Peter World

In the very well crafted satirical film, Office Space, circa 1999, the lead character, a corporate cubbyhole dweller named Peter, is quickly established as someone whose life is on a treadmill to nowhere. Both professionally and personally, Peter clearly has that is this all there is? feeling pervading his each and every day. In an effort to find relief–deliverance, more likely–he visits a hypnotherapist, to whom he expresses his life as “each day being the worst day of my life”. Peter then implores the therapist about what he can do to help him feel better, as in “Can’t you zonk me out? You know, maybe instead of thinking I’m at work, I’m out fishing?”. As satire, I would presume many viewers of this movie could identify with Peter, on one level or another. Life, right? It just seems to have a way of wearing us down, not just physically, but emotionally. But since the film is satirical, there is humor in the narrative of Peter’s yuppified angst and anguish. It’s not some somber slog through Russian despair and conflict, brought to life in color and widescreen super digital HD.

The therapist explains that what Peter is asking for is not a service he can provide, but does proceed to start a hypnotic incantation upon his patient, proclaiming that Peter will slowly be unburdened of his stresses, and completely in a state of mental relaxation. Before the therapist can finish his “countdown” and then presumably retrieve Peter’s mind from the hypnotic state in order to confirm that for the moment, at least, Peter has the residue of relaxing mind control with which to combat his quotidian funk, the doctor drops dead from a heart attack. Peter is still hypnotized, and so relaxed, that he appears oblivious to the tragedy that has occurred right in front of him. From that moment on, Peter is his own man, with a new, improved attitude about life, an avatar of Alfred E. Neuman and his personal mantra of “What, me worry?

Peter is then able to comport himself in as carefree a manner as he wishes, ignoring anything and everything (and everyone) that made each ensuing day of his life the worst day of my life. He decides that, since his job is an unrewarding litany of cubbyhole hell, with too many bosses who only confer negativity upon him, he simply will stop going to work. He boldly asks a waitress at a corporatized eatery that has her wearing sappy, happy expression buttons referred to as “flair” on her unform, to meet him for lunch–in spite of the fact that she doesn’t know him at all. With his unassuming and carefree mojo on dipslay, she agrees to meet him and in the course of icebreaking banter, when asked what he does, he barely attempts an explanation before simply stating “I don’t like my job so I’m just not going to go anymore”. When asked if he will get fired, he says he doesn’t know or care. He’s just not going to do it anymore. When asked about how he will pay bills, he again simply proclaims that he never liked paying bills, and he’s not going to that anymore either.

It’s satirical. Darkly comic. If you haven’t seen this film, trust me you could do a lot worse, what with the mindless assembly-line dreck of superhero, supernatural dumb rom-com cartoonish offerings and re-makes at your local cineplex (but that’s another blog for another day). But Peter’s hypno-infused give-a-shit persona undoubtedly resonated with many audience members 20 years ago. Who wouldn’t like to be free to expel the often enervating and seemingly intrinsic stresses attendant to being alive and conscious? Seriously, otherwise, why are there so many T-shirts, coffee mugs and other consumer products that are bought precisely because of the expression imprinted upon them that proclaims life’s a bitch, then you die? That’s what effective satire does. It taps into everyday life, and its various external forces that become internal forces of the not too happy happy joy joy variety and send them up and over for guffaws. It can be cathartic. We are constantly seeking relief, no? From…something. You know. From life, that’s what. There’s a rock song entitled Birth. School. Work. Death. It’s a satirical song, okay. It’s a close kin to Life’s a bitch and then… If you don’t like rock, don’t listen to it. But it’s a clever song and is damn good rock at the same time, for whatever that opinion is worth to anyone.

However, we must cope and manage the stresses of life, do we not?. Short of hypnosis, there’s alcohol, which life has made clearly necessary for coping, as proven by the 18th Amendment’s disastrous results. And currently the massive opioid addiction problem. Drugs! And this is nothing new, of course. It goes waaaay back. Waaaay back. And ironically, the booze, nicotine, opioids, marijuana and more are all derivatives of nature. What is Nature trying to tell us? Pathological use of drugs has been described as early as classical antiquity. Loss of control of drug use goes back to the 1600’s. Peyote, or mescaline, a psychedelic is making news lately, as in some states considering making its consumption legal. And why not? There’s a lot of reality from which humans want to escape–still, as in the same as centuries ago. In our native American Indian cultures, ingesting mescaline was felt not to disconnect its user from reality, but to actually see reality. The “real’ reality, as it were. Hmm. Drop acid, see god. Or see something besides what you thought you were seeing before you dropped…

We be trippin!

Back to Peter. He’s not tripping, he’s in a trance. His mind has been set free! Anything goes! Maybe he could walk on hot coals, or lay on a bed of nails. Probably not, but all he wanted, after all, was to not be hassled. Work? Just say no. Bills? Just say no. Speak your mind. Say what you actually think and feel, not what you have been programmed to think and feel in order to “fit in”. Good luck with that. And fitting in is indeed what we are programmed to do. Virtually, from crib to crypt these days, advertising and consumption is taught either overtly or covertly. To consume, to shop, is a drug. Conform. Make no waves. In the digital age, try getting advertising out of your line-of-sight. Sure there are things we need to buy. Food. Clothes. And we need shelter. But it’s not enough to just have the basics. To be satisfied or fulfilled, we need that latest gizmo. Super cable TV (with 700 channels and next to nothing you can enjoy watching) The flashier car. The finer threads. Baubles, bangles and bright shining beads. Parents are supposed to control their kids, but advertising appeals directly to the kids to tell the parents what junk they need to buy for them, all of which inevitably ends up in a landfill. And parents mostly do want to please the kids (parenting is still another topic for another blog, context as above, in the digital age). The media exists to distract us from reality, the kind of reality that maybe dropping acid would cut into, eh? Bread and circuses. Stale bread. Cliched circuses.

Seeing a satirical movie or even some snarky televised offerings lets us identify with that which is being satirized. Art imitating (and mocking) life but at least for an hour or two one can consume that product and have a laugh or two in the process. But good satire is rare. The arts in general, methinks, are getting watered down. All the stories have been told but now they can’t seem to be told in much of a re-imagined, neo-creative manner. Hmm. I’m watching a crime series on dvd, but I swear I’ve seen this exact story before. However, I KNOW I haven’t seen this production before. That’s why Office Space still resonates. It is very clever, and original in its construction. Although I assume it will have an unnecessary re-make any year now

Are we not all part of Peter’s world? Even before there was a Peter circa that movie. What? You say you’re in control and that you have no stress issues? Okay, I believe you. Half way. You mean you’re being “medicated” but I doubt you’re in control. And as such, indeed you damn well fit in! Even though you’re trying not to.

About jharrin4

mass communication/speech instructor at College of DuPage and Triton College in suburban Chicago. Army veteran of the Viet Nam era.
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