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Off Topic: Severance and The Crowd – back in 1928 it was already clear that work is weird

I’ve spent the long bank holiday weekend being drawn into Severance, the Apple TV show about a group of people working in a very strange office. It’s a beautiful thing, and I don’t want to spoil it. What I can tell you, if you haven’t seen it, is that it picks ceaselessly at the idea of work – of what work does to us, what work makes us do to ourselves. It’s a series about the contortions that work encourages on our personalities.

While these issues feel uniquely topical, I guess they have been around as long as work has – which, for the case of office work, with its water coolers and break rooms, its who-moved-my-cheese?, isn’t really that long at all. I’ve quoted the Hart Crane poem about elevators dropping us from our days too often on Eurogamer for it to have its original force, but anyway, that poem was written in 1930, and it feels like it was an attempt in part to grapple with the way that a lot of people the poet knew were suddenly living – commuting each day to an office, finding their floor, their desk, and engaging with something that was relatively new.

And already strange. Severance argues that office work is bizarre – unnatural is the unspoken verdict I think – but if you go back to 1928 and The Crowd, a wonderful, soaring silent movie by King Vidor, you see much the same point made in a dramatic sequence that, once seen, is hard to put out of mind.

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