February 5, 2014
Parodies are tricky things. In trying to make fun of some known event, movie or activity they typically walk a fine line between brilliant/insightful and insipid/repellent. For example, Young Frankenstein is a hilarious take off on the classic Universal horror movies of the 30’s and 40’s, those Scary Movie movies and their sophomoric attempts to satirize horror flicks, not so much. Conceiving and crafting something that falls in the former category is infinitely more difficult than doing the latter, but this has never been a deterrent to those who fancy themselves to be a little smarter than the rest of us. The latest example of this dichotomy between stupid and clever that is now making the rounds is a You Tube video, and those emails like the one I got advising me that I just had to “watch this”, that attempts to poke fun at that staple of business life, the conference call.
The beauty of a good parody is that it takes something familiar, and by tweaking it slightly, or taking it to an extreme, demonstrates the absurdity of the guidelines or rules that we use to define something. Blazing Saddles’ use of Nazi’s and Klansmen as part of the gang of bad guys rounded up to lay siege to the town of Rockridge illustrates this point, but since we all deal with things like this virtual mode of self abuse that is the conference call on daily basis isn’t this kind of like laughing at someone dialing a wrong number?
The video definitely captures all of the familiar elements of the average conference call: the announcement of members, the awkward attempts at conversation between early arrivers, the silent stalker, etc. but since we’ve all been in these roles ourselves how funny is that? You may think the Three Stooges are a laugh riot, but I daresay you would find things somewhat less amusing if someone hit you in the face with a shovel, so pardon me for not doubling over with laughter at the depiction of dealing with a recalcitrant speakerphone.
The various characters in the video are pretty accurate. Every conference call does seem to be punctuated by late arrivals, the tentative start and stop of simultaneous conversations and the bulk of participants who use their “faceless” time to pursue other endeavors. This part actually could have been funny. My marketing guy once told me he was on a call in his home office and fell asleep, but he wasn’t sure if the call actually was over so he waited through ten minutes of silence before he hung up. Otherwise everything else the characters did was pretty much the usual since haven’t we all be on a call with an ebullient canine in the background?
Some of you may be wondering why my feelings are so harsh about this video. Maybe I’m just feeling crabby, or my standard for humor is different than the average email forwarder. I guess its just that while it can be amusing to poke fun at the daily tribulations of the business day, but when you swing and miss at something like conference calls, its more of a painful reminder of the one you have scheduled at 3:00 rather than a laugh riot. The conference call is the most overused, often worthless event in the modern world. Management tools should be effective. What percentage of conference calls have you been on that really delivered? Scary, huh?