Upon receiving your ambiguously titled invitation, “Sales Meeting,” I did not expect to witness the birth of a new mixed-media art movement. On the contrary, I suspected that it would be another narcolepsy-inducing event, for what typically passes for a presentation from the people within your division is bland, static, and with little redemptive or motivational value. It was, then, something of a shock to see your PowerPoint piece titled “Sales Forecast, Third Quarter” presented with little fanfare. The subtle downplaying of expectations only heightened the shock and amazement this tour de force eventually triggered in the minds of everyone lucky enough to view the production.
I must first address the obvious and less far-reaching elements of your presentation, which in most other PowerPoint presentations would be considered journeyman work. Yes, you offered a high degree of data with little information, a cavalcade of whats with a complete absence of whys that’s typical of the genre, but you also included a devilish smattering of clearly contradictory data sets. Thus, by moving from information to disinformation without any of the traditional markers, you raised the work from mere Dadaism to a new form of surreality.
Your ransom-note-like use of multiple fonts and sizes on each slide led us, the viewers, to identify not with the content but with the feeling of being trapped and held hostage, our freedom being contingent on our ability to appear to understand your many indecipherable charts and graphs. With this quick nod to Stockholm syndrome, we began to feel for you as our captor and, eventually, as our fellow prisoner.
Another highlight was your complete rejection of Tuftean convention through the use of colors without meaning, location without purpose, and position without movement. How daring it was to represent the quarterly shortfalls in revenue with the color purple—the color associated not only with kings but also with the skin of slaves, an obvious yet powerful homage to Alice Walker’s seminal novel. By rejecting the fixed ironic conventions of green and black (colors of mold, death, and despair) for profits and red (blood and lust) for losses, you transcended the common criticism that capitalism is animalistic and decadent. The postmodern color scheme instead offered a fascinating contradiction, one that simultaneously said, “I am master of my destiny,” and “I am trapped by the projections required as a condition of my employment, and am but a slave to outcomes that are way beyond my control,” and “Feel free to have more cinnamon buns, for I seem to have ordered too many.” Your despair, transparent as it was, brilliantly led us to share your pain, as the mumbled delivery forced us to lean forward and listen with extra focus, sharpening the impact of your dismal forecast for your sector and, by extension, our lives.
Indeed, the delivery was your presentation’s pièce de résistance. From the clumsy attempts at breaking the fourth wall, to directly addressing your discomfort with speaking before groups, to consistently telegraphing falsehoods and misplaced blame through limited eye contact and muttering, you reached new heights in parody of executive presence. Through your awkward, soul-crushing performance, the audience began to understand your humanity and moved from merely seeing “artist as messenger” to also seeing “artist as victim” and “audience as victim,” while we all awaited the inevitable yet necessary bloodletting that’s a part of the corporate circle of life. This served to remind us of the relative unimportance of everything we do, that the meta has replaced the meat, that our form has superseded our function, and that even though we will be facing difficult times we can still laugh and whistle past the graveyard.
Given that the presentation foreshadowed many changes, my guess is that you will most likely be seeking other fields of expression and employment after the quarter comes to a close. With that said, I look forward to seeing “Sales Forecast, Third Quarter” one last time at the upcoming quarterly business review. I can only hope that it will be delivered with the same bold spirit and above-average pastries that were present at its glorious debut.