not in our stars, but in ourselves
I am really very lucky. I know. After years of working aimlessly in a variety of retail and customer service jobs, and another year or so working at an ESL school I not-so-fondly refer to as “the gulag,” I have a lovely, cushy, steady job at a big university. My hours are regular. My pay is very generous. My duties are eminently reasonable, and I’m pretty well suited to carry them out. All in all, it’s a great situation, and I’m very happy.
With any cushy, essentially white-collar job – especially in academia – there are bound to be some useless people. I periodically gnash my teeth and contemplate punching a hole in the wall of my nice, comfortable office when, for the umpteenth time, some other administrator fails to do her job and ignores all communication imploring her to please start doing her fucking job; or when some faculty member proposes reinventing the wheel because he didn’t understand how it worked in the first place; or when some smug jerk tries to dress me down via email when 20 other people are cc’d on it, and it wasn’t something I did wrong anyway. Rather than let my rage consume me (more on that presently), I decided to try to analyze these different human-sized circles of hell, and categorize them according to characters on The Thick of It.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with great British television, The Thick of It was a comedy series about politics. Its creator, Armando Iannucci, is also behind Veep – which more of you Americans will probably have heard of. Veep is pretty good. I remain loyal to The Thick of It. As the name implies, it presents a down-and-dirty – and (occasionally depressingly) realistic – view of British politics. The series begins in the Department of Social Affairs when Labour is in power. There are hapless ministers, bumbling political advisors, lazy civil servants, and the feared Director of Communications, Malcolm Tucker. Later, during a reshuffle, the Department of Social Affairs becomes the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship (DoSAC, for short); not long thereafter, Labour loses the election, the Conservative Party forms a coalition government with Liberal Democrats, and everyone is miserable.
As closely observed and spot-on as the political satire is, and as worthwhile as it is to think about and discuss, I’m here to talk about the players – and how you probably know variations on these types in your own workplace. Time to play Spot the Co-Worker!
EDITORIAL NOTE: I’m adding more characters! As the kids say: dealwithit.gif
Lazy. Selfish. In it for the pension and/or perks, hoping to do as little work as humanly possible, simultaneously preventing anyone else from doing their own work. Frustratingly senior. Convinced of own professionalism and acumen despite the fact that, as one character puts it, they look like they’ve wandered into their own world and got lost there. Convinced, too, that they’re un-fireable – but petrified about keeping reputation clean. One would think that this might lead to a better work ethic – but alas.
In a nutshell:
Terri: For the record, I have done nothing.
Glenn: Yes, that will be your epitaph, Terri!
Similar to The Blockage, but stupider and less certain of their un-fireability. In charge of something relatively major – communications, for example – without understanding the first thing about what they’re supposed to communicate. Shrill and unpleasant. Convinced somehow that everyone of whichever gender they’re technically attracted to fancies them.
In a nutshell:
Jamie: Okay, the line is “Wildcat walkout, we’ll be talking to the unions, it’s too early to comment”. Off the record, union neanderthals with brains the size of children’s bogies couldn’t take the heat of Hugh Abbot’s ring-stinging shit hot public sector reforms, but he is flying back like Harrison Ford with a big whip in one hand and a skinny latte in the other and he is gonna whip six shades of shit out of them and save the world, okay?
Robyn Murdoch: [writing] I think I’ve got that…”… six shades of shit…”
Very clever academically. Less so practically. Intellectually gifted, and thoroughly condescending to everyone around them as a result. Spineless, gutless, useless in times of actual crisis. Having peaked at such an early age, developmentally arrested in state of permanent adolescence. Probably honestly prefers crude jokes about sex to the act itself. Probably texts while walking.
In a nutshell:
Jamie: You should have dumped that mad bitch ages ago.
Ollie: I would’ve done, she is mad! She’s a mental woman! But you two kept telling me to go out with her in case I found anything out!
Jamie: Oh, and what did you find out? That you’ve been leaking intelligence to them!? You’re the fucking shittest James Bond ever! You’re David fucking Niven!
Has been mediocre all their life, but have no conception of that mediocrity. Nerdy to an almost pathological degree. Holds extremely offensive political views/personal philosophies, but basically harmless in real life. Always only white and male, either asexual or homosexual in reality – but would never admit either, not even to self. Speaks only in tortured metaphors or simpleton allusions.
In a nutshell:
Adam: It’s like there’s a little twelve-year-old boy, in a suit, with a fucking light-sabre on his desk – don’t think I don’t know it’s there – running this department while Mannion’s away, it’s a fucking joke!
Phil: No it’s not! Have you ever seen Game of Thrones Season 2?
Phil: Or Anakin Skywalker, he was young! Frodo, in his thirties, still young for a hobbit! They left me in charge because I’m a Jedi and you’re a fucking Ewok.
Think they enjoy innovation, but really just enjoy dismantling things and reassembling them so that their functionality is halved, at best. Often don’t really understand what’s happening, due to getting caught up either in the minutiae of their elaborate brainstorms or in the broadest possible strokes of the big picture. Somehow completely embody the exact opposite of whatever message/job they’re supposed to broadcast/supply. Probably loooooove TED talks.
In a nutshell:
Staffer: There’s a Sunday piece in the pipeline about you and him not getting along. Just wondered if you’ve got a line.
Malcolm Tucker: Yeah. “Julius Nicholson is a hugely respected advisor. He now has a wide ranging brief and his blue-sky vision and helicopter-thinking will enable this government to go, in his own phrase, beyond delivery and beyond that.” That’s the line, okay? And if he does stick his baldie head ’round your door and comes up with some stupid idea about “policemen’s helmets should be yellow” or “let’s set up a department to count the moon,” just treat him like someone with Alzheimer’s disease, you know? Just say “yes, that’s lovely, that’s good, we must talk about that later,” okay?
Technically very bright, accomplished, intelligent, and ambitious. Personally extremely unpleasant, with seemingly few thoughts of their own. Often sells out friends and enemies alike to further their own personal advancement – and then lies about someone else having been the sell-out. Cowardly. Uninteresting. As basic as basic can be.
In a nutshell:
Emma: [turns on the radio] I gotta listen to this Richard Bacon thing.
Ollie: Talk radio! Sexy! Don’t worry, I’ve done some of my best shagging to Caesar the Geezer.
Emma: Could you just stop talking shit for a second so we could listen to your boss talking shit?
Ollie: [beat] You know, when your mom walked out, you think maybe it wasn’t just about your dad?
Was once generally considered competent and useful, now tragically out-of-date: a laserdisc player in a world of Netflix. Not taking their obsolescence very well, on the rare occasions it’s brought to their attention. Rather than quietly take a severance package and go on to work as a consultant, fights tooth and nail to remain top-dog, with dismal results.
In a nutshell:
Steve: Pep talk, over. Return to your desks, and prepare for government.
Ollie: We’re in government.
Steve: [smiling, but clearly annoyed] Well then, prepare to stay in government.
Ollie: Oh, right. How do we do that?
Glenn: We pack an overnight bag.
Steve: [apoplectic] WILL YOU PLEASE FUCKING WELL– [laughs] I’m sorry, I’ve lost my temper! Where is it? Where is it? Oh, no, I’ve found it again! It’s all right.
You will note, no doubt, that there’s no mention of Malcolm Tucker. That’s because no one can be Malcolm; one is simply possessed by the demonic force that is Malcolm – not unlike Bob from Twin Peaks. Consider this, one of Malcolm’s last speeches – given to Ollie, when he knows he’s done for good:
You know Jackie fucking Chan about me. YOU KNOW FUCK ALL ABOUT ME! I am totally beyond the realms of your fucking tousle-haired, fucking dim-witted compre-fucking-hension! I don’t just take this fucking job home, you know. I take this job home, it fucking ties me to the bed, and it fucking fucks me from arsehole to breakfast! Then it wakes me up in the morning with a cup full of piss slung in my face, slaps me about the chops, to make sure I’m awake enough so it can kick me in the fucking bollocks! This job has taken me in every hole in my fucking body! Malcolm is gone! You can’t know Malcolm, because Malcolm is not here! Malcolm fucking left the building fucking years ago! This is a fucking husk, I am a fucking host for this fucking job. Do you want this job? Yes, you do fucking want this job. Then, you’re going to have to fucking swallow this whole fucking life and let it grow inside you like a parasite. Getting bigger and bigger and bigger until it fucking eats your insides alive and it stares out of your eyes and tells you what to do.
And now, consider the entity that is Bob: an invasive force that preys on fear, inhabiting the people of Twin Peaks, forcing them to do horrific things to people they loved, keeping them in the Black Lodge if they face him with “imperfect courage.”
When you, in your place of work, are besieged by Terris and Robyns and Ollies and Julii, let Malcolm take over. Not out loud, perhaps, but alone in your office: rant, rave, cuss up a blue streak, demean and demolish everyone who works less than you, everyone who wastes your time, everyone whose laziness and ineptitude forces you to – in Malcolm’s words – sweat embryos as you try to fix it. Once you’ve gotten it out of your system, the spirit of Tucker will leave you alone for a while, and go on to inhabit some other mild-mannered office worker. But then, when your rage is just beginning to boil, he’ll be back and better than ever. If you don’t have a furious interior monologue of beautiful Scottish swearing, you are simply not coping with the stresses of your job as well as you should. Let the rage purify you. Try it. Thank me later.