The Movie “Office Space” and the Story of Suburban Boredom

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The 1999 cult classic film “Office Space” has burrowed itself into the heart of pop culture. Memes featuring Bill Lumberg (Gary Cole) saying “That would be greaaaat,” commercials referencing “TPS Reports” and the fact that Swingline produced red staplers only after the movie was made in response to fan outcry show the extent to which this low budget film connected with the audience.

If you haven’t seen the film, Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingstone) and his office mates plot to steal money from their corporate employer and get revenge on their greedy boss. But the strength of this film isn’t in its plot, but rather it’s recognizable depiction of the mundanity, and at times ridiculousness, of sterile, suburban corporate America.

The film begins with the three co-stars navigating through the bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic on their daily commute to work. While not referenced, the entire film is shot in Austin, Texas, and the expressway traffic beautifully articulates how the San Antonio/Austin population explosion has led to gridlock traffic patterns in the face of a non-existent commuter rail system that would surely alleviate the automobile insanity.

Of note, San Antonio is the largest American city without a rail-based transportation system.

Once Peter reaches Initech, his corporate employer, he parks his car and begins his workday, featuring nagging micromanaging bosses and annoying co-workers. The exterior shots of Initech show a strictly car-centric office park experience, lacking any sort of nuance or interest. Initech is a fictional island of vanilla employment in a sea of boring, McCorporate, cul-de-sac complexion, and yet it exists the in spirit of every disconnected first-ring suburban U.S. office park.

The office park featured in Office Space looks like this today. While modeling the sterile corporate look and feel, at least there are bike lanes!

Peter and his workplace buddies grab lunch at a nearby restaurant chain, where the server, a young Jenifer Anniston, is scolded for wearing the bare-minimum amount of buttons, or “flare,” on her uniform. This is just another example of the movie’s attempt to show the ridiculousness of the corporate American baseline.

The restaurant “Chochkeys” in the move Office Space is now a typical suburban bank.

Finally, at the end of the day, Peter retreats to his suburban prefabricated apartment complex, where he hangs out with his neighbor who he can hear through the walls. The finishing touch in any car-centric, sterilized lifestyle is the stereotypical cul-de-sac home or clone-style development of the cookie-cutter residential apartment complex.

Peter Gibbons’ apartment complex

While the film pokes fun at the mundane, routine and vanilla experience of corporate America, it simultaneously reveals the yawn-inducing design that feeds this innocuous lifestyle. Perfectly manicured lawns that act as buffers more than usable space, roads that wind and twist off the main drag to purposefully hide the office park from potential “vagrants,” a sea of chain restaurants that strategically cater to the hungry lunch break cravings or happy hour enthusiast and an over-abundance of building-front parking to maximize suburban, auto-centric convenience. All of this and more adds to the the perfect recipe for a sterilized, routine and uninteresting workday.

I get it, this is what much of this country wants, right? A workplace that eliminates the unforeseen variables like having to find a parking space, or having to see people that don’t look like you. For those who want to go to work and go home, the Office Space depiction of the workday is welcomed. The conscious elimination of social variables is the flagrant desire of “cul-de-sac America.”

The rest of us want something more. We want to see private investment connect with urban density. We want to see dynamic thought happen in an urban core that fosters innovation and the sharing of ideas. We want nothing more than exclusive, car-centric office parks to yield to downtown hubs that are accessible via multiple modes of public transit. We want to bring innovation back to our urban cores where opportunities are bountiful and accessible by all.