Heavy stuff today, and you need a fun break. NOW! DO IT! Matt Labash’s tragicomic Weekly Standard cover story on Mandatory Corporate Fun is utterly hilarious, but it’s subscribers only (although it’s easily worth the cover price of this week’s issue.)
It’s a long article so you get a long excerpt. This isn’t even nearly the funniest part, which is so carefully set up that I wouldn’t dare spoil it. But this bit is a good survey of the institutional infantilization of the American worker:
There is, of course, a consultant for everything these days. Professional consultant-basher Martin Kihn, who is himself a consultant, and who wrote House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time, writes of everything from flag consultants to compost consultants to Satanic consultants who don’t actually worship Lucifer (consultants tend not to believe in anything). So it stands to reason that with the new core value of fun on the ascent, there would be fun consultants. They don’t have a trade association yet, and they go by all sorts of different names, usually with “fun” as a prefix (funsultants, funcilitators, etc). But if you had to distill what they do in one word, “fun” would be your best bet.
A considerable corpus of literature on their discipline is amassing. I use the word “literature” loosely, to mean a series of often ungrammatical double-spaced sentences put on paper, slapped between festively colored covers, and sold to mouth-readers with too much discretionary income. While most business books, according to Kihn, are written on about a 7th-grade level (there are exceptions like Who Moved My Cheese? for Teens that are written on a 5th-grade level), the funsultant literature regresses all the way back to primary school. Since we all forget to play as adults, as funsultants repeatedly tell us, they seem intent on speaking to us as though we’re children.
Here’s an abbreviated list of the jollity that will ensue at your place of business if you follow their advice: “joy lists,” koosh balls, office-chair relay races, marshmallow fights, funny caption contests, job interviews conducted in Groucho glasses or pajamas, wacky Olympics, memos by Frisbee, voicemails in cartoon-character voices, rap songs to convey what’s learned at leadership institutes, “breakathons,” bunny teeth, and asking job prospects to bring show and tell items such as “a stuffed Tigger doll symbolizing the interviewee’s energetic and upbeat attitude” or perhaps a “neon-pink mask and snorkel worn to demonstrate a sense of humor, self-deprecating nature, and sense of adventure.”
So you might hire someone like Ronald Culberson, who heads FUNsulting, Etc., “injecting humor into healthcare” (the u’s in his logo are shaped like a smile). Not only does Ron understand the “intrinsic power of combining EXCELLENCE with humor,” he’s even set up a “humor injections” blog, giving cyberslackers a way to have good, clean, nonsarcastic fun.
Or you could hire “Energy Expert” Gail Hahn of Funcilitators, who can help you practice “Fun Shui,” conduct some “Out of the Box Olympics” for teambuilding, and who is “authorized to lead laughter sessions sanctioned by the World Laughter Tour.” Or perhaps Buford P. Fudd-whacker would be more to your liking. He dresses like a “backwoods, country nerd in red suspenders and polyester pants” and promises your employees some “high-octane country sunshine” with his “wacky inventions and crazy stories about kinfolk and farm animals. But there’s always a point to be made, and he weaves valuable insights, motivational messages, and powerful teaching into his tall tales.” Pass the ‘shine, Buford!
A book that’s getting a lot of buzz these days is Diana West’s book called The Death of the Grown-Up, about exactly this phenomenon writ large—how not just in the office but in all aspects of American life, seriousness and adulthood is being devalued. C.S. Lewis hit on the same point a long time ago when he wrote about “The Abolition of Man“:
And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
I’d be curious to hear Ms. West and Mr. Labash’s take on the chicken-and-the-egg of the Office Fun Fascists: does wacky corporate culture subvert grownup ideals, or does our infantilized culture lead to the rubber chickens and Groucho Glasses in job interviews?
Related: most of you have probably seen the Nixon Peabody law firm’s “we’re so cool” theme song, but if not…