The Guardian has a good feature for International Workers Day (1st May).
It uses fictional workplaces from the past twenty years, from The Office to Severance, to show how working culture has changed:
For all its mundanity, The Office never went full-blown bleak (one colleague might ask you, “Will there ever be a boy born who can swim faster than a shark?” but another might turn out to be the love of your life).
But such hope and humanity may be absent from the next wave of pop-culture workplaces. Gruelling gig-economy jobs, timed loo breaks, enforced commutes after months of working from home, rising bills, closing companies, the looming threat of redundancy – the desperations of 21st-century capitalism have been neatly reflected in Korean dramas such as Squid Game and Parasite, and it’s unlikely the depictions will end there. There’s brutality at the heart of the new workplace drama, as there often is at the modern workplace itself.
The evolution of the fictional workplace is a reflection, of course, of the evolution of real-life workplace anxieties. They now have a different flavour to when New Escapologist emerged in 2007.
Where it used to be a relatively simple “I’m bored and trapped here, being juiced for money” it’s now the same plus a fear that the world outside the workplace is too scary to escape into while that world also threatens to reach into your safe space and drag you out into it, unprepared, like something from The Mist.
“There’s a feeling captured in 90s and 2000s pre-crash media, that sense that you were bored and stuck at work,” says Amelia Horgan, a philosophy PhD student at the University of Essex and author of an examination of modern employment, Lost in Work, “whereas the dominant feeling now is the fear that the rug will be pulled out from under your feet without you realising, very quickly.”
New Escapologist was one of those “pre-crash media” but I think The Good Life for Wage Slaves (2021) was a timely update. The Good Life has a more contemporary take on workplace anxieties — this “fear of the rug being pulled out from under your feet” — through both my misery memoir segments and through my new-and-improved solutions.
The new fear of “the rug being pulled” is connected to bigger machines than before, to bigger and more disruptive world events. In my case it was the hostile environment for immigrants. In your case it might be the pandemic or the war or the results of austerity or something else, but it’s all connected to a broader social environment that is sometimes difficult to read much less do anything about.
The issues have indeed evolved and become more complicated, more surreal-feeling, more of a headache, taking us all the way from David Brent to Squid Game, but the solution, I think, remains the same. Escape.
Times have changed but I’m still here to say “don’t wait for the rug to be pulled when you can throw in the towel.” You don’t have to submit to either type of workplace anxiety, be it of the 2007 variety or the 2022 variety. You can escape instead.
Build an escape fund, hone your skills, define your goals, embrace frugality, practice minimalism, and get the hell out of it. Because face it: that green Squid Game tracksuit wouldn’t suit you.