In our novel, Satan loses his job and is given ‘indefinite leave’ which he is forced to spend on Earth. Such a premise requires that the realm of the afterlife, perhaps both heaven and hell, is run rather like a private company or a large public corporation. The afterlife story arc that runs through our novel needs to play with that trope, the idea that heaven and hell are corporations. But what would that be like?
In his article, “If Heaven was a Corporation”, Tom T. Moore begins:
Imagine for a minute if heaven was an international corporation. Then we would be able to explain a lot of misconceptions people have. First we would have a brilliant CEO (Creative Executive Officer) [God] such as Steve Jobs, whose creations and innovations are different from all the other corporations. He would be loved by all his millions of employees, who couldn’t wait to work for him and applied immediately for whatever jobs he needed to be done.
Sorry Tom, I’m going to have to stop you there. Not because your version of heaven is sickly sweet or because you’re painting corporate life in an overly optimistic light. No, I’m going to stop you there because your Heaven Incorporated TM just doesn’t make for entertaining reading.
Evil corporations are much more fun. In these times of globalisation and economic uncertainty, big business is the pantomime devil we all love to boo and hiss. We seem to positively thrive on stories of wilful corporate wrongdoing. Over the years, Coca-Cola, Nestle, McDonalds, Pfizer, Lehman Brothers and Wal-Mart have all been held up as candidates for the World’s Most Evil CorporationTM. From selling bottled carcinogenic tap-water to aggressively marketing unnecessary formula milk to poor countries, from cooking the books to killing Nigerian children in unapproved drug trials, real-life companies come up with foul and despicable acts that would make a vengeful God or a diabolical Satan proud.
But corporate crapness doesn’t have to be deliberate. I have a fondness for Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.
Stupidity and incompetence are as much fun as evil and we’ve probably all had more contact and experience with stupid corporations than evil ones. Sending letters to long-dead customers. Slipping the decimal point in the wrong place on charges or refunds. Creating forest-loads of paperwork that serves no purpose. Trapping us in endless automated phone loops. This is not evil. This is stupid. And stupid is funnier than evil.
Interestingly, the idea of heaven and hell as bloated, inefficient bureaucracies is not a new one. We see heaven’s bureaucracy in Powell and Pressburger’s, A Matter of Life and Death and in Danny Boyle’s A Life Less Ordinary. The workaday world of hell is also showcased in CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (which I am re-reading at the moment and enjoying enormously). In the film Beetlejuice, there is the nice touch of suicides as the bureaucrats of the afterlife. Robert Heinlein’s sprawling afterlife in Job: A Comedy of Justice confounds all expectations with petty canonised functionaries, God and Satan as minor players in the cosmic scheme and the kind of bureaucracy that the old Soviet Union would have been proud of.
Whether or not Heide and I choose to go for a plotline that posits the decision-makers in heaven/hell as evil, corrupt or incompetent, I do feel some sort of corporate-crapness plotline will underpin the entire novel. There was a particular notion which one of us came up with (I think it was Heide but I cannot be sure which of us is which these days) that I really liked.
However – because there’s nothing new under the sun – we discovered that Dilbert had got there nearly two years before we did. Click here and enjoy.