Yes, few things register on the banality scale with greater resonance of dullness than office cubicles. The font of office related humor for at least a decade and a half; these corrals of commerce keep America moving. Workers drone on, amid the geometric certitude, as feudal workers in a small plot of land within a larger tract. An office chair, swiveling and cushioned can twirl the worker, as he observes three walls of fabric covered partition. Noises are muffled in this anechoic box, as the taps of keyboards, and the brill of phones become distant hums. Someone may even broadcast a radioed loop of soft rock hits from the 80’s, at a reasonable volume.
Work humor, and “work appropriate” musings are honed and disseminated from within the confines of these walls. The cubicle becomes the wellspring of things such as “I Can Has Cheezburger?” and other internet memes that defy explanation but deny resistance to participation in and propagation. Emails of various humor and ilk are forwarded to fellow cubicle workers. Perhaps in a cubicle across the room. Maybe across the country. Or even the globe. This is a collective practice, as eight hours of a day, or forty hours of a week are whittled away, and the promising maw of weekend with the exacting swath of lawncare, and nesting oriented purchases with a significant other await.
People have gone on to draft satirical screenplays, deftly capturing the numbing pall of those walls of some burlap like or carpet-esque fabric. The stifling banal struggle of millions of office workers, trudging day after day. Calendars gradually sheaving off like leaves in autumn. Monotony, and officespeak in saccharine tinges. Cultish hits like Office Space and even Fight Club come to mind. In the furling curl of the dotcom wave of the late nineties; arguably the golden age of all things banal, many such narratives captured this ineffable zeitgeist.
At an average height of just over five feet, the cubicle posits an odd paradox of panopticism mixed with a deceptive dash of privacy. This conflation of “public” and “private” spheres is indelibly embedded in the workplace via the cubicle. Now “your” business is “our” business. We have the illusion of the private; much like a social network page gives one the illusion of an autonomous forum for airing laundry to a select scroll of “friends”. These lines are eroded and accreted upon, until they fold into a new thing unto themselves. All this collective chatter is glommed up in the amoeba of the office. They can be, and sometimes are used against the individual, for betterment of the group.
Arguably, in the mid 1960’s,when the cubicle concept was first introduced, it was seen as a gargantuan improvement from the cavernous rooms filled with unwalled desks, typists and clerks hammering away. Cigarette smoke looming overhead as a palpable miasma. The harried speech. Rude jangles of phones, naked on flanks and columns of desks, and cacophony of conversations therein – evocative of a grade school lunch room. Gruff steps on linoleum and wood. A day in the office more than likely rattled in the workers’ heads like rivet guns.
The cubicle, though banal, is at least not grating on the nerves.