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The Office (2009)

White walls, white rooms, flat screens, needles, happy pore-cleansed faces, pharmaceutical products, biohazard disposal–the 21st century just makes you want to grunt, smear mud on your face and bash someone over the head with a rock, doesn’t it? Standing over the scanner at the office, my duty is simple: take the paper files, perfectly tactile and usable as they are, and turn them page by page into digital mimeograph copies, segments of floating bits and bytes. The files each have a name on them and a number—this way we can identify the applicant—and a little sticker pasted on them—red for rejection green for acceptance. Inside the folders, a bricolage of documents. Cobbled together, they give a photo mosaic portrait of personhood—birth certificates, headshots, resumes, copies of drivers’ licenses, long personal statements, letters of recommendation. The official transcripts from their different universities are the most stunning part—like foreign currency they are exquisitely colored, stamped, watermarked, peppered with bits and pieces of the ephemera of that unique place. USC, Notre Dame, Stanford, UPenn, Duke, Brigham Young University. The private, leftist-historical universities have correspondently bizarre transcripts—big, unwieldy things filled with course evaluations from the student’s “History of the Black Power Movement” class, their “Negri and American Empire” seminar. The Ivy league transcripts are surprising for their stark unpretentiousness—Harvard looks dashed off, barely identifiable to its blue-blooded legacy. Yale, Duke, and Brown are equally modest. Shuffling the hopes and dreams of these young people into the scanner before they are resigned to a mausoleum-like filing drawer gives one the feeling of being the furnace operator at the crematorium. They’ve been doing the right thing their whole lives, being upstanding citizens and members of society—fraternities, student newspapers, afterschool programs, churches, two or three jobs, a kid, and still volunteering on the side. And look at me—plucked off the street and being paid ten dollars an hour, clothes unwashed, rips in my jeans, with their lives and future careers placed in my hands—one smudge, one misplaced file could entirely derail an otherwise promising future. These blonde, pearly-whited prom queens and frat guys—church and charity, a life of service. They, unlike us more lumpen specimens, don’t mind begging society’s masters for a chance to be rejected. The outcasts and the freaks reject the whole system up front, vaccinating themselves against the possibility of failure—a ‘get them before they get you’ mentality. But something about all these kids—all these rejects…they were endearing, smiling, lovable. Marx wrote that the most forgivable flaw in his mind was naiveté. While hunched over a huge copier in a mailroom, scanning my life away, I began to hate the shadowy selection committee and their cryptic, indecipherable selection system, which seemingly grinds individuals through some complex mathematical formula for achievement and decides whether they are worthy enough for admission to the program. Rejection, rejection, rejection—the number rejections far outnumber the scattered few accepted. Many worthy candidates tossed by the wayside, judging from their resumes and fancy, cum laude Ivy League transcripts. It just goes to show that if you put your hope in the system, you’re a fool—it’ll reject you, abuse you, deprive you of insurance and set you on fire and try to kill your family. I’m not a Communist, but it began to dawn on me after the long endless days of filing that what The Selection Committee does in the public sphere-doling out money and credibility to a select few–the rest of us were all doing silently, stealthily, in whispered email conversations, in our own minds—ranking, filing, classifying, judging the others. Putting everyone in their place, always calculating and scheming to see who is ‘worth it’ and who was not. This is what the yippies used to call ‘the cop in your head’—policing, archiving, and creating hierarchies, human beings forever systematizing, emulating the machines. And in turn, as if to do penance for our secret wretched thoughts, we always put ourselves in a position to be judged by others. The weakness of the whole back and forth sham is horrid,  absolutely unbearable.



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