The Psychology of Scooby Doo Friends in the Workplace: Piety, Problem-solving and Paranoia
Scooby Doo is the longest running cartoon in US history. Since it started airing in 1969 it has never been off the television sets, including first run episodes and syndication. The very first episode titled “”What a Night for a Knight”,” where a knight’s armor comes alive during the full moon, showcases the secrets to its success: a mystery, a town in trouble, a group of five solve the mystery. Overall, it is a rather simple plot that is repeated over and over again. Surely, there must be more to its longevity than that.
As a Scooby Doo aficionado myself who has passed that Scooby affection onto her child, I have wondered about the appeal of Scooby Doo. The Washington Post’s Hank Stuever noted that the massive Scooby Doo appeal is due in part to its worldview which is as follows: “Kids should meddle, dogs are sweet, life is groovy, and if something scares you, you should confront it.” I get that. Scooby Doo was about being an optimist and taking on battles head on like an urban cowboy. In a way, it is very American or should I say reaganesque even before Reagan became President. Of course, part of the joke for Generation Xers is that the Scooby van resembles that of what we jokingly refer to as a serial killer van. Yikes, I am not too even too sure what that joke really means.
While I love the optimism, Scooby Doo is more than that. It has become part of our lexicon in that we often refer to a group of people on a mission as “the Scooby Gang.” We saw this reference often on Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which the so-called Scooby gang consisted of a witch, an everyday Joe Schmo, a librarian, and a vampire or two; as well as the heralded Buffy heroine herself. The Scooby gang battled evil with brute force, wit, sarcasm and magic. When they didn’t work together they would fail. While outcasts they were also a prototype of the modern New York City hipster who is often unimpressed in the face of catastrophe.
Having worked in the non-profit field for over 9 years now, I have seen many “catastrophes”, fires , conspiracies and life or death cage matches. Ok. I exaggerate somewhat on the last one. Nonetheless, the point is that the non-profit field that works on assertions of power, since money is less plentiful, the workforce often sees the creation of Scooby gangs amongst its workforce.
Every workplace has cliques. In high school and college many of us looked forward to entering the workforce with the hopes of leaving behind those cliques; oftentimes mean-girl cliques. The cruelty of the modern-day world is that the cliques persist into the workplace. I will note that it is normal to form bonds with similar others in the workplace. The brain and soul need comfort from similar others. In the non-profit workplace, because the mission is what drives people you already have (at times, not always) a core set of values and beliefs amongst the staff. Thus there have to be other attributes by which people bond. Fighting a good fight against a larger evil (from the fairly benign in Scooby Doo to the fairly end-of-the earth Armageddon evil in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) can be what drives a group of people towards each other. In many workplaces the big bugaboo can be the big boss or any senior manager or it can be a peer that they have decided is somehow “evil.”
Having seen the creation of Scooby gangs in the workplace from both the vantage point of being a senior manager to being a member of such a Scooby gang, I have found that besides fighting off scary entities and having a love for food, said groups have three things in common: Piety, Problem-solving orientation and Paranoia. These three attributes exists in the Scooby Doo television show as well as the workplace Scooby gangs. Each group is set around the goal of problem-solving be it a lack of recycling bins in the workplace, a lack of clear directives or that the refrigerated lunches keep disappearing on a daily basis. Each of these groups, no matter what, if they are to be a true Scooby Gang, must display piety –in the grander sense of the word meaning the group members must be loyal to each other. Groups that form Survivor-style do not count. Thus, mean girls do not count. As we have seen mean girls eventually turn on each other at the slightest whiff of being individually held responsible for something. Lastly, there must exist a certain level of paranoia amongst the group members. There is always a conspiracy afoot. However, just because they are paranoid it doesn’t mean there are no conspiracies or other reasons to be paranoid.
See the formulaic plot of each Scooby Doo episode as previously described includes a version of ghost or monster hunting where they discover that the evil entity is not of a paranormal realm but is instead a misguided human in a mask or costume. Does that not sound like the workplace? Almost every episode ends with the misguided unmasked evil-doer stating “I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling kids!” In the now classic film Wayne’s World there is an alternate ending called the “Scooby Doo Ending” in which a character utters “let’s see who this really is” before revealing that a movie character had been wearing a mask. Assuredly there are many workplace instances where some “evil-doer” (broadly speaking) would have gotten away with things if not for a meddling group of people. Scooby gangs form all the time in the workplace and those alliances are formed based on specific roles each person brings to the team. At the end of the day when you notice that a group of people seem to be constantly whispering to each other and running about in the workplace setting traps, reading books and having the munchies, it may be that it is a Scooby gang trying to unmask some great injustice.
Based in part on the daily prompt of surreal/twilight zone
Other thoughts on Surreal