Friday, July 21, 2006

Rooting for the bad boss

The other night a few of my coworkers and I went out to have a few drinks and see the movie "The Devil Wears Prada," which is an adaptation of Lauren Weisberger's tell-all book about working at Vogue under Anna Wintour. As my 1.3 regular readers are no doubt aware, I have worked for numerous certifiably insane, Michael Scott-like women bosses. So I was prepared to loathe Meryl Streep's Wintour-with-a-shot-of-Martha-Stewart character, Miranda Priestly.

But my reaction to her was a bit of a shock. I actually found myself rooting for her.

Maybe it's just that Meryl Streep is such a completely amazing actress, but I thought she brought quite a bit of humanity to what could have been a one-note role. Naturally I'd be mortified if the first thing my boss did when she came in the door was throw her purse and coat on my desk. Or if she referred to me as a "fat girl." (Particularly if I was a size six!) But what I think a lot of women will find compelling about Streep's Miranda is that, lacking in interpersonal skills though she may be, no one in her company questions that she's the one in charge. And she cuts through the office bullshit and gets stuff done. Personally I admire anyone who can pull that off--particularly a woman in an ultra-high-stress job.

I guess the difference between the Miranda character and the nightmare women bosses of my old jobs is that Miranda actually knows something about her job and her industry. She knows everything about them, and she's not afraid to use that knowledge to further her agenda. Whereas the marketing director at The Management Consulting Firm that Must Not Be Named was clueless about pretty much everything, up to and including the fact that everybody in the place laughed at her behind her back. Her total inability to grasp the rules of professional etiquette never ceased to amaze. For months after I left that job, I would have a low-level PTSD reaction every time I thought about it, complete with thumping heart and sweaty palms.

But even so, when Anne Hathaway's put-upon assistant character in "Devil" abruptly chucks the job she's been killing herself to succeed at, it seemed to me like a cop-out. She doesn't want to devote her whole life to her job (who does?) so, just when she's on the cusp of real success (read: WAY more money, more trips to Paris, additional piles of designer clothing, etc.) she quits outright. To spend more time with her boyfriend, who vaguely resembles a Hobbit, and with whom she's already broken up. Does this decision ring true to anybody? If you were 22 years old with no commitments, wouldn't you stick around to bear the fruits of that success for a little while longer, before leaving to take the principled-but-lousy-paying journalism job?

Then again maybe I had this reaction because I know all too well how thankless the journalism martyr route can be. You think you're going to save the world, but what you are actually going to do is write about the local planning board for the princely sum of $24,000 a year, eat nothing but frozen Weight Watchers entrees (which you must buy on sale in bulk) and go into the office on Christmas Eve to listen to the police scanner in case there's a fire or a horrible car accident somewhere. That used to be me.

So if I was Hathaway's Andy, I would have totally taken the Valentino and the Jimmy Choos and stuck it out with Miranda, at least for a little while longer.


Alison Rose said...

Part of the problem with the ending is that in the book, Andy's reasons for chucking the job and heading home make a lot more sense than in the movie (I won't spoil it if you want to read the book, which is well worth the time). That's probably the key difference between the book and the movie: Miranda is more human in the movie, while Andy's motivations make much more sense in the book. All around though, an excellent experience in either medium.

I agree with you, though, that my absolute worst bosses (and I've had my share) weren't like Miranda--they weren't likable AND they didn't really know their jobs or garner much respect. Miranda, as you say, at least gets her job done.

Carmen said...

You gave away the ending!