THE LAST GREAT ACT OF DEFIANCE – A BRIEF HISTORY OF WORKPLACE HUMOUR

It sure is!

The history and folklore of the workplace is long and often unhappy, as the crude cartoon above strongly suggests. But one aspect of working life that has remained constant is the need to laugh off the impositions and aggravations of earning a crust. From the inanities of the ‘system’ to the bastardries of ‘the boss’, workplace humourists have always found ways to lighten things up – though not in ways necessarily appreciated by the management.
Since the industrial revolution delivered the typewriter we have found creative ways to satirise, criticize and take the piss out of work through fake forms, satirical memos, cartoons and a host of other send ups that have brought a smile to the harried faces of employees everywhere.
This form of covert humour was well developed by World War 1, and continued to evolve. When photocopier or Xerox technology came into general use from the 1950s this way of getting back at the boss exploded with the ability to quickly and surreptitiously make as many copies as required for distribution to fellow sufferers and posting on tea room notice boards. The facsimile machine, or ‘fax’ that came towards the end of the 20th century allowed you to send these mirthful missives far and wide. ‘The Problem-Solving Flow Chart ‘was a firm favourite (and still is in one form or another):

Then, as now, stress was a feature of the workplace:


The development of the World Wide Web from the late 20th century into the present has opened up vast new possibilities for creating, recreating and distributing items like this:

Or maybe this one:

This kind of humour is perhaps best understood as laughter that bites – usually to the discomfort of someone else. It operates through transgression, satire, parody, even cruelty. It is the voice, pen or computer of the workaday underdog biting back at the system that controls many waking hours. Most of us have to work for a living, but we don’t have to like it!

 And finally, in a modern take on Aesop, proof positive of what you long suspected:


When God made man all the parts of the body argued over who would be the BOSS.
The BRAIN explained that since he controlled all the parts of the body, he should be the BOSS.
The LEGS argued that since they took the body wherever it wanted to go, they should be the BOSS.
The STOMACH countered with the explanation that since it digested all the food, it should be BOSS.
The EYES said that without them, the body would be helpless, so they should be BOSS.
Then the ARSEHOLE applied for the job.
Then other parts of the body laughed so hard that the arsehole got mad and closed up.
After a few days the BRAIN went foggy, the LEGS got wobbly, the STOMACH got ill and the EYES got crossed and unable to see.
They all conceded defeat and made the ARSEHOLE the BOSS.
This proves that you don’t have to be a brain to be a BOSS …
JUST AN ARSEHOLE.

One response

  1. Pingback: LETTER TO THE USA « GRISTLY HISTORY

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