All I wanna do this pandemic summer is organize for socialism, give vaccinated hugs, and watch TV — join me!
It’s been over three weeks since I last posted here. I know because I give myself hell for failing to meet the every-other-week schedule I’ve established. “You’re screwing up, Tara!” I tell myself. “What’s your excuse? It’s not like your average day is any different than it was six months ago.” Eventually my kinder inner voice chimes in, the one who’d tell a friend they’re being too hard on themself. “You’re probably reeling from the cumulative insanity of the entire pandemic. Also, you do tons of stuff! You probably do ten times more in a day than Elon Musk does in a month. Do you think that douche gives himself a hard time about productivity?”
I don’t know how I maintained that writing schedule for the first year of the pandemic. Now I can’t. I feel lazy. But my idea of lazy is based on very high standards for myself. I’ve no doubt that rich, powerful men reward themselves for way less. Sometimes I envy the thing they’ve got that I don’t have, which I call Button Classic Mentality.
Button Classic Mentality is based on a joke from the “30 Rock” season two episode, “Succession,” in which General Electric/NBC exec Jack Donaghy learns his boss Don Geiss has chosen him as the company’s next CEO. Jack in turn selects TV writer Liz Lemon to replace himself as Head of East Coast Television and Microwave Programming. At first Liz recoils at the thought of being an exec but quickly changes her mind when Jack tells her how much it pays.
The next day Liz attends a work lunch with Jack and his peers. After a few drinks they get down to business — discussing plans for a new type of microwave start button. Jack says they’ve spent four years and $10 million on this project and need to make a decision. When Liz drunkenly comments, “I kind of like the old button,” Jack says, “Button classic — I love it.” In the background you hear the other execs make comments like “It’s hip and homey,” and “That’s fantastic.” One of the suits — a tipsy guy named Jorgenson — raises his glass for a toast and says, “Oh my god, guys, we’re crushing it!”
I love this scene and frequently recall it when I think about talentless men failing upward. The key for them is to pretend an idea like “Button Classic” is a revolutionary concept instead of an admission of failure. Jack tells Liz, “Your first executive decision and you’ve already saved this company $2 million in future R and D.” Again, Liz hasn’t presented a new idea. If anything, she’s made it clear that the entire project was a colossal waste of money. The only thing she’s saved them is continued failure, but Jack instinctively spins this as a bold new plan. When she meets Don Geiss a couple hours later, he says, “Aren’t you the gal who pioneered the Button Classic campaign?” With one little drunken observation, Liz has now positioned herself as a bright young exec who’s already being celebrated as a victor. And for that tiny contribution, she makes a fortune compared to what she’d been getting paid, toiling night and day on her variety show.
I also love how quickly Liz aligns with her new role, even though she doubts herself at first. When Jack touts Button Classic she whispers to him, “But what if I’m wrong?” He tells her, “There is no wrong. Lemon, you just have to find subordinate you can push the blame onto. That’s why I love Jorgenson here.” Soon she’s getting even more plastered and making lewd jokes with the boys. Later, when Geiss goes into a diabetic coma after she forgets to bring him dessert, she immediately blames Jorgenson for the error. Anyone who ever assumed Liz Lemon was supposed to be a feminist role model should take a closer look at episodes like this. Liz may be a role model, but only for a type of self-serving, elite, white feminism that’s pretty ugly at its core. She knows in her heart that Button Classic is bullshit, but she’s happy to roll with it as long as it rakes in the cash and praise. And she adapts to the Machiavellian power structure in no time. This is why she and Jack get along so well despite their seemingly disparate political beliefs.
Of course I don’t want to be a bullshitter like the execs in this episode. I don’t want to give myself credit for non-accomplishments or earn ridiculous amounts of money for spinning false victories into some bloated personal mythology. Rather it’s a healthy reminder that I accomplish more in a lazy day than these sort of people do in a whole week. So when I tell myself I “didn’t get anything done today” because I didn’t tinker with an essay, I think about those Button Classic geniuses and remember that, at minimum, I prepared meals for my family, washed a bunch of dishes, walked the dog, meditated, wrote three pages in my journal, and took a long walk, just like I do every day. I don’t get paid for any of that stuff. But if people got paid for what they do instead of how they talk, I’d be the rich guy and Elon Musk would be shopping the sales rack.