Hustle Harder: How TV became obsessed with workism stories | American television


Jhe third episode of WeCrashed, Apple TV+’s eight-part series about the precipitous rise and fall of WeWork founders Adam and Rebekah Neumann, gives viewers a little taste of being a startup employee. It’s 2012 and an unnamed employee arrives on her first day; he’s given a key card, an Apple laptop, a reminder that there’s a “Thank God it’s Monday” meeting at 7 p.m., and a mimosa. In one of the show’s most effective montages – largely because it distracts from the two eccentric, delirious founders who take up the vast majority of screen time – we spin through the hedonistic, exhausting life of the unnamed employee at WeWork. Coffee, shot, staff party, sex with a colleague in a pantry. Adam Neumann leads employees in a “we! ” “to work!” call and response. Another knock, another day, pass out, wake up, repeat. Is it night or is it noon? At an office or at a party? It doesn’t matter – she’s at work, c’est la vie.

This philosophy of the so-called “disrupted culture” – the idea that work is life and that the self derives its value from constant work – courses in a number of recent shows set in the 2010s. This is most evident in WeCrashed, based on the Wondery podcast of the same name, in which Neumann literally urges workers to “hustle harder” (also the title of its fifth episode, airing this Friday). Theranos employees in The Dropout, Hulu’s eight-part series about Elizabeth Holmes’ fraudulent blood testing company that was once the darling of Silicon Valley, work through the night, missing birthday parties and dinners children in the name of changing the world. The same goes for Uber’s staff in Super Pumped, Showtime’s series about relentless and now disgraced Uber founder Travis Kalanick, who berates employees for continuing to grow at all costs (and changing the world). Anna Delvey, the scammer at the heart of Netflix’s Inventing Anna, is heartbroken that her notoriety as a “Soho hustler” overshadowed how hard she worked on the business plan that ultimately exposed her; the reporter covering it is so obsessed with the story and its importance to her career that she gets to work in the office.

These shows, which all portray headlining stories of singularly deceitful and messianic people, have been loosely classified as outright scammers, “Bad TV Contractor” or modern grift series in the pipeline of titles on television. Those are all fair descriptors – the four series, which premiered in the space of a month, speak to our ever-green fascination with the art of the scam (see also: recent Netflix docu-series hits The Tinder Swindler and Bad Vegan). But they also construct, piecemeal, the iconography of a certain slice of millennial experience now barely perceptible in rear view. There are the deliberately dated nods to the late 2000s/early 2010s — music (Katy Perry gets a name in both WeCrashed and The Dropout), fashion, fascination with (and mourning de) Steve Jobs. And there is an awkward and incomplete line of “disrupted culture” Where “workism— the quintessentially American quasi-religious belief system among the college-educated elite (myself included) that work is not just work but identity, an arbiter of self-esteem, and a cause to believe in. WeWork was not a company, Adam Neumann sadly said, but a movement.

Hustle culture, like other ideologies, is amorphous. It underpinned the #girlboss, the rise of the influencer, the complete elision between self and online livelihood; there’s no clear beginning or end, but look around and you may see evidence of his demise. There is recent backfire on Kim Kardashian’s advice to businesswomen to “move your fucking ass and work,” praise for the heady and doomed early days of venture capitalist-backed digital media, the so-called great resignation and The era of anti-ambition. These shows appeal to today’s prestige television sensibilities — anti-heroes, timeline jumps, expensive hair and makeup makeovers by famous actors — but they feel distinctly from another era, an era of “rise and turn” slogans. grind”. They may ultimately each focus on a singularly fascinating and repulsive individual and posit uncomfortably that the people who believed them weren’t rubies, but to portray them as portraits of the modern con is an incomplete picture. Together they compose a limited, loose and imperfect mosaic of a belief system that transcends those of Holmes, Kalanick, the Neumanns or Delvey.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Super Pumped. Photography: Showtime

They are also part of a larger evolution of television workism. Showtime’s Billions and HBO’s Industry, two financial industry shows that became modest hits in the late 2010s, are all about watching (hot) people manage their personal lives and morals through the (lucrative) grinder ) of a hyper-competitive, all-work consumer. One of HBO’s most critically acclaimed shows, Succession is about a group of people with no distinction between work, personal life and family. In a buzz New York profile Of Succession star Jeremy Strong, British actor Brian Cox, who plays patriarch Logan Roy, said of Strong’s notoriously intense acting method: “It’s a peculiarly American disease, I think. , this inability to separate while you’re doing the work.” It’s a good summary of the current Apple TV+ hit Severance, in which the characters undergo a brain procedure that literally separates their work and their lives. , as Alison Herman of the Ringer argue, the latest weird entry in the genre of “office weird” shows like Corporate, Better Off Ted or Loki. Call it the culture show hustle’s reverse mystery box – instead of blurring the lines on an 18-hour day, Severance is an extreme allegory of work-life balance that also points to something sinister at corporate headquarters.

Which isn’t to say that the whole hustle culture portrays work as effective critiques or as entertainment worth plunging 8-10 hours into. Inventing Anna, as I wrote previously, is both too gullible towards Anna and yet not interested enough in her. In a bizarre and unrewarding move, Shonda Rhimes, master of the modern workplace soap opera, turned the con man’s story into a newsroom drama in which a fictional reporter, Vivian Kent (loosely based on Jessica Pressler, the New York Magazine writer who reported the Anna Delvey’s definitive feature in 2018) is obsessed with saving her career through Anna’s story. Super Pumped, created by Billions co-creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien, matches Uber founder Travis Kalanick’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) carnivorous business leadership — growth at all costs — with gonzo flourishes (narrated by Quentin Tarantino , breaking the fourth wall) that ultimately underscore his personal importance. The Dropout is by far the best of these shows, the only one that strikes the delicate balance between the thrill of the crook and the devastation of their lies.

Naveen Andrews and Amanda Seyfried in The Dropout
Naveen Andrews and Amanda Seyfried in The Dropout. Photograph: Beth Dubber/AP

WeCrashed, created by Drew Crevello and Lee Eisenberg (writer, producer and director on The Office), has a better understanding of the absurdity of the office setting than you might expect and an irresistibly toxic duo in Rebekah’s Anne Hathaway and Jared Leto’s Adam, but relatively frivolous stakes. Adam seems to convince and succeed by the inexorable rising tide of intrigue; the rating numbers are beaten with too many zeros to feel consistent. Hollywood Reporter’s Angie Han called the “fun but ultimately inessential” series, and I can’t think of a more accurate description.

Part of the appeal and problem with hustle culture shows is that they depict a history that is too recent to be seen clearly and yet too distant, especially as the pandemic has cleaved the timeline. for many viewers, to feel in tune with the times. Still, there’s something unsettling about watching WeCrashed, a series that portrays an idea in an extreme – “Hustle Harder” neon signs and “Do what you love” mugs are the culture of hustle in. its most explicit form – which is hardly outdated. (Full disclosure: In 2019, I worked as a member of the US Guardian at a WeWork office in New York.) Thank God It’s Monday parties and billion-dollar valuations are supposed to sound ridiculous on this show. 2022, and they always have been. The haphazard results of these hustle culture shows reflect a culture that is just beginning to understand this.