THE PLAY IS NOT THE THING

By Chet Yarbrough

There are four plays in New York that please some of the people some of the time but not all the people all the time; i.e. “Network”, “Ink, “Tootsie”, and “All My Sons”.  All were excellent Tony Award candidates.  All four had something in common.  Each exposed moral turpitude; three on a corporate level, and one on a personal level.*

Ayn Rand’s mistaken thought that “Virtue of Selfishness” is a social and economic good is eviscerated by these four plays.  They splendidly demonstrate “…Selfishness” is personally, socially, and economically harmful. 

“Network” addresses corporate media and its overarching effect on the public’s understanding of the truth.  “Ink” is about corporate media and how sensationalism and circulation are a volatile mixture that distorts reality.  “Tootsie” is about the personal consequence of lying.  And “All My Sons” is about a CEO’s responsibility to the public.

A book titled “Skunk Works” is a paean to “boys with toys” (before recognition of women at work) and corporate greed. Ben Rich is an engineer that worked for Kelly Johnson at Lockheed.

Kelly Johnson headed Lockheed’s famous design team that created the U-2 spy plane, and the famous Black Bird in the 1960’s. Being an engineer, Rich had a detailed understanding of the facts in plane design, but facts are dead things without a good story. Leo Janos is a writer who turns Rich’s facts into tales of Buck Roger’s daring-do, but a failure of corporate morality.

Ironically, Lockheed became the talk of the century in the 1970’s; not for their incredible design work, but for bribery.  Italy, West Germany, Japan, Netherlands, and Saudi Arabia are paid $22 million dollars to buy airplanes designed by Lockheed. That American law violation leads to the resignation of the Lockheed board.

“Skunk Works” is an entertaining and enlightening history of military weaponry. It illustrates the difference between a scientific research company and an industrial production company. Different skills are needed for managers of research than managers of production.**   

The play “All My Sons” is about a CEO that produces engines for WWII military combat planes in the 1940s.  The assembly manager calls his CEO to explain there is a crack in the blocks of twenty (or more) of the engines they manufacture.

The decision is made by the CEO to weld the cracks to make them look complete and unblemished.  The planes with those cracked blocks fail, and 21 pilots are killed. 

The company is sued.  The managing partner who made the call to the CEO is sent to prison because the CEO denies ever having told the process manager to conceal the defect.  The truth is revealed many years later.  The CEO rationalizes his action based on a selfish belief that he and his family’s life were more important than his process partner’s sentence to prison, or the pilot’s lost lives.  Is their a parallel in today’s Boeing arguments?

In “Skunk Works”, the inefficiency of government is exposed. On the one hand, inefficiency offers more time for deliberative decision; on the other, it impedes productivity and increases cost. Finally, the story opens military competition among nations that leaves only hope that the destructive power of nations will not destroy life on earth.

The last chapters of Rich’s story argue that government bureaucracy gets in the way of military innovation. He argues there is too much oversight and too many regulations increase costs and discourage innovative change.


Of course, the other side of the argument is about what happens when profit becomes more important than honesty or morality. Two Boeing planes, their pilots and passengers are dead as a result of inadequate oversight and what, at best, might be called self-interest.

Boeing 737 Max Malaysia Crash on March 11, 2019 kills 157 people.

The defense industry, like all human enterprises, has its Bernie Madoffs (the stockbroker maven who stole investment funds) and Angelo Mozillos (the ex-Coutrywide CEO who paid a fine for his questionable mortgage lending practices).

Oversight and regulation are essential to all forms of society because of the nature of humankind.  “Network” has the famous line “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Yes, you will be mad. and yes, we do take it again and again.

*It always comes down to a personal level, but the consequence is magnified by corporate immorality.  

**Science and engineer managers rely on worker autonomy.  Process managers rely on set rules for assembly line workers that manufacture complex products. It is science and engineering knowledge, more than rules of production, that determine product.  But, assembly experience, more than science and engineering knowledge, completes product.

Author: chet8757

Graduate Oregon State University and Northern Illinois University, Former City Manager, Corporate Vice President, General Contractor, Non-Profit Project Manager, occasional free lance writer and photographer for the Las Vegas Review Journal.

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