SPECTACLES

Ken Lay costumed for an Enron Metatheatre Spectacle

FOR DEFINITION OF SPECTACLES

What follows is excerpts from my book Theatres of Capitalism (Boje, 2002c), an all conference paper on Enron presented in London in July (Boje, 2002a), an Academy of Management conference paper presented in August (Boje, 2002b), and a paper my colleagues and I have under review (Boje, Rosile, Durand, & Luhman, 2002). Please read and reference the original papers (See References).

In Boje (2002a) and in Boje, Rosile, Durant, and Luhman (2002), we explore eight antenarrative clusters, sorted by spectacle type (concentrated, diffuse, integrated, & mega). Enron interpenetrates four spectacles (concentrated, diffuse, integrated and mega) with rhizomatic antenarrative ensembles.

CONCENTRATED SPECTACLES

Enteron 1986
At least 5 antenarrative version contend, as the legend of the Enteron continues to unfold
Vader’s ‘Gas Bank’ 1990-2001
There is disputed ownership of the Gas Bank idea; the idea morphs into the trading floor concept; it is a way to not repeat G, but does.

DIFFUSE SPECTACLES

Near Death Greenmail 1987
Jacobs & Leucadia could have liquidated Enron with a successful takeover, but Milken of Drexel Burnham Lambert intervened.
Mark the Shark builds Global Empire 1991-2000
Stories of oppression, the beating of villagers in India, and other antenarrative tales of resistance never pierce the charade of globalization-success; Mark is Skilling’s rival, until he forces here out (a scenario he denies).

INTEGRATED SPECTACLES

Cowboy Capitalism 1985-2001
Antenarratively connected to G (Valhalla Rogue Traders) and morphs into F (Masters of the Universe).
Masters of the Universe 1998-2001
Appears to mimic Bonfire of the Vanities, ostentatious gala events and life styles of the rich and famous

MEGA SPECTACLES

Valhalla Rouge Traders 1985-1987
Before there was Enteron or Enron, in the formative days of the Houston Natural Gas merger with InterNorth, a third “rogue” entity sold oil futures in a city called Valhalla.
Greek Mega-Tragedy 2001-2002
A through G are intertextual to the succession of Greek (and Shakespearean) tragedies that become antenarratives of the collapse of Enronomics.

Above Figure of Lay provides a graphic depiction of the intertextuality among the antenarrative clusters. The idea is the antenarratives of one cluster migrate and interpenetrate with those of other clusters. The Key at the bottom of figure gives examples of antenarratives that move in-between the clusters listed in the tables.

Wave mouse over red sparks and click

A:H Renaming game recommences after collapse of Enron. E:(D:F) Cowboy Capitalism combines with Mark the Shark globe hopping strategy

E:H Houston galas play & morph into White House scandals

B:H Offshore accounts, fake records, and Arthur Andersen of B repeat in H.

B:D Skilling’s 10 year war to oust Rebecca Mark (‘the Shark’)

F:H Bonfire of the Vanities interpenetrates with White House, Congress, & UK elite appointments to Enron boards and committees
C:H As in C, shareholders in H seek control and liquidation of Enron G:B Valhalla Rogues resurfaces in Gas Bank

G:E Valhalla Rogues merges with Cowboy Capitalism

G:H Off-balance-sheet accounts and offshore banking & Arthur Andersen repeat from G to H

D:H Oppressive tales of villagers in India do not play on center stage until collapse

D:F Mark’s global capitalism plays into Masters of the Universe

H Each of the antenarrative clusters reemerges in post-collapse inquiries

There are antenarrative relations before the megaspectacle “H” became a ground zero and it became fashionable for reporters to research trials of campaign contributions. Each of the antenarrative clusters in Figure 1 is part of rhizomatic relations between the clusters. The structure of the presentation is, to use critical dramaturgy theory to analyze eight antenarrative clusters. I present and order them by their type of spectacle, rather than trap them in a linear chronology (See Appendix B for definitions). The point is not the chronology, but the intertextual weave across the antenarrative clusters, how early ones seems to go dormant and achieve resolve, only to re-appear again as ghostly characters, themes, and frames thought to be dead and buried. We begin with two concentrated spectacles (weaving them to others as we go).

A critical dramaturgy analysis of Enron reveals how megaspectacles played in public Metatheatre to teach cathartic lessons of pity and fear (do not be an Enronite) to millions of spectators, who could confidently replug into the resanctified first three spectacles of concentrated illusion, diffuse global predation, and integrated hyper-reality.

Concentrated Spectacle Example

"The concentrated spectacle" says Debord, "belongs essentially to bureaucratic capitalism" (#64). The concentrated spectacle is where both production and consumption are constructed in a totalizing self-portrait of power that masks its fragmentation. It is the “vast institutional and technical apparatus of contemporary capitalism… all the means and methods power employs, outside of direct force… while obscuring the nature and effects of capitalism’s power and deprivations” (Best & Kellner, 1997: 84).

There are two concentrated spectacles, Enteron and Vader’s Gas Bank, and these resurface in the other types of spectacles developed in Boje (2002a). Enron’s 6th floor is a third example. It becomes a Metatheatre stage (between 1998 and 2001), to simulate a real trading floor. It’s expensive theatre, $500 to set up each desk, and more for phones in this stage-crafted spectacle, and more for the 36-inch flat panel screens, and teleconference conference rooms; the entire set was wired by computer technicians who feed fake statistics to the screens. On the big day several hundred employees, including secretaries, played their rehearsed character roles, pretending to be ‘Energy Services’ traders, doing mega deals, while Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay played their starring role in the Enron Dramatis Personae to a target audience of invited Wall Street analysts, who can not tell real from fake.[END NOTE]

Enron is Metatheatre as a way to control and motivate employees using the technology of theatre; several times a year, Enron hired choreographers and dramatists (Banerjee, 2002)[i] to coach executives in character roles in elaborate corporate extravaganzas; executives and staff would dress in Star Wars or other costumes; executives would enter the ballroom.

Diffuse Spectacle Example

The "diffuse spectacle" says Debord, "accompanies the abundance of commodities, the undisturbed development of modern capitalism" as it reaches into every nook and cranny (#64). Spectacle illusions overtake and cover over the reality of material conditions, the world backstage.

For example Rebecca Mark’s globetrotting visits on the Enron jet, became a road show complete with an entourage of WB, WFO, IMF, CIA agents mixed along with Mark’s hair dresser, make up artist, and a flock of assistants. When Mark landed, the force of the Whitehouse landed with her. In Congressional Metatheatre, we are easily distracted in the who-done-it spectacle, from looking any deeper into the spectacles of the Theatres of Capitalism, into the embedded relations between Politicians, Business College, and Enron-type corporations.

Integrated Enron Spectacles

The third form of spectacle is the “integrated spectacle” that combines aspects of the concentrated and diffuse forms in the fatalism of global capitalism, where resistance if futile (Best & Kellner, 1997: 118).

Megaspectacle Enron Examples

My thesis is that the latest scandals repeat many antenarrative elements of Enron megaspectacles enacted 15 years earlier (Boje, 2002a). Megaspectacles sensationalize scandal in media extravaganzas such as Watergate, the Rodney King video tapes, the O.J. Simpson chase and trial, Clinton sex scandals, the Gulf War, the funeral of Princess Diana, the Elian Gonzalez sage, the collapse of the World Trade Center, the War on Terror, and now Enron. But beneath Megaspectacles is the rest of the iceberg, the other three types of spectacle. The more recent Megaspectacles are interactive, with media competing to provide websites where cyber-spectators can replay simulations on the new stage of the spectacle (Best & Kellner, 2001: 226-233). Enron has become the current negative megaspectacle, a cautionary tale offered as daily entertainment.

People believed the hype of the 1990s that the break-up of the electric utility monopoly would usher in free market capitalism’s New Economy world of cheaper energy. Even after the October 16 2001 write-down, analysts were still telling the Emperor how fantastic he looked in his new clothes.


Figure 2 illustrates some key events that occurred as the stock price, reputation, and power of Enron collapsed. The masquerade allowed Enron to make its façade believable metatheatre, but some contextual events happened that put the pressure on. First, on April 14 2000 the Internet Bubble, by all accounts, did burst. Second, the trades in gas and electricity contracts were as many as before, but not as profitable. Third, the search for new markets to deregulate and exploit did not produce any winners. Fourth, the off-the-balance-sheet partnerships, as a place to hide weaker deals and debts had become an addiction; this worked as Enron stock prices rose, but since the debt was guaranteed by lots of Enron stock, falling prices made the risk higher and higher. So for these reasons it is a wonder that Enron’s stock continued to rise until it hit its peak in August at $90.56; then came the steady fall from grace.

In May 2001 J. Clifford Baxter, by police accounts, committed suicide; some say it was a better choice for a man of pride, than to face a Congressional hearing or an SEC inquiry. Straight out of Shakespeare’s Othello, the chief strategist and former Vice-chairperson who abruptly resigned last May seemed haunted by allegations of Enron’s wrongdoing, a class action suit, Congress subpoena, about the bankruptcy and shady financial dealings, got up early on January 25th, left his $700,000 home in affluent Houston suburb of Sugar Land, got in his brand new Mercedes Benz, drove a short ways, pulled over and shot himself once in the head with a 38 caliber revolver, leaving his suicide note. The irony is Baxter was among the very few Enronites who like Watkins raised objections within Enron about accounting praxis that inflated profit reports.

At the August 16 company-wide meeting, Lay invited anyone troubled by Skilling's departure to meet with him. On August 20 Watkins called a friend at Arthur Andersen (AA) and asked for advice. The next day, her AA friend drafted a memo detailing Watkins' concerns about Enron. Meanwhile, Watkins went to Lay seeking a meeting. See Dialogs Section of Web Site for analysis of Watkins memo and Enron's law firm's response.

I analyzed (See Boje, 2002a) 9,784 news articles on Enron. There were 3055 items about Enron and scandal in the popular press, 3685 linking Enron and Arthur Andersen, 1153 linking Enron and President Bush, 1607 calling Enron fraud, and 384 articles linking greed to Enron. Figure 3 gives a visual display of the themes and rhythms (see Septet, Table 1) that play out in the “H” antenarrative cluster. After Enron went into bankruptcy there was a brief flurry of articles about fraud in the last weeks of 2001, followed by another flurry of interest in fraud as the SEC, Justice Department and congressional hearings began in February. One has to ask, why are there so few critical articles on Enron from 1985 until the December 2001 bankruptcy? One explanation is that due to the institutional arrangements: campaign contributions and appointments of officials from Democratic and Republican parties; Wall street analysts getting paid to serve on Enron’s advisory boards or working for firms with Enron loans or stocks; Arthur Andersen with offices inside the Enron building and consulting fees outstripping their audit fees, etc. News is not reported when it happens, but when the institutional network says that news happens. Put Figures 2 and 3 together, and you see that any beginning business student could se that the stock is plunging at an accelerating rate, well before the bankruptcy, before the SEC noses around, and before Skilling resigns. More than one analyst and reporter were reprimanded, reassigned, or fired, when they tried to file stories critical of Enron; in the news game, one waits until a major institution such as the SEC, Justice, or Congress is investigating a major corporate hero, before the media dogs are unleashed.[i].

For Congress and the public, Sherron Watkins is scripted as a national folk hero, a manager who dared to tell the truth to the boss. One ready-made consumption of the Watkins’ memo is as theatre of confrontation, exposing Skilling’s confidence trick, so spectators to the Congressional hearings could now see the ‘star’ of the New Economy was poised on the edge of the abyss, would trip into the abyss and implode in a wave of accounting scandals. Congresspersons would utilize Watkins’ memo and her dramatic testimony as proof that Enron executives were swindlers; all too aware of the games they were playing. “Andrew Fastow would not have put his hand into the Enron cookie jar without the explicit or implicit approval of Mr. Skilling,” Watkins said at one hearing where she was seated at the same table as Skilling. And Mr. Skilling she said “put the fox in charge of the hen house.”[i] Watkins is writing a book titled, “Power Failure” about the Enron spectacles.

However, the focus on fraud subsided, as Andersen’s relation to Enron unraveled in stories of shredding and non-transparent auditing practices. The greed line (the lowest line on the figure) picks up a bit of steam in early 2002. In the early going, the Enron scandal was all about the Whitehouse links to Bush, the administration, Republicans and then Democrats. However, as the Bush administration emphasized that the Enron scandal was a business scandal and not a political one, reporters turned their attention on Andersen, and the Enron Scandal (darkest line in the figure) drew less attention. In short, megaspectacles have an antenarrative trajectory and are intertextually influenced by other megaspectacles.

As Skilling evokes his denial, “several financial officers screamed at the” TV set, "Bullshit!" (Brenner, 2002). And another Enron officer watching the TV, says, "Now Jeff will say, ‘I don’t recall,’" and 27 times Skilling did not disappoint him” (Brenner, 2002). These Enron executives, who had cheered Skilling when he was named C.E.O., now critically review his megaspectacle performance.

PUNCH LINE

“Politicians have always known that the spectacle of the mighty brought low can appease an angry public” (Gearan, 2002: D1) [For reference and more on this point see Boje 2002b). My thesis here isthe Enron, Andersen, and WorldCom spectacles are being plotted, characterized, themed, into dialogs and rhythms, that metascript the Metatheatrics to appease an outraged public, fearful their own fortunes are being reversed.

OTHER ANALYSES


END NOTES

REFERENCES FOR THIS PAGE

Date: September 21, 2002

Authored by David M. Boje, Ph.D. - copyright 2002