Brand building through storytelling

The year we all were Up in the Air

I do my best to steer clear of movies so new and hot, you have to line up for the worst seat in the house, but I made an exception forUp in the Air, starring George Clooney as a corporate hit man who flies all over the country firing people with cheerful sang-froid. Although I’ve never lost a job myself, I’ll remember 2009 as the year I lost count of all the notes I sent to friends and colleagues who’d been booted out of theirs. Some had spent decades building revenues for companies that sent them packing; others had only just invested their talents, ambitions and hopes in what looked to be the job of a lifetime. One told me, “This has been the worst week of my life.”

I count myself lucky to have spent my entire corporate career in the now-vanished era when meeting your targets pretty much guaranteed your paycheque and surpassing them made you indispensable. I miss the reassuring ground rules that served me so well. I like to think that by my seventh decade, I’ve learned a thing or two about finding—and keeping—a place in the world. But it seems I was mistaken. In my friends’ shattered expectations, I’ve had to confront my own cluelessness—that most modern of mental states and the real subject of Up in the Air.Up In The Air MovieClooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, thinks he’s literally risen above the mess and muddle of the workaday world. His notion of home is a broad leather seat in first class; his only goal, 10 million frequent flyer miles. His community consists of the check-in clerks who greet him by name, a perk reserved for loyal customers like him. Oh, the irony! Trampling on loyalty is Ryan’s profession. As one of his dismayed victims puts it, “This is what I get for 30 years at this company?”

Ryan has managed to reach mid-life with no significant attachments and a boyish enthusiasm for washroom sex at 30,000 feet—what Erica Jong called “zipless fucks.” Then he meets a woman who outplays him at his own game. Who boldly declares, “I’m you with a vagina.” Who, much to his astonishment, wins his chronically elusive heart. And then…well, see for yourself. Let’s just say that Ryan ends up stripped of his illusions and belatedly cast out into the turmoil known as adulthood. Like the people he’s dispatched with a slim and shiny folder that supposedly will answer all their questions, he is forced to acknowledge how shockingly little he knows. But his victims, for the most part, have an edge on Ryan. Somebody loves them. Ryan is alone, heading off somewhere in yet another first-class cabin. Open at last to the dangers of attachment, but unsure when or whether he’ll arrive.

Up in the Air may not be the best movie I’ve seen this year—it’s a little too neatly engineered for that—but it’s certainly the one that best captures the tenor of these anxious and disorienting times. Days later, it’s still on my mind. Like so many children of the prosperous 50s and 60s, I was schooled in the myth of human life as a march of progress. Just as our distant ancestors evolved from  illiterate cave dwellers to owners of broadloomed bungalows and explorers of space, so we would grow ever smarter, richer and more privileged over time. It hasn’t worked out that way. We’re none of us sure what lies ahead, but at least we have a bond in our befuddlement.

Click here to read my previous post “I’ve never been fired. How quaint.” 

Posted by Rona

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