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“I’m not a monster, Tom. Well, technically, I am”: the niftiness of zombies part III

“I’m not a monster, Tom. Well, technically, I am”: the niftiness of zombies part III published on No Comments on “I’m not a monster, Tom. Well, technically, I am”: the niftiness of zombies part III

In the past two sections, I’ve been answering the question: Why are zombies so popular here and now?? Section 1 proposed that they are a good metaphor for biological terrorism, while section 2 noted that zombies are perfect metaphors for the American climate of fear and recent governmental hawkishness. Section 3 looks at zombies as embodiments of the white-collar workplace.

As Jonathan Coulton’s "Re: Your Brains," illustrates, it’s not that far a stretch to portray office work as zombie-like. White-collar paper pushing [the administrative industry] routinely appears in modern middle-class media as an absurdist version of hell, or at least purgatory. For example, Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, includes a variety of petty tyrants in his strip about office life, including Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light, who "darns" people "to heck." And Mike Judge’s Office Space [1999] ends as the protagonist’s place of employment goes up in hellish flames, the inevitable result of an employee unhinged by the torture of sadistic minutiae. But the concept of office workers as zombies takes the "work is hell" idea even further by making the hell inside us.

Phil, Ruler of Lower Heck, by Scott Adams

People eagerly embrace the idea of workers as zombie in part, I think, because we’re expected to hate our jobs. We suspect people who take their employment for money seriously and passionately, expecting the average employee, rather, to be bored at the very least, dissatisfied as a rule and disgruntled more often than not. We have whole communities on LiveJournal where people can express their vitriol toward customers [customers_suck] and colleagues [coworkers_suck], while Fucked Company gleefully charts the objectionable, salacious and illegal doings of corporations, as reported by the employees. All of this is to say that we, as a society, revel in our hatred of paid employment. Because the idea of reviling one’s job is so ubiquitous, one easily thinks of one’s job as something that gets in the way of one’s real life. It’s a holding pattern that one idles in, staring at the clock, while waiting for freedom. It’s forced inaction, a brain drain: zombiehood.

Not only do we hate our jobs, but we collectively experience corporate culture as mind-numbing and thus zombifying. For example, part of the humor of Coulton’s "Re: Your Brains" derives from the speaker’s incessant use of business jargon, which serves as a cue to the empty, cliched state of his mind. Similarly, the widespread backlash against buzzwords [enshrined in BuzzWhack, a site of user-submitted examples] characterizes them as "trite, meaningless and boring," in the words of TechRepublic blogger Toni Bowers. From "trite, meaningless and boring," it’s not a far jump to "empty and dead," also an accurate description of a zombie’s head. Besides buzzwords, the other machinery of bureaucracy — ridiculously long lines, pointless meetings, forms in triplicate, passive-aggressive notes on the bathroom door and coffee machine [many submissions to the linked site are workplace communications] — are also seen as deadening influences. Our jobs suck the life out of us, so we relate to creatures that have had the life sucked out of them.

More later…

EDIT: Part IV is here.

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