Nine to Five

Animation by Kapp Singer

Squarespace’s commercial for the 2021 Super Bowl opens on a woman hunched at her desk, dressed in a gray sweater as bland as her corporate surroundings. It’s a lethargic, soulless environment—one that Squarespace dramatizes as lifeless, meaningless, and violently tedious. 

Until it’s 5pm, and the woman suddenly perks up: she reappears in a vibrant red and coral yoga set that matches the website she’s starting and contrasts with the oppressively colorless workplace. She dances through the office space, revealing each cubicle as now reimagined facilities for creative side hustles— painting, gardening, woodworking. 

“Do somethin’ that gives [your life] meaning,” Dolly Parton sings, reworking the lyrics of her classic song “9 to 5” into a glorification of the new “5 to 9.” Squarespace suggests that the antidote to the monotony of work is… more work. When I first saw this commercial I couldn’t take it seriously. I can’t imagine an intentional satire any different from this genuine advertisement. 

“5 to 9” leans on the idea of hard work and pursuing dreams from “9 to 5,” but with an unbelievable irony. A song that claimed “It’s a rich man’s game no matter what they call it / And you spend your life putting money in his wallet” has become an advertisement encouraging consumers to buy a website for their business. In 1980, Parton described how “They let you dream just to watch them shatter,” yet she now promotes a “website that is worthy of your dreamin’.” It’s a depressing, dehumanizing proposition: our dreams can be reduced to websites. 

Dolly Parton’s original “9 to 5,” which I listened to on repeat for the rest of the Super Bowl, is upbeat but unconvinced. It was written to accompany a 1980 movie of the same name following three women who overthrow their so-called “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” boss. The original “9 to 5” doesn’t advocate for more work—it advocates for work to be respected. 

Parton describes the “9 to 5” as “Barely getting by, it’s all taking and no giving,” yet somehow a 5 to 9 is “gonna change your life, do somethin’ that gives it meanin’.” The Squarespace ad loses all sense of boundary between work and self, speaking to an audience who believes work gives life meaning. Even elites have adopted the workaholic persona rather than embody a leisure class— a trend that institutions like Yale epitomize. Modern America believes that work is life. The “hustling” lifestyle that Squarespace encourages eliminates all boundaries of work; it demands your 9 to 5 AND your 5 to 9. Squarespace sells extra work as an ambitious choice that could develop into a full time career for a relatively privileged, albeit bored, employee. Work isn’t respected as the often all-consuming challenge of those “barely gettin’ by.” 

The original “9 to 5” music video shows women navigating the boundaries of time and treatment in the workplace, but women today are still negotiating the boundaries between work in the workplace and at home. Working women, like those represented by “9 to 5”, are often forced into a “5 to 9,” but without Squarespace’s romanticized self-actualization. In addition to working paid jobs, women also perform the majority of domestic duties—evidence that our society still neither respects nor values women’s labor. 

America has certainly made some progress towards gender equality in the workplace since Dolly Parton’s original “9 to 5” in the 1980s. But this isn’t the equality our foremothers fought for. The Squarespace advertisement relies on the widespread exhaustion and pain of a work-obsessed culture. It focuses on a dance fitness instructor because she epitomizes exercise and creativity. Americans recognize this symbol of health and fulfillment as a contrast to the corporate workplace: our society knows work is a hellish place. 

“9 to 5” challenges the gendered boundaries of work and home as women enter the workforce, but “5 to 9” reflects a culture without any boundaries between work and home. Life is more than labor: it is the love, joy, and creativity that don’t fit on a resume. The activities that Squarespace commodifies as “5 to 9” jobs are meant to be hobbies. We can respect creativity as life-giving and fun without forcing it to be work. 

Particularly at a community like Yale, where many of us pour hours into education and extracurriculars, the boundary between work and life becomes blurred (if that boundary ever existed in the first place). Are we scholars and artists pouring ourselves into our passions, or are we chronic overachievers commodifying our talents for resumes and experiences? Do we love our work, or do we simply love to work? 

Work won’t “change your life, do somethin’ that gives it meanin’.” Only living can do that.

 

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