April 12, 2007

The Devil Wears Prada

One of my earliest jobs when I moved here to the big city was in the rarified world of contemporary art. And, in my career since, I have had a number of devil-bosses. So the film "The Devil Wears Prada," was tremendously enjoyable and hysterically familiar.

However, the filmmakers have taken pains to demonstrate how competent boss-from-hell, Miranda Priestley, is. She is shown at an editorial meeting, gala events, working late hours on her computer, and nightly reviewing her upcoming magazine at home. She is blunt, arrogant, opinionated and imposing, but she is unmistakably competent. This is surely a Hollywood conceit, because my devil-bosses have been, to a one, astonishingly incompetent. If they have shown genius, it is at deflecting responsibility, claiming credit for ideas and projects that they attempted to undermine, and unabashed cluelessness.

Miranda's coat-tossing is imperious, but it's also a shorthand for "I'm here. Let's get to work and make fashion news happen." I knew a coat-tosser in the art world (really), but it was all about making an entrance. The only message was, "I'm here. One of you little people, fetch me some coffee." Later, my boss' boss, the actual real-life model for Martha in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, only deigned to come to meetings if food was being served, and then only if she was able to choose the restaurant. Six or seven people participated in this charade monthly; the real meetings took place informally without her. The boss-from-hell's presence inspires stifled sniggers more than creative ideas.

Miranda Priestley knows what is going on in her organization and in her field. Although she doesn't engage in small talk or traffic in personal confidences, she KNOWS what everyone is doing. In fact, her proteges are quite loyal to her. At the finale of the film, Miranda makes an unsolicited phone call to recommend the hapless heroine for a new job. Now that is real movie magic. The devil-bosses I have worked for do not know what their co-workers and subordinates do, nor do they care.

We regularly kept our boss busy for weeks criticizing the copy for donor solicitation letters through drafts 6, 15, 20 . . . draft 3 had gone to the printer and into the mail, weeks ago, on schedule. Once fearing the worst, I asked a friend to phone a former boss to ask for reference for me. He told her that he remembered my name, but could not remember what job I had had with the organization. (I had left about two months before.)

Supervisors are unlikely to attend charm school any time soon. However, a wonderful boss I had early on once told me, "When you have a good boss, you learn about yourself: when you have a bad boss, you learn about other people." Though I would not relish having Miranda Priestly for a boss, the employees of fictional RUNWAY magazine are on their best game in both fashion and people skills.

Everyone loves a devil-boss horror story. Click here.

1 comment:

Janet said...

"We regularly kept our boss busy for weeks criticizing the copy for donor solicitation letters through drafts 6, 15, 20 . . . draft 3 had gone to the printer and into the mail, weeks ago, on schedule."

Lydia -- this passage in your blog cracks me up. I had a she-devil boss once and we entertained ourselves sending her multiple drafts of letters, brochures and anything else we had to write. She absolutely LOVED rewriting copy anybody else wrote. To top it off, she was an accountant. We were writers. One co-worker had a Ph.D. in English and was (probably still is) as polished a writer as I've ever seen. It made no difference to she-devil. We'd send whatever we thought was best to the printer and she would never, ever be able to tell.

We used to say she had a black hole where her heart belonged. Vile woman. Bad bosses make the good ones seem glorious.