“You look terrible, Mr. Waturi. You look like a bag of shit stuffed in a cheap suit. Not that anyone could look good under these zombie lights. I, I, I, I can feel them sucking the juice out of my eyeball. Suck, suck, suck, SUCK…”
This is one of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies said by the eminently talented Tom Hanks in “Joe Versus the Volcano“. The movie was released in 1990 and since the day I saw it, this scene has stuck with me (start at 4:00 if you want to jump right to it).
It’s a weird story that on its surface, is nothing more than an adventure. But oh no, there is so much more! Essentially, the movie is a version of Joseph Campbell’s “A Hero’s Journey“: a regular person going on an adventure, facing crisis is victorious, and returns fundamentally changed.
The story is about Joe. Joe is boring. A drone. Part of an ecosystem built on fear and the mechanization of human beings. As the movie begins, everything is dark, blue, and grey. Depressing. Employees, all dressed similarly, file languidly into a humongous blanched building that is belching filth into the sky. Joe notices a small flower growing between the cracks of the damp pavement and quickly, someone steps on it. No one gets out alive. They all walk towards the building, on a zig-zag sidewalk where no one takes a short cut. Potentially a metaphor for the oftentimes senseless “processes” companies require employees to endure. (note, more about that zig-zag later)
Actually, this blog post isn’t about the movie at all. It’s about fluorescent lights. Ignored by Thomas Edison, in 1895 one of his former employees, Daniel Moore, successfully created a gas-filled lamp that was quickly utilized in commercial capacities due to its energy efficiency. But since 1895, I haven’t seen any vast improvement of the actual light these things give off. In today’s office, these things bathe an entire floor plan in a blueish/white, pale rendering of real life. And they flicker! Almost unnoticeable to the naked eye, they flicker and give me a headache and make me nauseous. Funny enough, Wikipedia says I don’t know what I’m talking about:
“Fluorescent lamps with magnetic ballasts flicker at a normally unnoticeable frequency of 100 or 120 Hz and this flickering can cause problems for some individuals with light sensitivity; they are listed as problematic for some individuals with autism, epilepsy, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease, and vertigo.”
This sounds like propaganda written by GE. “Problematic” my ass.
It goes on to say that these lights can “degrade the pigments in paintings and bleach the dyes used in textiles”. So what does it do to something as sensitive as the human eye?
In my office, and offices I have inhabited for many years, I shut off the fluorescent lights and carted in my own, something similar to what Joe does in the movie with his tiki lamp. I like a more “cafe” style lighting that gives a warm glow instead of the Silkwood shower vibe. Strangely, its almost too comfortable for some folks who come into my office and sit as they listen to my Thievery Corporation or instrumental Beastie Boys playing gently in the background (hit me up for the Spotify playlist).
And that zig-zag sidewalk. The same shape can also be found on the wall of Joe’s apartment, the lightning bolt that strikes the ship, the meandering of the lava down the volcano. Some think it represents the Devil. I think that, indirectly, it’s fate. It’s a warning sign that you are not on the correct path. I have a feeling that these lights are a sign for me, one that I have drowned out by decorating these spaces with something more familiar.