Social Ties and Moral Values
- Pages: 9
- Word count: 2179
- Category: Postmodernism
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Depicting the workplace as a petri dish for greed and tyranny, both Mamet, in Glengarry Glen Ross, and Prebble, in Enron, culture a strain of toxic masculinity that grows out of control, eventually contaminating social bonds and moral values. Glengarry Glen Ross presents salesmen that are not only pit against each other, but are also pit against themselves. As they navigate positions within the company, they also navigate their own masculinity and self-worth, “selling” a piece of themselves in the struggle for identity. Likewise, Prebble explores the competitive machismo of Enron’s operations through Skilling and Fastow, who both shower themselves in masculine superiority. There is a transition in both texts: a fundamentalist community bound by restrictions turns postmodern, which deconstructs previous ideologies, breaking down social centers as well as the margins between gender. In order to analyze the discourse of gender, Mamet and Prebble look through the lens of postmodernism to reveal the new possibilities of previously marginalized groups, such as men who fall short of traditionalistic masculinity. Both texts promote postmodernism to combat the impersonal and faceless bureaucracies that rule through empty promises of freedom and prosperity. In Glengarry Glen Ross, postmodernism is carried through the breakdown of authority, as Blake and Mitch and Murray’s control is compromised by salesmen storming the fundamentalist boundaries set for them. In contrast, Enron showcases an uprising of authority in Skilling’s implementation of postmodern governance. In both cases, the transition is twofold: it violates traditionalist governing, yet also satirizes postmodernism as it surfaces from fundamental structure, and eats away at it. Through the use of Christian symbolism and terror, Mamet and Prebble satirize the traditionalist depiction of masculinity, deconstructing gender roles through a breach in postmodernism that not only challenges masculinity, but also exposes femininity as a source of power and control.
Since female roles are scarce in both Glengarry Glen Ross and Enron, many argue that masculine superiority is the force that contributes to the downfall of business and social environments. This is true; for example, Prebble evidences this in the first time Skilling is mentioned: he slights Roe, jibing at her appearance in Vogue, even after she states it was Forbes. In the next scene, Skilling asserts that “every extraordinary thing that’s ever happened was conceived by a man alone” (Prebble 26). Fastow, too, is characterized with male bravado and recklessness, as he constructs LJM as the solution for the company’s debt, introducing it as “Fuck it. Two guys in a room. You want my help?” (66). Even the traders find others’ misfortunes “hilarious” (37) and, when playing with the deregulated energy market in California, suggest to “rape this motherfucker” (107). Moments like these of hyper-aggression reflect masculinity, where ending a day with profit is “filled with testosterone and joy” and closing a deal is “primal…the closest thing to hunting…to sex. For a man, that is” (41). The same kind of reductive suggestions are made in Glengarry Glen Ross, such as the need for “brass balls” in order to succeed (Glengarry Glen Ross). But, the role of femininity is often overlooked. Concealed under the obvious masculine domination, the possession of femininity strikes characters with either fortune or misfortune, depending on how they use it. Succumbing to femininity or, inversely, taking advantage of it foretells the success of a character, even if they possess masculine traits or not.
Firstly, there is a breakdown of community within Glengarry Glen Ross and Enron that enables gender fluidity. One must understand fundamentalism as a larger community seeking to maintain a cohesive identity, an effort which collapses upon itself. Mamet and Prebble see the breakdown of community as the pejoratives of business conflicting instincts of communion in friendship or love. In Glengarry Glen Ross, the community of salesmen represents a “communion” that crumbles under “business.” Blake, an agent of authority, creates the limitations to the community which weaken as the men constantly look to move outside the boundaries, through loopholes and into other communities, like that of Jerry Graff. The community of Enron also weakens from Skilling, another agent of authority, who proposes less structure and regulation and more freedom to innovate. This new system inspires unhealthy levels of risk-taking that only pushes the community into ethically blurred territory. In both texts, the single character that defines the community, either Blake or Skilling, also serves as the catalyst for the destruction of the community.
In Glengarry Glen Ross, Mamet sheds light on the paradoxes of the fundamentalism of the workplace by using Christianity as a means of negotiating one of the most traditional depictions of masculinity: the figure of Jesus. Blake simultaneously represents Jesus and, therefore, the ideal figure of masculinity: a calm, confident, unrelenting man. Like Jesus, Blake establishes a new order among the salesmen, arriving in a red BMW representative of Jesus’ blood, the catalyst in the new biblical order (Glengarry Glen Ross). This car is a “vehicle” for the new covenant between Blake and the salesmen. Additionally, Blake threatens “I’m here from downtown. I’m here from Mitch and Murray, and I’m here on a mission of mercy.” As he continues his “mission,” Blake creates a system similar to fundamentalism, posing as the patriarchal figure that the salesmen aspire to be. Blake’s reward versus punishment system is synonymous to Heaven versus Hell. The Cadillac El Dorado, named after a golden town, represents Heaven, while firing represents Hell. Mamet adds satire to Blake’s rule, as he is sent from the “God” Mitch and Murray, yet institutes wrath rather than love. For example, Moss states “Sell $10,000, you win a Cadillac, you lose, we’re gonna fire your ass; it’s Medieval, its wrong, and you know who’s responsible? It’s Mitch and Murray, ‘cause it don’t have to be this way.” Here, Moss questions Blake’s fundamentalist order: why would God send Jesus to create a system that debilitates man? Mamet satirizes Jesus as not a messenger of God, but rather a pawn in a cruel game.
As a savior, Blake propels fundamentalist ideals that are akin to Christianity’s evangelism towards salvation. Mamet satirizes evangelism, expressing it as mere lip-service in connecting faith to success. Blake’s system revolves around the fundamentalist idea that humans attain salvation not through good deeds, but rather through belief in Jesus. But when Christianity involves the act of evangelizing in order to achieve salvation, or success, a discrepancy becomes evident. Blake shows this discrepancy in his tirade: “You see this watch?…[It] costs more than your car. I made $970,000 last year…That’s who I am, and you’re nothing. Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you—go home and play with your kids. You want to work here-CLOSE!” Here, Blake rebukes the salesmen’s good deeds, yet demands them to be successful. Mamet uses this irony as a satirical approach to fundamentalism, where a Christ-like figure does not care about commitments to family or compassion, yet still demands positive results.
Prebble also casts Skilling as “messiah-like” within a “religious cult” (Prebble 78). Claiming to be on the “side of the angels,” Skilling depicts another corrupt Christ-like figure, who in the end, “crucifies himself before the market” as Enron’s stock price falls (126). Through Skilling’s demise, Prebble parodies the collapse of belief in Christ by having it mirror the collapse of the markets. Even in an orange jumpsuit, Skilling echoes the Bible in pointing at the Dow Jones Index, calling out “Greed…Fear, Joy, Faith, Hope” as a final blow at the worthlessness of mere belief.
Furthermore, social bonds and relationships are compromised by terror, or more fundamentally, fear of death. This fear of death permeates both texts, and severs any social bond between workers, representing a “death” of morality. Mamet focuses on exposure as a “death,” as each salesman is essentially trying to protect himself against exposing his masculine inadequacy. Each salesman finds himself in a paradox of attempting to embody Blake, but at the same time resenting his ideal figure of masculinity. In this sense, Blake, much like the social force of capitalism, becomes an agent of “terror.” The salesmen embody this terror in many scenes, such as Moss’ conversation with Aaronow: “Mitch and Murray, fuck you..I’ll tell you what the hard part is: starting up…Breaking free of this bullshit, this enslavement to some guy” (Glengarry Glen Ross). Though Moss appears to strike a rebellion, he also comprehends that he is helpless, unable to break free from the autocratic workplace that terrorizes him. The real force behind the workplace is its power to make its ‘followers,’ like that of fundamentalist religion, internalize their role within it, treating it as a synecdoche for faith and consequently, self-value. Levene, like the other men, conforms his identity within the chains of fundamentalist ideology, putting his own self-value in the hands of the ‘enslavement’ of the workplace– ‘You do not know your job. Do you know that? A man is his job.”
The difference between Roma and the others is that they see themselves as one with the corporate system, while Roma sees himself without the referent of the workplace. To stress this difference, Mamet makes Roma the only character successful in sales, and purposely makes him absent from Blake’s tirade. He alone has the power to develop his own system, granting him the only true consenting role of the entire film. Roma is not implicated in the structure of fundamentalism, as he is able to explore the limitless range of postmodernism in order to work out a system of his own, free from the confines of terror, fear, and ‘death.’ In talking with Lingk, Roma reflects, “The great fucks you may have had, what do you remember about them? I don’t know. For me, I’m saying what is it, it’s probably not the orgasm….What I’m saying, what is our life? Our life is looking forward or its looking back. That’s it. That’s our life. Where’s the moment? And what is it we’re so afraid of? Loss. What else?” For Roma, the act of questioning is acceptable. He is able to separate himself from the workplace without terror or identity crisis. In this way, Roma is able to deconstruct masculinity and redefine it, adding femininity in order to succeed. Through Roma’s smooth-talking confidence, Mamet points at the flaws of needing “brass balls” to conduct business, as Roma masculinizes Lingk, letting him put his arm around the booth like the man on a date. Through femininity, Roma seduces Lingk into the sale.
Roma is not the only character that reaps the benefits of taking advantage of femininity. Claudia Roe, in Enron, takes advantage of her femininity to emasculate others, such as Skilling, and to empower herself in the face of adversity. After an affair with Skilling, Roe derides Skilling as a “high-school girl” and, assuming a femme fatale role, she embodies a masculinist portrayal to sexual conquest (Prebble 27). After being defeated by Skilling for president, Roe faces gradual marginalization in her company. Prebble taps into Roe’s femininity as a way of combating the discrimination she faces. As Roe is forced out of the company, she asserts that she is “going to go home, to [her] beautiful children. And [she’s] going to sell every single one of [her] shares” (95). Prebble thematizes Roe’s success through motherhood, as Roe defends the power plants and corporate integrity. In the end, Roe is the only one who saved herself from the collapse of Enron.
Conversely, Mamet and Prebble also employ femininity as a shortcoming in characters who succumb to femininity as a last resort to proving their worth. Lingk lacks a masculine impetus throughout the text and cannot make decisions without his wife’s approval. Mamet shapes Lingk as a yielder male in the business world who falls victim to his wife’s overbearing masculinity. When Lingk explains that he does not have “the power to negotiate,” Mamet gives him a womanly quality of submissiveness (Glengarry Glen Ross). Additionally, Aaronow also succumbs to femininity through conscientiousness, which is treated as a feminine value. Avoiding lies like Roma’s or cheating like Moss, Aaronow uses femininity as a shield for his self-image, which only defeats him in the end. Levene, in the same way, finds his masculinity reduced to motivations revolving around the women in his life. In stealing for the sake of his daughter, Levene experiences the final blow to his manhood, and consequently gets fired for it.
Mamet and Prebble use satire to deconstruct the fundamentalist depiction of masculinity, breaking it down through a postmodern approach at gender stereotypes that challenges masculinity and empowers femininity. The competition between characters in the male-run system of capitalism drives them to lie, scheme, and steal in an effort to achieve success. In the end, all efforts are lost in a rigged game where there is no winner besides the system itself. The film and Enron show a response to fundamentalism, in comparing Christianity to blind faith that does not lead to success. Instead, the only way to achieve success is through a breach in postmodernism, where masculinity can be restrained and femininity set free.