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Reality Bites: LOLwork

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

Cast your mind back to the late 1990s, when venture capital was still available for surefire endeavors like Pets.com and eToys. There was a commercial for a company I don't remember that mocked the ultra-casual office model for these start-ups, with cameras panning past workers playing ping pong and roller blading through the hallways without actually producing anything. It was probably made by one of those annoying corporations like IBM or Xerox that constantly clutter my Sunday morning news shows with similarly indecipherable bullshit about "the cloud" and "innovation," but whatever.

The point is, that company being mocked in that ad actually exists (they even have a guy on a Razor scooter rolling through the office in the credits). It's called I Can Has Cheezburger, and unless you just got on the Internet two minutes ago, you're probably familiar with their shots of cats and other animals in adorable scenarios with intermittently amusing captions. Upon first hearing about the show LOLwork, my first reaction was: they need office space for this? And my second was: you can actually make money affixing smart-ass captions to cat pictures?

Going to grad school seems pretty stupid now.

"Make people laugh five minutes a day" is the company's motto, it's just a pity they didn't adopt a similar attitude with regards to their reality show. If the 1.5 episodes I watched are any indication, it doesn't take a lot of effort to comb through online submissions and post them. Shocking. Then again, the bulk of camera time is given to the content folks and not the tech guys, probably because they're the ones doing actual "work."

Their CEO is a guy named Ben Huh, who wears glasses we would define as "hipster" if a) the company wasn't located in Seattle, thus rendering such designations irrelevant, and b) half his staff wasn't barefoot or having push-up contests.

The morning staff meeting consists of things like suggesting they focus more on fuzzy animals, while they "test" things like a "separated at birth" feature where users can take pictures in poses like their pets. Just to liven things up with some corporate jargon, I'd rank the effort a "0" on the Capability Maturity Model of process optimization.

In order to alleviate the terrible stress of figuring out new ways to misspell common verbs, Huh holds something called the "Cheez Olympics," in which four teams compete in performing various "catty" tasks like lapping up milk and guessing the meme in an inter-nerd version of hangman. This is highlighted by a dispute over the (in)correct spelling/grammar of "I made you a cookie, but I eated it." So it's sorta social. Demented and sad, but social.

Since the site's content is submitted by readers, it might be difficult to see where the revenue comes in, but come in it must, since ICHC appears to support a staff of 25 or so (it was acquired for $2 million in 2007 by someone already stocked up on ivory backscratchers.

A post-games party is held at content editor Forest's place, he has a mansion and a yacht. Well, a mansion anyway. A ... dirty one, that he shares with seven other people. Consider it a cautionary tale for these harsh economic times: even working for a successful business doesn't mean you'll ever be free of roommates.

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Will, the content supervisor who figures prominently in Bravo's commercials (he complains about people comparing his cat to a dog), brings his ex-boyfriend but spends most of the evening talking about his cat. Par-tay. And then there are some of the other staff members: Ali is a "content moderator, Tori is a production manager, "Monda" is the admin and reminds me of a seedier Olivia Wilde, which is no way a bad thing. They're all terribly young and you get the sense none of them have ever worked in a so-called "real" office (you know, a place that frowns upon playing the ukelele at one's desk). I sense a lot of liberal arts majors.

Speaking of that, the "star" of the show is content editor Paul, with his Garfunkelian 'fro and inability to comprehend basic social mores. It almost seems like Bravo's intention is to position the guy as the alpha weirdo, but once you get to know him, he's not that bad, and certainly nobody on the show is as cretinous as any of the real housewives.

Is the purpose of this show to set the ICHC staff up for mockery, a la The Office? Because from a business standpoint, all the Cheezburger folks need to worry about is if their site is making money. If it is, and the staff is generally happy, then I fail to see a problem. Working in a cube farm is trying enough as it is, why not lighten the mood up.

Just keep that ukelele away from me.

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