Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Workplace injury on TV: Reaaally mad men

You don’t often see occupational injuries represented on TV shows. I’m currently watching Mad Men and last week we ran across this clip. The context is that the advertising firm landed a John Deere contract and it came with a lawn tractor. Subsequently, there was an office party.

I don’t want to make too much of this (since it is one TV show and the scene was designed for comedic value), but a bit of analysis is worthwhile.

First, the proximate cause is the secretary drinking and driving. The root cause was (1) an unsecured lawn mower in the office and (2) the availability of booze in the workplace. Later episodes show us that neither the person who brought the mower into the office nor the fellow who first started driving it were disciplined. As far as I know (two episodes on) the secretary has disappeared (and I presume been fired). And there has been no let-up in the workplace boozing!

Interesting how it is a woman who loses control of the mower (my wife cried “sexist”). I’m inclined to think she is right, particularly given the role of women in the series. Perhaps the choice of driver reflects that it had to be a bit character whose disappearance wouldn’t affect any plot lines. But that too tells us something about the role of women in this particular production (in the minority and, for the most part, in the plot periphery).

The victim (a new manager from the UK) elicited little sympathy (in addition to the joke above, his UK colleagues were aghast that he would “never golf again”). Again, as a one-off comedy bit, we shouldn’t read too much into this. Yet the victim was portrayed as somewhat deserving his fate (he was a real twit) and, now injured, is of little use to his company. It is interesting how these kinds of narratives (that swirl around workplace injury) find expression even in TV shows out to get a cheap laugh.

-- Bob Barnetson

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