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A 1999 Micron Electronics commercial is set in a corporate cube farm. In this ad promoting the high technology profile of Micron, a computer maker, the action is driven by an angry young woman who freezes the scene, grabs her boss's golf club and proceeds to smash through the old social relations of the workplace -- including an allusion to the "glass ceiling." Apparently, she is able to smash down old tyrants and obsolete technology, along with brittle old barriers and inefficiencies, because the new revolution in telecommunications and computing makes the prevailing ways of doing things anachronistic.

The scene opens with the hum of office noises (phones and office equipment) and a cyan-tinted shot of a large corporate office complex defined by partitioned cubicles spreading out as far as the camera will let us see. It appears to be business as usual as executives move along the corridor briefcases in hand. We should note that those who work in such spaces, frequently complain that the cubicle deprives one of individuality, creativity, and even one's soul. The camera cuts to a blond young woman inside a cubicle as she slams her hands down on her desk and pushes herself out of her chair. Her face has frustration and anger written across it, as she declares her refusal to continue working under these conditions, and as she rises from her chair all action in the office space appears to freeze instantly.

Micron01-99 "I will not do this!" Micron01-99

"I will not be a cog in a machine," she swears.

Micron01-99 Micron01-99

Grabbing a golf putter from the hands of a frozen executive (presumably her white male middle-aged boss) who must have been practicing his swing when our protagonist froze time, she marches purposively across the room and swings viciously at a conventional computer monitor, smashing it as she continues delivering her manifesto:

Micron01-99 "I will not accept the obsolete!"
"Keep your corporate ladder!" Micron01-99
"Keep your empty mission statements." Micron01-99

She defiantly proclaims "keep your corporate ladder" as she takes another swing at what seems to be a ceiling panel, once again smashing it irreparably. This might be interpreted as a reference to the notorious "glass ceiling" that keeps women from getting their just due in salaries or positions. It certainly could make an effective metaphor for 'smashing the glass ceiling.' The reference to "empty mission statements" may also be a sharp shot at faddish corporate public relations lip-service regarding product excellence and respect for employee work satisfaction.

As she spits out her fury and her anger, she approaches her boss still immobilized in time and place and facing him, declares into his face that,

Micron01-99

"...I will never play by the old rules again!"

Micron01-99

The boss's head cracks and then crumbles into many pieces, like a plaster mask cracking it turns into a face from a Magritte painting. This image figuratively suggests a crumbling of his authority as a result of her defiance.

Male announcer: "The rules of business have changed and Micron PC's featuring Intel Pentium II processors are the digital slingshots you need to win." The old boy's club is dead thanks to Intel and Micron technology.

Micron01-99Presented as an allegory about power in the corporate workplace does this ad tell a story about a revolution from below, waged by women denied their rightful places in the hierarchy of power and rewards? Though we may have a sense of what "new tools" refer to, how have the "rules" changed? We can only operate on our own inferences in this respect, even though the ad explicitly states that its powerful computers using the Pentium II chips are "the digital slingshots you need to win." So is this angry woman supposed to be David defeating the hitherto unchallenged corporate giant of Goliath?

As noted above this ad also gets in a dig at the prevailing corporate rhetoric of mission statements -- those glib PR statements about producing excellence and superior customer service. By alluding to such hollow claims, this Micron Electronics ad addresses the same impulse targeted by Nike ads -- forget the talk, let's see you walk the walk. Much has been written in recent years about corporate culture. Though the Micron Electronics ad represents an attack on a generic corporate workplace, it might be useful to look at how a representative effort at mission statements and corporate philosophy weave together the issues taken up highly symbolic form in the Micron commercial. The following quote is taken in its entirety from the website of Goldman-Sachs, the noted Wall Street investment firm. The intent here is not to single out Goldman-Sachs, but to point to efforts to change the rhetoric of business.

"Minds. Wide Open. Three small words that say so much, simple and brief yet encompassing an entire corporate culture and system of beliefs.
 
In theory, Minds. Wide Open. is open-architecture thinking. A way of thinking, moving and acting across broad landscapes of markets, events and ideas. In practice, it is seeking out and finding unexpected opportunity in seemingly unsolvable problems. It is fostering the sharing of ideas through constructive, open dialogue. It is working inside the box, outside the box, and next to the box.
 
Beyond that, it's our people. People who bring their own intellectual curiosity and creativity to work everyday. They are encouraged by a non-hierarchical culture that expects and nurtures the unconventional, as well as the tried and true. Without them, Minds. Wide Open. is nothing more than words on paper.
 
Our clients depend on Minds. Wide Open. on a daily basis to solve complex
problems in all aspects of their business around the world.
Minds. Wide Open. It's theory. It's practice. It's people."

There are buzzwords aplenty here. Open architecture. Working outside the box. Non-hierarchical culture. Minds, wide open. Presumably this represents the antithesis of the old rules of the game, attacked so vehemently in the Micron ad.

Somehow, in the end I am not comforted that technology will somehow allow us to rebel successfully against the capitalist impulse to make more of us than not into "a cog in a machine." How will the technology of semi-conductors blunt that impulse, turn it around even? Just how does her "digital slingshot" work? This ad, is however, claiming nothing less than a reordering of capitalist relations of production because of changes in the mode of production (technology). Odd isn't it, how much Micron's rendering of this argument resembles the old-fashioned Marxian argument about how change occurs? "New Rules. No Tools."

And, isn't it interesting...that our female protagonist is made analogous to David, while the contemporary corporation is likened to Goliath? Making the boss's golf club her assault weapon of choice, permits the ad to stake out an interesting appellation device. The golf club in hand captures symbolically the privilege of the 'old boy's club' that runs the corporate show. Armed by the violence she can wreck on Whether one reads this little story about a woman who successfully negates her fat cat boss as a narrative driven by gender or class. Still we have no way of knowing by the end, whether his negation means her transcendence, or if this is only the commodity enticement.

Was this a story of empowerment, or a cautionary tale for corporate executives of what can happen to you if don't keep current in your company? Ignore women workers, ignore new technology worst, and you risk this feminist nightmare. I am not sure whether one can build a new house with the Master's tools, but I am sure that in this story, the Master's tool (the golf club) can be used to tear down the walls, ceilings and power structures of his building.

We remain cautiously skeptical, reminded of The Who's caution nearly a quarter of a century ago at the end of their song "Won't Get Fooled Again" -- "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss..."


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© Copyright 1998-2003
Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey