. Like is something going on? Like especially at that time? I don’t know. I was just wondering about it.
S3: This did come in the midst of what has proven to be decades of declines in manufacturing jobs. For example, these old school like union jobs that you didn’t need a college degree for that still paid a middle class salary. I think that may have been part of the socioeconomic trend that affected this and also part of what has been a decades long trend in the decline of prime aged men participating in labor force. And so in terms of percentages and so I don’t know to what extent these things are sort of lingering in the background and contextualizing it, but I would imagine that has something to do with it.
S2: Yeah. There are big changes taking place. Yeah. In the workforce and among in traditional roles and even the jobs themselves. Like you were saying, you can’t just go to work and do the thing you specialize in. You have to do the work of the secretary also because they’re losing that job is going away. So now you have to do all your own clerical stuff as well, which is kind of aggravating and frustrating and makes the job more of a drag.
S1: I want to ask about the biggest change to work that we have seen over the course of our careers, which is the pandemic. And, you know, you can change the geography of the inside of an office as much as you like, and it will ultimately be cosmetic. But when you go to remote work, it’s not cosmetic. It’s a very, very big and profound change. And you’re suddenly trying to work from like your bed or like some weird kitchen counter, and you’ve got kids running around and you don’t have what every office provides, which is a nice clean space and time where you can just be doing professional stuff and then you can leave that. And when you leave that, you have left it. What happens to stultifying bureaucracy in the age of remote work and slack?
S3: Yeah. Office space would be a much lonelier experience if it was just Peter in front of his in front of his laptop on Zoom all day, I guess. But I don’t know. I mean, I would also make the point, though, that in the office, a lot of those interactions are quite unpleasant, are quite distraction, quite distracting. Sometimes they’re quite problematic. And so yeah, you lose the social aspect of it, but the social aspect of it isn’t always great. I mean, people like Milton, right? The socially awkward, the introverted types, these people, as I like to describe it, are sometimes kind of targeted for destruction in the office space. It’s kind of wrong. I mean, you see how the people who are socially quite adroit, the people who are quite extroverted and know how to have fun and that kind of thing, or it comes naturally to them, you know, often seek them out and sort of diminish them. I saw this directly all the time in the 2000s in the office space in which I worked. And I thought the movie did a brilliant job of portraying this. I mean, I felt a lot of kind of cringe sympathy for the character of Milton when he didn’t get the cake that they were passing around. And one of the one of the women there just kind of started like yelling at him, like, pass it down, Milton. Like eventually you’ll get one. And then he didn’t get anything. Like, this kind of thing exists everywhere, you know, they stole his stapler. Lumbergh, the boss is walking around just giving orders not to get anything done, but just to enforce his own status. All of that I thought was brilliantly and accurately portrayed, and I think a lot of that goes on in the office and I don’t like it. So there’s a lot of things about the office place that are that are great, social. It can be fun. There’s collaboration with your colleagues. It’s in person, but a lot of it also sucks. And I thought this movie focused on what sucks, maybe at the expense of the stuff that can be quite nice, but I thought it did a good job of portraying this stuff that so well.
S1: There was there was the real camaraderie between like, you know, the three hapless criminals and and you’re right that they they needed that like ringleader is only one of them who had any social skills. And he wound up like, you know, orchestrating the entire plan. So you did see it. Like, how much do you think it was? A it’s an important. Subplot to this movie that the dystopian nature of The Office is so terrible that it literally drives them to crime.
S2: I don’t think this movie could happen in a pandemic era. Remote work like these guys would not team up and do crime, you know, they would just like goof off at home. Probably like Peter would have just been like, I don’t need to even be here and just would have found some other stuff to do and it would have been okay.
S1: Yeah. And there was this really interesting phenomenon during the pandemic where FCC whistleblower reports surged to an all time high during the pandemic because everyone was like, I don’t care about my company. I’m just like bogeyman to the authorities.
S2: Yeah. And you see now, like, women and people of color feel better, Takata’s point are happier working from home because it’s not like daily microaggression nightmares at work anymore. They can just be home and no one’s, you know, bothering them or harassing them or asking to touch their hair or whatever. It’s a kinder space to be at home. But at the end of the day, you’re still working for the soulless corporation, don’t forget.
S3: Yeah. In the movie, though, let’s remember that Peter was hypnotized and his two buddies lost their jobs. And that drove them to crime because there was this sense of, I have nothing left to lose. I mean, Peter had already just had enough. He was fishing all the time. He was walking into the office to play Tetris and eat Cheetos and talk smack about the place to the Bobs, which was great walking around everywhere with that great hip hop soundtrack in the background and damn it feels good to be a gangster and all that. It was fantastic. And then he gets promoted because of that attitude. And the other is two buddies, Michael and Samir, are losing their jobs. So from their standpoint it’s like, well, I guess I’ll accidentally steal 300 and something thousand dollars on my way out using this weird fraction of a penny theft scheme or whatever. So they had just been driven to the, you know, to wit’s end, I guess. And, and that’s that’s what they decided to do with fantastic consequences.
S2: That’s also a nineties movie trope. There was also was I think it was in the nineties there was a movie where like Michael Douglas is, you know, a frustrated.
S1: Falling down.
S2: Type. Yeah, falling down. And doesn’t he chewed up a bunch of people or a bank or I don’t know what he does, but it’s very similar. Like the office drives you crazy and then you burn it down, the office drives you crazy, and then you steal from the boss, the office drives you crazy. And then I don’t know what else happens. What else could happen? The office was driving a lot of people crazy back then, and I guess not so much now. I mean, the office TV show kind of picks up the baton from office space and makes it like more gentle, more caring, a place where you meet, you hang out with your friends. Right. These people aren’t really friends. Is kind of pointed out in an email to us last night, he was like, at the end, when they’re not working in the same company, the friendship kind of fades away, right? Yeah.
S3: That that was based as much, I think, on my own experiences as on the movie, which is that you see these people at work sometimes, you know, eight, 9 hours a day, in many cases longer than that. And if you have a family, that means that you’re literally spending more time with the people in the office than you are with your own family. And yet you could do this for years. And at the end of it, when you’re ripped away from that context, that can really be it. And in the places that I’ve worked in the past, usually it’s just been two, maybe three people who remained actual friends that I kept in touch with afterwards and did social things with. But the the rest of them, I mean, dozens of people that I would see every day, people that I was often very fond of, that I had warm feelings towards, that would be it. Once I left or once one of them left, I’d never see them again. And I just I thought that was something poignant about the end of the movie that I hadn’t really noticed before was that they have this kind of stilted conversation where Peter has become a construction worker. Samir and Michael have started working at a different tech firm, and they’re just kind of casually talking. But it seems clear at this point that they don’t have a lot left in common, and maybe they’ll see each other at poker nights still. I don’t know. I’d like to think that that’s the case, but I thought there was just something kind of kind of sad and yeah. Emotional about that, which I hadn’t remembered.
S1: Emily And I am talking. Talking of wonderful bureaucratic things that people love to make fun of. Emily and I work at a company where they love to ask every six months, Do you have a best friend at work? Is this like, it’s this question that we get asked and and everyone laughs about it.
S3: But is that a real question or is that like.
S1: That is a real that is a real question. And apparently Gallup, who came up with this question, have asked this question in tens of thousands of organizations around the world. And the response to that question like the more people who is. On yes to that question. The better performing and the more successful the company is that there’s a strong correlation there, even though the question itself is just the most cringe question in the world and everyone kind of knows it. Apparently asking that question is a good way of informing senior management of how healthy their company is. I don’t quite know what to make of that.
S2: Yeah. And it’s harder now with remote for the people working remote to have you can have a best friend the way you used to. I haven’t had to answer that question yet at Axios, but I’m looking forward to it now. But yeah, it’s easier to make a best friend at work when you can, like, go take a walk or go get a coffee or whatever. Now it’s everything is on on Slack. It’s public record. Anytime you want to have like a conversation with someone, I mean, I guess you can call someone, but it’s a little harder to feel that bond at work. And that means it’s easier to see your job for what it is. Which I think is what having friends at work kind of masks. You’re like, Oh, we’re all a family. And I think office space, there’s that message there. We’re all a family here. We’re all friends. And like, no, they’re going to call in the barbs and fire everyone. Of course you’re not family, but if you have friends and like close ties at work, you can kind of feel like you maybe are, you know.
S3: Do you think that some of that stuff has eased up in some office places because of the movie, that people see this kind of thing and they realize, oh, god, we don’t want to be like the people who like the company that was satirized in office space. Do you think anybody’s changed in response with all the.
S1: Yeah, I mean I mean, certainly certainly design wise people have changed.
S2: Right? Oh, and I have some for a fun fact is that TGI Fridays got rid of the buttons that the waiters and waitresses wear. As a result, they got rid of.
S1: The flair.
S2: Because people would come in and they’d be like, Oh, you’re wearing your flair. And finally, corporate was like, Could it? We can’t do flair anymore. Office space ruined it. So they were like.
S1: They got rid of not only not only did they get rid of the flair, but they also got rid of the striped shirt. Did they? Yeah. I mean, yeah, this was this was very successful, this movie. And changing the culture of TGI Fridays. No, on the phone. But I have a question for you guys, which I’ve been pondering, and I don’t know what the answer is. The new free pizza comes into his job interview type consultation thing with the Bobs and the Bobs very impressed with him and recommend him for a promotion and say that he has the potential to be very good at senior management.
S4: Yes. And the thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care. Don’t don’t care. It’s a problem of motivation. All right. Now, if I work my ass off in any tech ships, a few extra units, I don’t see another dime. So where’s the motivation? Here’s something else, Bob. I have a different boss is right now a big phone. Eight bosses, eight Bob. So that means that when I make a mistake, I have eight different people coming by to tell me about it. That’s my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, and I’ll only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired. Would you bear with me for just a second, please? Okay. What if and believe me, this vertical. But what if you were offered some kind of a stock option equity sharing program? Would that do anything for you? I don’t know. I guess. Listen, I’m going to go. It’s been really nice talking to both of you guys. Yeah, absolutely. The pleasure’s all on this side of the table. Trust me. Good luck with your lay offs. All right. I hope your firings go really well. Excellent. Great.
S1: This is kind of played for a laugh and ironic, given that he’s basically completely checked out of the company at that point. But. Are they right? Would Peter actually have been quite good in time management?
S2: Well, I thought the Bubs were right to appreciate his intelligence because he made some great observations. Like he was like, I have eight bosses. That’s not good. Like, someone needs needed to say that, like he said, some things that needed to be said. And you do need people like that in management, in a healthy organisation, people that can see the flaws and fix them. If managers can’t see the problem or they don’t want to make any changes, then that’s not good.
S3: So but the question is, would Peter get promoted and then essentially become Lumbergh? Right.
S1: So the question is, would Peter get promoted and then not become Lumbergh and actually do what the Bobs kind of want him to do, which is make the company more efficient rather than less efficient.
S3: Right. That’s the that’s that would be the other way it could go. Right. Right, right.
S1: Because the point is that the consultants who get called in, they don’t want layers and layers of stultifying bureaucracy. Right. They want to clean things up and make things more streamlined and make things more efficient. And they look at Peter and think to themselves, here’s someone who could do that.
S3: Yeah, I think that’s certainly their hope. Right. And the question to me, though, is like, yeah, it could it could go that way. Felix He could become the guy who has seen how bad things are for the workers and how stupid and overly bureaucratic it is. And now if he’s in a position where he can affect change, great. But if he’s promoted into middle management, where I think he was going to get like four or five workers, he might still have layers above him who are trying to enforce their own specific set of things, and now he’s just channeling that but from a higher level than he was before. So that would be the sort of cynical view, which is that the company, the office place and all of the conformist messaging and the enforced like social mores of the place end up having this deadening effect even as you rise up the ranks so that you’re no longer the guy at the bottom who sees all of the stuff that’s messed up. You just you just ascend to the place where you were the one who is enforcing the messed up stuff. And this is something, by the way, that the American version of the Office did kind of in an interesting way, where like Jim, who could maybe be like the Peter character in the office, right. Would always be mocking all the stuff around him. But as he got promoted to other jobs, he didn’t do those jobs very well. He wasn’t himself a very good manager because it turns out that, number one, it’s hard to fight a bureaucracy. And number two, managing to give it credit is actually quite hard. Right. Does it mean everybody becomes Lumbergh? But some element of that ends up just sort of creeping in? It’s a very sad state of affairs, but yeah, that’s my sphere.
S1: And it’s like, so my, my answer to my own question is probably not that he probably wouldn’t be very good in that new role, but for an interesting reason. I think, as you say, managing is hard. And if he took the job seriously and wanted to be good at that middle management job, then I think he could do what all good managers do, which is protect their direct reports from the implications of the rest of the organization and provide this kind of umbrella under which that team can do good work. And they just take all of the flak from middle management and don’t pass it down to the people below them, off in senior management, and don’t pass it down to the people below him that I think that in principle Peter would. Be capable of doing that. But in practice, he just wouldn’t have the motivation or the desire to do that unless he was literally just made the boss of Michael Bolton and Samir. In which case maybe because he has that friendship, he might have, he might care about protecting them.
S3: He could keep not caring and get promoted to CEO.
S2: I think anyone who wears flip flops to an office is never going to be a good manager. That’s what I thought. Oh, and he did that.
S1: Can you expand on that? Emily, why is wearing flip flops a contraindication about good manager?
S2: To be a good manager, you have to care a little bit about your workplace, about the work that’s being done there, etc.. I think if you’re wearing flip flops inside an office, that is a sign that you don’t care about any of those things. You’re wearing these shoes that kind of let your feet kind of flop out everywhere. You’re essentially barefoot at the office. That’s that’s not cool. That’s not that that shows you don’t care at all. And I think Peter, his whole vibe is that he does not care at all about this office or about this job. He does care about his friends. And, you know, he tells them they’re going to be laid off and all that. But he does not care about the job or anything like that. And to be a good manager, you you do need to actually, I think, to care about the work. Also, I don’t know, is being a good manager, like Felix said, protecting your underlings? That’s the whole gig.
S1: That’s not all of it, but it’s a large chunk of it.
S3: It’s very important. And by the way, a thing to notice here in Peter’s last meeting with the Bobs when they, like, confirmed his promotion. He’s wearing a suit right before executing the theft. So he did go from flip flops to a suit for the one thing he cared about, which was robbing the company. So, yeah.
S1: Why did that suit come from? And, you know, he was such a schlub in the whole movie, and then he dresses up like someone from Reservoir Dogs to come in there and, like.
S2: Do the interview suit. Because in the nineties you had to have an interview suit, right? Like you wear just regular clothes to work all the time. But then if you had to interview for a job, go to a funeral, you wear a suit, you come to work wearing the suit.
S1: You know, those are the only times you buy that suit. Yeah.
S2: Except where Cardiff was a JPMorgan. I’m sure they were wearing suits all the time.
S3: Yeah, sadly, that’s true. Yeah.
S2: My other fun fact about this movie is Swing Line did not make a red stapler at the time, but started producing one after the movie came out because it was popular and it became popular anyway. So there was demand for it.
S1: The biggest cruelty inflicted by the corporation is really the one where Milton gets fired, but no one has the heart to tell him he’s fired. And so he just stops getting his paycheck and he goes to H.R. and they’re like, You should talk to your manager about that. Like, no. Like, if your manager is not going to tell you that you’re fired, then at least h.r. Should tell you that you’re fired. You know.
S3: It’s like the bob.
S3: Well, hold on there, professor. We fixed the glitch. Okay, so problem gets started from here. No need for confrontation. But, yeah. And in that last scene, Lumbergh is telling Milton, who by this point is down in the basement to bring a can of pesticide and a flashlight and take care of their roach problem. I mean, it it really descended to that level where Lumbergh was just going out, you know, inflicting these random cruelties to everybody. Really? One of the one of the great onscreen villains, I think. Bill Lumbergh. So yeah.
S1: Who by the way is, is identified very early on in the movie as a villain because he drives a Porsche.
S2: And he has a vanity plate that says My Porsche. Right. That’s what it says. I mean, obviously, that’s a signifier.
S1: Yeah. But again, like the one like there’s not actually like there are only there are only really two moments. Three moments. In the movie where you actually see like indicators of money and wealth. One is the Porsche. One is the ATM receipt, where he’s like, Oh, shit, there’s $350,000 in this account. This is a problem. And then there’s and then there’s Milton on the beach, you know. And all you know, all of these are like designed to create a negative impression in the audience by Milton is being a dick on the beach. The poetry is just a dick move. The atmosphere is, you know, a sign that they totally fucked up on the on the cunning Richard Pryor scheme. Like there’s no. Positive. Wealth in the movie. There’s no one enjoys money ever in this movie in a sort of positive way. Except for except for the guy who gets hit by a car and like this and creates the like jump to conclusions.
S3: I was going to say it’s after he can’t jump. Yeah. The stark contrast between like everybody else and the two people who do have financially rewarding outcomes. One is the guy who gets hit by the truck, gets a huge settlement so he can fund his jumped to conclusions mat idea. And the other one’s Milton, who literally burns the place down. Right. That’s it. That’s who that’s who gets rich in this movie. Who didn’t start out rich. Everybody else either loses their job or gets a new job or, you know, or just stays, I guess, in their current job. So it does have kind of an interesting relationship to money. Going back to Felix, what I what I think you referred to as the really taffy. Okay. So yeah, that the only exceptions to that one in other movies I can think of are like Ocean’s 11 and trading places where the path to greatness does lead to great riches and money and things like that. But even then, it involves, like, a lot of genius. Right? Like manipulating commodities markets and stealing from casinos. So anyways, it’s a really kind of amusing thing. And there’s one other, I guess maybe a corresponding theory to that, which is that the guy who always stops caring, gets rewarded in movies. And in this case it’s Peter, right, where you just kind of he’s the person who sort of is able to transcend all the weird behavior that’s happening around him, all the heaviness around him, and then he ends up getting promoted. Like, I guess that seems like a movie trope to is like the guy who’s just too cool or, or the woman who’s too cool for the place, you know, ends up getting rewarded. I don’t know if that’s a theory. I have zero other examples of it, but I have a feeling that that’s the thing that happens in movies.
S2: Felix You were saying like essentially office space doesn’t glamorize wealth. And so many of these movies, even the ones that uphold the taffy principle of of money, isn’t everything. Learn your lesson. They will glamorize wealth, will make things look beautiful or, you know, make you want make you want things exactly like the Porsche. I don’t want to.
S1: Be Robert Redford in Indecent Proposal. He has a very glamorous lifestyle.
S2: Yeah, yeah. Nothing glamorous about this. Then I was comparing it to Mike Judge’s big hit, more recent hit, which is Silicon Valley. And I feel like that’s like the natural evolution of office space. Is Silicon Valley really? And that does more more so than this movie glamorize riches and wealth, even as it’s satirizing it. You know what I mean? There’s more to covet. I think they’re like Gavin Belson, the the Google, the Hooli Hooli CEO in Silicon Valley is an absurd figure, but also is very wealthy. And yeah, you kind of. It’s an HBO show. I guess so.
S1: And he’s kind of like in his own, like, you know, terribleness he is internally, if you ask him, like, are you happy? He’d be like, Yeah, I have. Yeah, yeah, I’m happy. Like the money has done its job, which is like I wanted to achieve self-satisfaction through wealth and I have all the money. And so that now gives me the happiness that I’ve thought.
S2: Yeah, and that’s more like a 2000s. That’s more our era kind of vibe. The message of like the money is, is always bad and corrupts has been. Exactly.
S1: Oh, yeah. I mean, like, exactly. That’s that’s the those people, you know, crypto brothers with their lambos, right. Who are like, I have the money, I can spend it on five guys and move to Puerto Rico and be a douche and be happy about it like that. That yeah, that’s definitely you don’t get a hint of that really. I mean, except for maybe Milton at the end.
S3: I have a maybe more optimistic spin on everything coming out of this movie. And it’s not about the movie itself, it’s about what happened afterwards. And I’m kind of curious to know what the two of you think about this, which is that the technology itself that seemed to be causing so much of the alienation, the disconnect from work in the movie is that this really early stage is still quite immature, and over the next couple of decades, the technology has just advanced so much. Felix You brought up working from home, but there’s so much more to it. And I wonder if some of the jobs of the kind that Peter had back then are just better now. They’re just more interesting jobs. And if the intangible economy is not necessarily this like difficult alienating, oh, my God, I don’t quote unquote make anything thing that it used to be. And the thing that that came to mind, Felix, was that in our career specifically, you know, back in 2010, you and I were both economics bloggers that did not even exist as a job a decade before that. And now all three of us are economics podcasters, which almost didn’t exist as a job. Ten years ago. So like these things are moving quickly and ah, that’s just anecdotal obviously, but in all kinds of other fields there’s more like interesting things that are happening now, right?
S1: The stultifying baroque bureaucratic jobs which involve filling out TPS reports. I do think the one thing we’ve seen over the past few years is those jobs. Getting outsourced into SAS, like everything that you used to do in those jobs now is like something you can buy from a software as a service company of some description and just like get them to deal with it with software.
S2: I was thinking about this as you guys are speaking because I was thinking about expense reports. I remember working in the nineties. I would have a pile of paper receipts. I would have to tape them to a piece of paper. Really? Well, no wrinkles and then photocopy that and then fill out a whole separate form to get my money. Now, at Axios and I’m sure a lot of other companies, there’s an app called like Expensify. I’m if I take a break between doing more satisfying work, I can just be boop, take a screenshot of some receipt in my email and in like a minute file an expense report. And that is to me, that definitely is progress and technological advancement that has made work less stultifying because I have run up many a late charge on many a credit card because I refused to tape the paper receipts to the other piece of paper just.
S1: Oh, I mean, yeah, there was that famous like Mike Arrington I think was was very vocal about how when he started working for AOL, he just stopped filing expense reports because it was such a painful thing. And he’s like, I am just going to pay for all of my work expenses personally, because it is it is less painful for me to do that than it is to file expense reports.
S2: That’s a whole other level of I don’t know.
S3: Yeah, just pay me the higher salary and I’ll just incur the expenses myself so I don’t have to go through this madness. And it’s not even about the time. It’s like the sheer hassle and the time and the feeling that this is not what you’re supposed to be doing. All of those kinds of tasks, I think, have gotten easier now that they have been properly automated away instead of the clunky 1.0 version that we had in the late nineties. So I guess the way I’ve been thinking about this movie is that it’s like an artifact in a late 1990s time capsule, right? Like, it’s it’s wonderfully funny artifact, but it has some things in it that are outdated and it does have some things in it that are suggestive of what was to come later. But not everything that we worried about back then is something that we still worry about now.
S1: That’s progress.
S2: Okay. Yes.
S1: Well done, people. And we don’t worry about Y2K cutoff. Thank you for coming on. This has been absolutely awesome.
S3: I loved it. Yeah. Thank you.
S1: We’ll just finish with a grade. You’re going to give it something very high, I’m sure.
S3: A quintuple plus. Yeah, it’s such a it’s a quintuple. I love this movie, for all its flaws. This is a great, great movie. Yeah.
S2: You didn’t ask me about the first time I saw it, but I liked it a lot more then. I don’t know what’s changed about me, but first time I saw it and a and this time maybe like a B-plus. It was a little boring sometimes. I don’t know. I don’t know what happened.
S1: I thought it was too late, too long, happily. I mean, it’s like it’s an hour and 29 minutes. It definitely has that going for it. I will give this, I think, an A-minus. I think like it is one of those great 1999 times capsules. And I hope the people keep on watching it and that’s it. Thanks for listening to this. Late money goes to the movie.