At the start of the pandemic I signed up for a local CSA to meet some of my produce needs without going to the grocery store. Each Monday they would bring me my order in an insulated bag, and approximately four times in the first twenty weeks that bag was stolen from my doorstep. Not a great ratio. This CSA supplies lockboxes to certain customers, so I requested one. When it arrived I inspected it to see how it worked, whether there was a key or a code lock, only to find that there were no such measures at all. It was simply a metal box with a weighted lid, without so much as a latch, that anyone could open and continue to swipe my produce from. The only thing the box provided the illusion of security, no actual security involved. Yet since its arrival, none of my orders have been stolen.

This got me thinking about a job I held a number of years ago. I was a fake manager at a customer service line for a high-profile retailer. When an irate customer would utter the magic words “I want to speak to a manager”, they would be transferred to me, not a manager, and the illusion that they were being helped by someone with authority would lend the interaction a certain expedience. There was a whole team of fake managers who didn’t manage anything. We were there to sell a lie: that the customer was in control. It was patently ridiculous, but it worked. The company only had to divert approximately forty of their six hundred call center workers to take on a fake job title; that fake title convinced the customers that their “service experience” mattered, inducing them to follow through on sales they might have otherwise reneged on. This was clearly of enough value to the company that they promoted being a fake manager as a prestige position internally.

So many of our interactions are, at their core, theatrical; participation may be entirely content-devoid so long as the correct intention is communicated. A lockbox with no lock, a fib of a job title, hygiene theater, the use of tactical gibberish to allay stock market fluctuations, all contribute to the same two-faced interactional schema: each participant gets what they want, so long as neither addresses the black box between actions and results.