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Escaping Amazon.cult


Mike Daisey's 21 Dog Years


by Ken Mondschein



To hear Mike Daisey describe it, working for is like being a member of a cult, with Jeff Bezos playing the part of the all-knowing shepherd. Never mind those false doctrines such as "profitability" that the heathen believe in—to be an Amazon employee is to be kept in a permanent state of disorientation, working selflessly under the mantle of Jeff for the greater good of all, with rewards for the patient faithful (called "stock options") always just around the corner. One leaves "21 Dog Years," Daisey's one-man off-Broadway show, surprised that they didn't pass out poisoned applesauce once the NASDAQ took a dive.

The not-dead-yet French philosopher Jean Baudrillard spoke of the faux reality that is gradually replacing any sort of real and meaningful experience that we might have, and the imagined community that our employers foist upon us is an example of this—it's no longer enough to work for a wage; we are expected to believe in "missions" and "visions.", darling of the New Economy with its doctrine of founder-as-Messiah and company-as-Church, is on the forefront of this. And, as Daisey makes abundantly clear, your time isn't enough: they want your soul. I never knew was so much like Scientology.

What's frightening is that not a word of it seems to be hyperbole. It is, after all, the same bullshit we all go through every day—and that's what makes Mike Daisey's riff on his two years as an Amazon acolyte so accessible to everyone.

Daisey graduated a small-but-prestigious college with a BA in Aesthetics and a minor in medieval studies, which is a fast track to an exciting career in Seattle's other growth industry, "slacking." Alas, slacking does not come with many benefits, and so, seeking that which is treasured by all Americans—dental insurance—he began his Ulysses-like descent into virtual reality in the dim recesses of Amazon's customer-support department. There, Daisey became one of the psychic heat sinks who absorb Americans' innate frustration with such uncontrollable natural forces as United Parcel Service.

Making customers the most satisfied people on Earth may be the Primary Mission Objective, but such satisfaction is ideally provided, McDonald's-style, in 12 seconds flat. Amazon clearly made a mistake in hiring weird and creative people like Mike Daisey; what they really wanted were Amsterdam hookers. The bizarre combination of Protestant work ethic and New Age concentration camp made Customer Support home to such Big Brother practices as "metric ratings," an all-important work-efficiency score that, once you strip away the doublespeak, basically determines who gets shit-canned and who doesn't. Apparently, the key to a high metric score is remaking yourself into some sort of customer-pleasing industrial robot. Luckily, Daisey was able to h4xx0r the system by merely hanging up on callers, thus astronomically improving his scores.

Such underhanded stratagems finally enabled him to make his escape to the hallowed halls and exposed ductwork of Business Development, where packs of dogs ran wild and free through the offices ("Jeff likes dogs") and his job duties consisted of playing Tetris and watching his co-workers' stock options accumulate. Eventually, inevitably, he went completely insane, fled to Spain, and rediscovered that yes, there are other ways of living besides in fast-forward.

The best joke is always a simple restatement of the truth, and Daisey's 222-page memior 21 Dog Years and the stage show are both a riot. Sometimes, the blond, "husky" Daisey seems to be channeling Chris Farley; other times, it's more like he's possessed with the spirit of Lenny Bruce's brutal honesty. It doesn't matter if you work in the dotconomy or not: "21 Dog Years" is a song for Everyman in Cubicle Land, a Piers Plowman for the Information Age. And, much like the front cover of Highlights, it's fun with a purpose: As our very own false prophet, Daisey tells us that we can, indeed escape our prefabricated prisons. (Unfortunately, not all of us can pay the rent doing one-man off-Broadway plays, but it would be nice, wouldn't it?)

"21 Dog Years" is playing at the Cherry Lane Theater in the West Village in New York City, but if you can't make it out there, click here to participate in some postmodern irony and buy the book from


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Posted June 30, 2002 4:40 PM






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