Penis-whirling and Pie-throwing: Norm-defying and Norm-setting Drama in the Creative Industries

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This article explores the drama performed around a self-proclaimed ‘anti-establishment’ executive at a Danish film company, Zentropa. The company prides itself on being against the existing ‘elitist’ and commercialized Danish film industry. Inspired by the thesis that modern capitalism develops by incorporating the critiques directed against it, the article analyses how Zentropa’s Chief Executive Officer invests a ‘progressive’, counter-cultural spirit in his management practices. We describe how a ‘freethinking’ and ‘subversive’ CEO uses his dramatized performances to exercise an authority that violates employees’ privacy and involves public displays of disrespect. We further examine how employees use impression management to cope with norm-violating management practices, including sexual provocations and the dramatic, unjustified dismissal of an employee. In the context of these disruptions, we analyse how order is reestablished through dramaturgical cycles of symbolic events, including sacrifice. In particular, the study provides insights into how theatrically staged, norm-defying performances both disrupt the organization and allow managerial power to be reinstituted. It also demonstrates that anti-establishment management involves and rests upon the occasional exercise of traditional managerial hierarchy and control. Theoretically, the article develops a dramatist perspective, combining Goffman’s symbolic interactionism and Burke’s dramatism to offer a framework for understanding norm-transgressive management in modern organizations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)1049-1071
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

Published online: 30. October 2017


  • Creative industries
  • Dramaturgy
  • Erving Goffman
  • Film industry
  • Kenneth Burke
  • Norm-transgression
  • Sacrifice

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