It keeps getting better every time I see it. The 30-second surveillance video, "badday.mpg" (http://www.masspike. com/badday), by now an Internet cult sensation, begins with a fat man with a mustache typing a few words into his computer and peering into his screen for the result. Evidently it's not to his satisfaction, so he smacks his monitor on the side as if to wake it up. Nothing happens. He pounds the keyboard with his fingers. Then with his fist. Then he picks up the keyboard and smashes the monitor. The monitor flies off the desk with a sickening thud. Finally, he walks out of his cubicle, throws the keyboard to the ground, and by the sound of things - he's obscured at this point - gives the monitor a few final kicks. The man in the cube next door pops his head over the divider to see what all the commotion's about, but seems to think the better of it, and pops right back down.
I've been obsessed with badday.mpg since it was sent to me in e-mail last week, in part because it expresses so vividly one harsh, spirit-breaking day in the life of a data pusher. The apopletic man works in the kind of drone space that drives people buggy, surrounded by fabric-covered gray barriers that he's decorated with one spare poster. There is next to nothing on his desk; a pencil, perhaps, and I think I can make out a couple of Post-It notes. Worse, he's being captured on a security camera, a spy machine installed by corporate honchos who mean to keep track of his activities. How much more inhumane does the work environment have to get before all our machines explode in the great millennium-bug crash?
More tragic still, a lot of people seem to share this man's rage - or at least revel in his suffering. Carroll and Vanessa Burns used the video to augment their page of honeymoon photos. Tyson N. Trebesch, a man who says he likes to "fuss about with computers and parts and software" and does not like "polyester pants, liver, or men who dress up as women," features the clip on his page, too, claiming that it accurately expresses how he feels about computers. The movie even translates well: Interpretations exist in French, German and Spanish, and Froystein Hustadnes of Austefjorden, Norway, couldn't resist offering "ein traudig dag!" on his Web site for the catharic pleasure of his countrymen.
"First you smile, then you analyze," writes French programmer Benoit Rigaut on his page devoted to the international badday.mpg craze. "At least I did. And I checked every frame of this little drama trying to understand." Why, for instance, does the man attack the cheap parts of the machine and not the computer case itself, where the source of his troubles are housed? And wait - what's that about 20 seconds in - does he shoot a look at the camera? His prairie-dogging compatriot notwithstanding, could this man have been faking? (Rigaut zoomed in, and found that the man not only looks at the camera, but smirks.) What's more, were the video a true secret spy recording, it probably would be silent, since recording sound requires the consent of both parties in most states, including California. (Wacky as it sounds, recording images does not.) Is it possible that the video is, as one of my co-workers put it, "not a real snuff film"?
As it turns out, several sleuths before Rigaut and me traced the video back to its origins, at Loronix Information Systems in Durango, Colorado. The angry man is the eminently affable shipping manager, Vinny Licciardi, who performed in a number of short videos to demonstrate the Loronix "digital video recording system," an extra-sharp corporate spy cam. "It was an example of a clip you might bring up," Licciardi told me over the phone from what I hope are more plush surroundings at Loronix.
"You mean an example of an employee vandalizing equipment?"
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"Right! I'm willing to bet that's happened in quite a few places."
The clip was initially distributed on a promotional CD, and Licciardi found out it was making the e-mail rounds this month when the original five-megabyte video (someone has since shrunk it down to a 416 KB file) made its way back to Loronix. "We started having problems with our system because it was getting passed around the office so much," he says. "I'm sure I was inadvertently responsible for crashing a number of computers out there."
Rigaut (http://wwwcn.cern.ch/~rigaut/badday.html) considers the video a visual urban myth, a story that goes into circulation shorn of its context. But it also belongs to a genre of filmmaking, like the ephemeral footage from the '50s archived by film historian Rick Prelinger (http://www.schoolofvisualarts.edu/graduate/mfadesign/faculty/prelinger.html) - driver's training films, duck-and-cover advisories and home economics demonstrations, developed as propaganda and preserved as evidence of an era's mindset. Loronix staged Licciardi's bad day to demonstrate the possibilities of employee vandalism, and ended up demonstrating why employees vandalize.
"It felt pretty good," admits Licciardi, who captured the worker's rage with such convincing physical poetry. Less analytical about the whole deal, he hopes it might resuscitate the acting career he left behind in his native Boston. "Now, you're in L.A.," he muses. "You might want to let anybody know that if they want to use me for a commercial, I'm available."