Chapter 3: The Corporation, The Real American Idol Part 5
In his book “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work,” philosopher Alain De Botton illustrates how idolatry and non-idolatry both exist in the English company United Biscuits. He describes the development, marketing and manufacturing of “The Moment,” a round chocolate covered biscuit designed to address the yearning of low-income mothers for more “me-time.[i]” (You can see an ad for Premium Indulgance McVitie’s Moments here.)
Without using the word “idolatry” he describes a corporate office where employees are motivated to surrender their lives/time to the ideal of helping the mothers in order to create the product. According to De Botten, “the leaders at the biscuit company harboured no doubt as to which divinity they were worshipping.” Even the investors would “genuflect before pastry.[ii]” There were “no jokes at any biscuits expense.” He goes as far as to “wish a plague on the house of biscuits so its directors might tremble before the right gods.”
It’s easy for an outsider like De Botton to poke fun at the people working in marketing and the corporate office because he hasn’t walked in their shoes. From the inside, it seems very natural, especially when most people around you are doing the same thing.
But after initially opining the triviality and wasted labor going into making a sugary snack, De Botten gets a glimpse of the economic realities that drive a business. He visits the factory in Belgium where the Moment is manufactured. Most of the other factories in the area have been shut down, and unemployment is rampant. The plant manager is extremely dedicated to his job and his employees. Although the company has enjoyed a number of years of profit, it remains vulnerable to a fierce competitor and changing market conditions. A change in the balance sheet could lead its owner, the Blackstone group, to close the factory. Jobs in marketing that are initially viewed as meaningless and trivial, are recast in a new light – a fight for subsistence. A change in manufacturing productivity or a failed marketing campaign could lead to a dramatically lower quality of life for the employees. They live in a world where it is understood that machines will replace people in the relentless drive for cost savings.
Somewhere along the way, a line is crossed between being a professional, dedicated to your job, and surrendering weekends and evenings to the company. Once I realized there was a line, it was easier to regain control of my life.