What Frustrated Workers Heard in That Dolly Parton Ad

We open to shades of gray and beige and what must be the world’s dullest office. In case you didn’t notice the overwhelming tedium, though, there’s help: One actor’s heavy eyelids are dragging his whole body downward, and another, slumped onto one elbow, seems to be collapsing so thoroughly into his desk that he might merge with it. By the time we see papers thudding into the inbox of a young woman — the camera loses focus as she contemplates the files, as if it shares her despair — we’ve gotten the message: Work is where joy goes to die.

Then a flicker of hope crosses the woman’s face. She has looked up at the clock, which is moments away from striking 5. She opens her laptop, where we see our first glimpse of real color, in the website for a dance-fitness business she’s starting. After one last edit, she hits publish, then closes the laptop to an office transformed. Her gray sweater is now a red tank top, and she dances past her officemates, all now in bright outfits, converting their cubicles into creative small businesses: an art studio, a bakery, a woodworking shop, a landscaping business that seems to specialize in topiary sculptures, something involving scuba. Their life force is restored, because their jobs and their dreams are now one.

The message is familiar, and classically American: bootstraps and businesses, Horatio Alger for the Instagram generation. If this ad — aired by Squarespace, a service for building and hosting websites, during this year’s Super Bowl — had only had a different soundtrack, it might well have been forgotten by Monday.

But all this was set to Dolly Parton singing a reimagined version of her famous “9 to 5,” originally written for the hit 1980 comedy of the same name. In that movie, Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin play office workers who semiaccidentally kidnap their sexist boss and, in his absence, transform their office, offering flexible hours, on-site child care and equal pay for men and women. The movie, in turn, was inspired by real women: a group of Boston secretaries who banded together in 1973 to fight against degrading and unfair working conditions. They are the ones who named their cause after the eight daily hours of their lives they wanted to make better.

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