This is the opposite of the soulless work represented by Initech and Chotchkie’s, where nobody—not the employees, the bosses, nor the customers—had any idea what they were doing or why. Even if my waiter’s quip about “social media dishes” was meant only to indicate certain dishes’ popularity, it reveals that popularity is now indistinguishable from the labor of sharing. Where once work was soulless, now it has become soulful. So soulful, in fact, that it feels mawkish. Now it’s the customer who might hesitate to don more than the minimum pieces of flair, rather than the worker.
In Office Space, IT work and bar-grill fare sit in the background, commoditized. As Joanna’s boss Stan explains when he admonishes her for her lackluster flair, “People can get a cheeseburger anywhere. They come to Chotchkie’s for the environment and the attitude. That’s what flair’s about. It’s about fun.” The food is ordinary, so the dining experience is shaped by the supposedly eccentric hip waiter. But when one enters a sit-down casual restaurant today, the food is presented as unique, while the waiters are mere vessels to allow one to appreciate it with the appropriate breathlessness. “Have you ever dined with us before?” asks today’s waiter, before expounding upon every menu item (most of which are revealed to be the same locally-sourced fare prepared in the same way as every other restaurant). One’s job is not to have fun, but to properly appreciate the supposedly bespoke delights for which one is about to pay a premium. And then to like it on Facebook.
Where once manufactured affect was imposed primarily on the worker, now it is imposed on the consumer. To buy and use things today is to suffer a constant barrage of supposedly ardent devotion on the part of its creator. Have you rated the app yet? Tasted the burrata? Don’t you want to share your purchase on social media? We’re really proud of our work—here’s a photo of the team!—and we want you to love it, really love it. It’s the final victory of pieces of flair: Now all must don them, constantly. Every app, every service, every product, every starter, every cocktail has become a little bauble that must be worshipped even despite its utter ordinariness.
Office Space ends improbably. It’s a comedy, after all, made by the creator of Beavis and Butthead. Peter and his compatriots hack Initech’s accounts but accidentally embezzle far more than they intended. At the last minute they are saved by an office fire set by a minor character. Joanna gets fired, and Peter goes to work in construction, an earnest profession where handcrafted products really are crafted by hand.
A year after the film’s release, the tech economy crashed. Office work became less stable while simultaneously requiring more of workers’ time and more of their emotional commitment. Service work became more precarious while somehow reframing that precariousness as worker flexibility.