In the middle of a question-and-answer session at a college symposium, a member of the public wearing a Boss Baby shirt showed off the Boss Baby lunchbox that he takes to work every day.
“Obviously I eat cookies for lunch,” he explained, “because that’s what Boss Baby fans do.”
There was polite applause.
Boss Baby fans don’t just eat cookies for lunch – they also host virtual philosophy lectures dedicated to studying The Boss Baby, the 2017 DreamWorks animated film starring Alec Baldwin.
Organized by Jaime McCaffrey of the University of Kentucky and Tore Levander of Fordham University, the first annual Boss Baby symposiumwhich took place online Tuesday, brought together a wide range of thinkers to examine what we can learn from a movie about a baby who’s also a boss.
Over the course of an entire afternoon, eight academics gave presentations focusing on three themes: Situating the Boss Baby in Myths and Media; Personal and Professional Growth: Work and Play in The Boss Baby; and “Not enough love for both of us”: Birth, motherhood and lack of it. They were joined at the end for a casual chat with JP Karliak, voice of Boss Baby in the Netflix TV series The Boss Baby: Back in Business, and his showrunner, or “Boss Baby boss baby,” Brandon Sawyer.
“Frankly, we don’t know exactly what you’ll find,” the symposium website admitted, “but we do know this will leave you thinking, ‘Yes, that was definitely a symposium devoted to the 2017 film titled The Boss Baby. . ‘ “
But why The Boss Baby? Depends on who you ask. According to one of the symposium presenters, this is just the continuation of a long historical line of boss babies – or -ἄναξ“Chief children”, in ancient Greek – ranging from Astyanax of The Iliad, Hikaru Genji of the Tale of Genji, King Edward V of England and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York.
No matter why, there is certainly a strong attraction to work. The film grossed half a billion dollars at the box office and has since been made into a sequel in 2021 and four seasons of the Netflix TV series. Jimin, a member of K-pop group BTS, learned English by watching the film over and over again. And when a Boss Baby balloon floated to the Macy’s 2021 parade, a stunned crowd reverently chanted “Boss Baby” in an almost religious supplication.
Despite this semi-ironic popularity, The Boss Baby follows a plot that may be difficult to analyze, not that it would put academics off. “It could be thematically richer than the Bible and more confusing than Ulysses,” McCaffrey said in his opening remarks.
In the film, the Boss Baby in a suit and tie and briefcase is sent on a secret mission by Baby Corp, where all the babies come from. He is charged with protecting the world’s love for babies, now under threat due to the growing love for puppies. So he is working to stop the CEO of Puppy Co from releasing the “Forever Puppy”, a new version of a puppy that remains a puppy for life, which would destroy the babydom as we know it and which, for some reason, is going to be launched into the world via a rocket chock full of puppies.
It’s a rough summary that doesn’t even touch on things like the super-secret baby formula that keeps Boss Baby eternally young while endowing him with grown-up abilities. It would take a doctorate just to figure out how it’s supposed to work, let alone conduct a Freudian and Marxist analysis of milk, as two academics did for The Land of Milk and Money: Lactic Capital in The Boss Baby.
As confusing as the plot may be, the first annual Boss Baby Symposium urged us not to throw the Boss Baby out with the boss’s bathwater. By the end of the day, we had learned everything from intertextual references in the DreamWorks films to American attitudes towards sexuality in the psychosocial stages of development from Erik Erikson. We even sat down to seriously discuss Boss Baby’s “narcissistic and psychotic orientation”, which, to be fair, doesn’t really seem like a rare occurrence among top management.
It was during a presentation on the concept of play by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre that everything happened for me. The speaker argued that an authentic existential attitude is based on a synthesis of facticity (boss) and transcendence (baby).
I realized that the symposium itself epitomized what it really means to be both a boss and a baby. The presentations were both tongue-in-cheek jokes and heartfelt explorations of the speakers’ areas of expertise. There was a genuine affection for the film, as well as a willingness to laugh at it. It was serious (boss), but it was also silly (baby).
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the answers to all of life’s questions are in The Boss Baby, but like the occasional cookie for lunch, it doesn’t hurt.