I keep coming back to Steven Van Zandt’s character, Frankie Tagliano in the Netflix TV series “Lilyhammer.” His nickname is “The Fixer”. J.J. Abrams TV series “Person of Interest” (CBS Thursdays) also has “a fixer”; an armed and dangerous guardian angel played by Jim Caviezel. These guys are the opposites of what we call managers. Both of them encounter huge public bureaucracies with rules and regulations and they choose to help somebody in trouble by breaking those rules; going around authority. They don’t seek to control or manipulate the situation or keep it calm. They fix it. Okay, and I should add they are very good at cracking heads and are crack shots to boot.
I’ve been a bit obsessed lately with the idea of a “manager” and “management”. I don’t get it. Why manage something? You either fix it or you don’t. Okay, when somebody is feeling blue or just wants to vent, you can listen to them. But that’s called “being present”. You aren’t fixing it; or controlling or manipulating anything as per the dictionary definition of “managing”. You listen and you let them breathe.
A business manager is said to manage your money. Does she tell it to behave when it gets out of line? Don’t you just need an accountant? She counts your money and accounts for the fact you have some and gives it to people who say you owe them some.
There is a team manager and a coach. The coach decides how the players will win the game. What does the team manager do? Make sure the team has equipment and a place to practice. In small towns, the coach does it all and tries to find a kid that wants to be part of the team to help him carry the equipment and make sure it doesn’t get lost. But the players could take care of their own towels, bats, and uniforms.
A theatrical manager actually was the producer of the plays. So that term is what is used now in theater and film. The producer makes it happen. She’s a fixer. A stage manager is hired to make sure the sets and lights don’t fall on top of the actors and that the play starts on time. Then they call the show. They literally turn the lights so the actors can bring the story to life. In film they are called assistant directors. Director is the better term. It’s…direct.
Sometime after World War II, there came about the elevation to power of somebody called the middle manager. It was part of what some called managerialism” or “The Management Revolution”. Ha. Ha. Again the use of the word “revolution” to imply some sort of great change you can believe in. It implied something strong and brave; rebels with a cause. And now you could get degrees in managing and administrating other people. But workers could tell that rather than a help, it often hindered ideas and innovation as it separated the owner of the company from the workers on the floor; the boss from the researchers; the shareholders from the CEO. The administrator separated the parents from the teachers. Communication could get all screwed up. And eventually some sort of “management speak” arose. Dull meaningless phrases strung together in sentences with no verbs were taught to bored and future boring power point presenters. Bullet points replaced flow of prose. Orwell called this kind of language “anesthetic”. Yup, put you to right to sleep.
Political writer and intellectual Paul Street in regards to the economic crisis, writes, “Compared to the corporate and Wall Street elite, “professionals and managers, no matter how annoying, were [shown to be] pikers. The doctor or school principal might be overbearing, the professor and the social worker might be condescending, but only the 1 percent took your house away.”
So “managers” can be “annoying”, “overbearing”, and “condescending”. But they are not the villains or the fixers. The villains in our society today are the looters and their lackeys, the 1%, who do control our social system. But we have virtually no fixers to help the 99% escape their grasp. So we are all caught up in a big old pile of poop with a bunch of politicians and media bloviators yapping at us to clean ourselves up and get back to work. You know, that personal responsibility weasel idea. But they are just managers. They are trying to control our lives without doing anything to fix them. They are annoying for sure and heap on a us a lot of condescension, but they aren’t fixing anything. You can’t fix what’s wrong right now without going after the looters. And you can’t do much because of what professor Colin Ward calls “the dreary polarity between public bureaucracy on the one hand and private profit on the other”.
Anthropologist David Graeber has a suggestion. He says that we should come together in our communities with strong and often opposing convictions and then try to find a way to solve the problem not to convince the other side that they are wrong. Wow, what a simple but profound concept. We can reinvent something different than the strangulation and oppressive wrongs of both so called free market capitalism and managerial socialism. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for a synthesis between the capitalist system that forgot the “we” and the socialist system that forgot the “me”. It should happen locally, voluntarily, temporarily, and with an eye to getting the job done.
Where are the fixers? Who will let us breathe? Ah, it is us.
Paul Street in “Two Bubbles That Went Pop”
Colin Ward in “Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction”
David Graeber in “Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology”
and from Neuroanthropology blog “David Graeber: Anthropologist, anarchist, financial analyst.”
Don Watson’s “Death Sentences: How Cliches, Weasel Words, and Management-Speak are Strangling Public Language.