Drama behind the shelves

Last week Lileks noticed that GE bulbs are no longer on sale at Home Depot. His mind imagined the drama and strife that that likely accompanied this corporate maneuver:

I’m guessing it may have had to do with shelf fees – maybe Home Depot wanted a certain amount of money up front to stock GE products, and GE didn’t want to pay that much, and someone decided to walk away from the partnership for a year, or forever. This drama probably occupied the lives of several dozen middle-level execs for a year or so – sleepless nights, missed dinners, contentious teleconference calls, all ending in a few guys sitting in the kitchen at 2 AM with an Amstel wondering if this was going to cost them their job…

...I don’t know why there aren’t more novels written about the business world. Probably because most people inclined to write about the anxieties of a man caught up in a ballpoint pen launch would be inclined to see it as an example of conspicuous consumption, a comedy whose empty moral reminds us how hollow life is in this vast machine of production and consumption. But it says more about the world we inhabit than yet another miserable account of growing up with an alcoholic father and dysfunctional siblings and how they were affected when the vermiculite factory laid off seven percent of its workforce in 1996.

He’s right, and it’s not just novels. I wrote an earlier post lamenting the lack of music that extolls fulfilling job experiences. Even TV gives little insight into daily jobs – except for maybe police work, trial law, and some fields of medicine.

Reality TV could change this -- I think half the success of The Apprentice is that people enjoy watching contestants in business situations, and seeing them come up with clever solutions to problems. The advertising pitches, and even the bottled water sales negotiations, was something I found surprisingly interesting.

The Apprentice sequel shouldn’t be about selecting another apprentice – it should follow the first Apprentice as she (it’s got to be Amy) manages one of Trump’s companies. I’d watch.

Going back to high school English class, I recall debating the strategies for tragedy and catharsis. The old view, espoused by Aeschylus and Shakespeare and many in between, was that good drama must involve royalty or nobility. Newer playwrights like Ibsen, Miller and others rejected that notion, and used average joe salesmen types or their housewives as protagonists. They all agreed, however, that catharsis came from a character's overreaching, stumbling on their tragic character flaw, and watching everything unravel.

Now, however, careers grow more and more diverse, and failure can take subtler forms. Curious people already go for books about behind-the-scenes product introductions (Mary Walton's "Car", the story of the jellybean '96 Taurus, was riveting ). Maybe in the future, the masses will seek drama and catharsis, not from noblemen or housewives, but by watching design teams struggling to meet a deadline, or learning about software with a tragic flaw.