Sunday, January 23, 2011

Blow (Up) Job

My buddy – as now famously documented in The Best Seller – had once shown an excerpt of Woody Allen’s Everything you wanted to Know about Sex and Were Afraid to Ask during a corporate presentation. The specific fragment of the movie he showed dealt with whatever goes on in the body during an orgasm, depicted with Woody’s signature humour, the body transformed into a science fiction set with the different organs and systems taking up roles of different characters. Woody himself played a sperm, going into the unknown, not sure whether he would be splattered against the ceiling through masturbation or end up against rubber walls as heard from trusted sources.

When I spoke to him about it in one of our many discussions later on, he dismissed it by saying that it was not really the result of inspiration.
“Simon, my friend, whenever I look at the pathetic playing fields of the corporate world, I find parallels in two genres of moviemaking. One which are the classics that encompass  symbolism, and the other suited to the blue hued multiple x rated productions which are cruder, but depict the common employee in stark reels. This Woody Allen classic sort of brings the two genres into one package.”

Needless to say, I almost choked on the Chinese food I had been eating at that point of our conversation, and we had been forced by my endangered oesophagus to abandon this fascinating line of dialogue.

However, these conversations came doubling back the memory lane as I ended my day with my weary feet on the coffee table, my plasma TV set screening the romping depiction of London in the '60s by Michelangelo  Antonioni in Blow Up.

It had been a fatiguing day ending with another of those ritual dances that are called Senior Management meetings - which is more or less enough to test the sanity of a normal person. Additionally, I had been busy all day, preparing presentations with manufactured figures – fictitious inventions which I am quite proud of by now – that showcased to the management our highly matured process of using historical data.

I had been assigned two guys to help me come up with this high maturity presentation – whenever I gave them a data set, ostensibly of the past projects that we had carried out, created on the fly by my trusted random number generating spreadsheet application, they industriously put it through complicated, forbidding sounding tests – Anderson-Darling, Mann Whitney, Kruskal-Wallis .. The inferences they drew, after sufficient number of massage sessions, found their way into the final deck.

In fact, we managed to do such a magnificent job of this data deceit, my manager ended up puffing out his chest with undisguised pride and the hallowed vice president who had come in to go through the choreographed motions of the senior management meeting actually reeled off some of the excellent work that the company had done by CMMi Level 5 compliant highly mature handling of data from the past, and added that this would be one of the major selling points in future business. My two collaborators beamed with gratification as they saw their important tests with the figures had conjured up a fanciful case study for the organisation. Was it only I who remembered that the historical data was generated on the fly by my trusted spreadsheet program?

Obviously, the talk was not limited to just these numbing numbers, but all the other regular figures came into play. The million dollar earnings of the different lines of business, the hundred and fifty or so new clients killing each other to get their projects out of the proverbial pipeline and shoot the profit meter screeching  to the limit.... And of course, there were questions – time tested politically correct questions, asked by the same souls, with the same answers and everyone parting with contented smiles in metronomic manner.

So, late at night, I was sitting with the beer bottle in my hand, watching David Hemmings shoot the glamorous models and then get embroiled in an awful lot of complication. My semi stoned mind, deadened by the day’s stupidity, struggled with the underlying message of the masterpiece. I could just about make out the surgical precision with which the superficiality of the society of those days was exposed with each reel, the telling tale echoing off the fabric of the current world as loudly.
It was the last five minutes of high symbolism that reminded me of that statement of my buddy.

David Hemmings, the photographer without a name in the movie, watches a group of mime artists engage in a tennis match –without rackets and ball. Two of the artists go through the motions and the other mime artists follow the apparent flight of the ball by moving their heads. Soon, the camera starts following the imaginary ball. Hemmings, who finds the whole show amusing, also starts moving his eyes after the supposed ball after a short while.

And then comes the moment of superlative storytelling. One of the mimed shots go wide and high and out of the tennis court into the field. One of the players approaches Hemmings and asks him to retrieve the ball. Hemmings hesitates at first, but then runs towards the spot where the ball has apparently landed, picks it up and throws it back. His own camera dangles in his hand, with the capacity to capture reality, while he conforms to the imagined truth of many. The game goes on and he continues to watch it, moving his eyes to follow the ball.

I drift off as he merges into the grass in the background and I take his place. My eyes follow the match and I suddenly see the two data masseurs in the court, playing out a rally while our Senior Manager is in the press box, vividly reporting the game. The rest of the organisation watches on, moving their head from side to side to follow the imaginary ball.

Did I really drift off? Have I already returned the ball when asked to throw it back? How long will it take for me to walk forward and join the rest of the crowd watching the game?

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Simon van der Wiel is a fictitious character who appears in the novel The Best Seller by Arunabha Sengupta.

These lines are both collected from the novel and extrapolated from it - additional musings of the author through his alter ego

About Simon

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Amsterdam, Netherlands