Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It All Connects Like Crazy

Cruising Netflix for something to watch on "Instant" view, I came across a TV series called Cashmere Mafia. Lasting only 7 episodes, it looked like some decently mindless entertainment. Watching the first episode, the show was so silly that I almost felt embarrassed, even though I was by myself. However, I got hooked and watched the whole series. Anyway, the show is very similar to Sex and the City, but it focuses much more on the protagonists' careers (they all went to business school together) and their struggles to balance high-powered careers and family. As silly as the show appears, I think it does verge on making some interesting statements about gender roles and women who are more successful at work than the men in their lives. If we can take a moment to admire one of the many awesome outfits of Lucy Liu:

(Her character, oddly, is named "Mia Mason", even though we see her parents in the show and they're both Chinese. She does have a short conversation with an Asian guy though, about why neither of them tend to date other Asians. Seemed topical.)

The show got me thinking (sounds like an oxymoron, but true) about how jobs are portrayed on TV. I realized that TV careers are not about the work, but almost totally about relationships. Even in shows like The Wire where the intricacies of police work are examined, office politics get just as much screen time as the work itself. It's also worth noting that virtually no one on TV is bad at their job, and job performance itself is never what causes problems. Everyone, it seems, would be able to do their job perfectly if it wasn't for issues of relationships getting in the way. This is all unbelievably relevant to The Lonely Crowd's description of an "other-directed" workplace. And for once, I think that TV might actually be reporting a real trend and concern in people's lives.

At least, it's a real trend (and major concern) in my own life. In the area where I live, most people seem overqualified for their jobs, which means that almost everyone can do the actual work required of them (and probably much more). I've never had a problem with the actual work in any job I've had, unless it was that the work was too boring and repetitive. What I did have a problem with was negotiating the constantly shifting relationships of the workplace. The characters in Cashmere Mafia seem to enjoy the challenge; I break down under it. One major reason my previous job tanked was my constant stress over office politics. That stress became so great that over time, I became unable to properly do my job. There is, theoretically, an upside-- increased recognition of your work, camaraderie, mentorship. But these seem to be in short supply, whereas the capacity for needless office drama seems to be endless.

So it's only natural that people would decide to make TV shows about it. I'm realizing that just like an aromantic or perpetually single person needs to figure out how to find the relationships they do want in a structure that doesn't cater to their needs, I need to find a career where my work will be rewarded, not, as David Riesman calls it, my "glad hand". Both of those things are extremely difficult in our culture as we know it. We know they exist, somewhere, but it's getting to them that's the hard part. Romantic relationships get a lot of play, but they're not the ones we might spend forty hours a week working on. Good lord, how it all connects like crazy...

(I'll be computerless for the next two weeks or so-- comment moderation will be pretty slow, but please don't let that stop you.)


Cree said...

That is so funny, because I, too, found the show and watched it. It was kind of mindless, but overall not bad. Of course, the beautiful women living in way too expensive of a world with crazy clothes, is kind of everything I hate about such shows, it did have some neat ideas. The fact that is wasn't more popular, however, shows just how set into roles people are. Of course there couldn't be a show focused more on women and careers, than women and sex and men, that would be ridiculous! /sarcasm

And even days later, I find myself wishing I could go watch more. I don't know, it just stuck to me.

heidi said...

Re: job stress - I felt increasingly picked on by my boss. She was overtly a man-hater (always making snide remarks about the 7 guys we worked with, us being the only two females) and I think because I didn't go along with her man-hating (and didn't fit her gender stereotypes), she started to take it out on me. The guys were absolutely great to work with, it's just too bad we couldn't all "just get along." Overqualified-ish and under staffed... the story of every zoo.

Ily said...

Ooh, computer! Cree, yeah! They didn't finish shooting the whole season so nothing in the show really gets resolved. The plotline with the woman who was divorcing her husband especially left me hanging.

For sure, Heidi, not getting along with a boss makes things so much harder. I feel like a lot of jobs have a "scarcity mentality" when it comes to power or decision-making, so that when someone gets a little power it's too easy to lord it over everyone else.