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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #134: Peter Gibbons

Currently not missing work.

Office Space is a blisteringly accurate hit job on the soul-sucking nature of the workplace in modern America. As the saying goes, it's funny because it's true. It's somehow laugh-inducing and cringe-worthy, with plenty of characters and situations we all recognize from our own dignity-grinding experiences as employees. From bloodless, passive aggressive boss Bill Lumbergh to the parasitical consultant Bobs to mumbling, stapler-fetishist Milton, the company where Peter Gibbons works is full of oddly familiar creatures. It's endlessly quotable, and fun, and yet sobering too.

The plot itself is pedestrian, but that's sort of Mike Judge's point too, that day after day we file into these cubicles (or pin our flair to our suspenders, as depicted in Jennifer Aniston's world-weary subplot) and churn out TPS reports, then do it again the next day. We sit at our desks and look busy, we dutifully pass the cake on birthdays, we glumly submit to "coaching" when we forget the cover memos. Consider this gut-wrenching line from Peter: "So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life." It's a closed loop, a huis clos of existential degradation with no escape in sight.

Except Peter does escape. He does it not through excelling at his job, but by disregarding the self-abnegating culture of the company, by refusing to be the hamster on the wheel any more. Now, most of us know we couldn't get away with the things Peter does - how he casually ignores his boss, flouts workplace dress protocol, and generally behaves in ways that would land you in HR before lunch. It's the underlying frame of mind, the refusal to subsume his identity into his job, that makes Peter an object lesson. Maybe we all can't take a power drill and literally knock down the walls of our cubicles. But metaphorically? Now that's worth trying.

After all, it's not that I'm lazy. It's that I just don't care.

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