Clusterfucks hold a special place in public life
December 16, 2019 8:51 PM   Subscribe

Clusterfucks being defined as “those debacles and disasters caused by a deadly brew of illusion, impatience, and incompetence that afflicts too many decision-makers, especially those in powerful, confident, and prestigious groups.” The difference between a snafu, a shitshow, and a clusterfuck.
posted by philip-random (41 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
The advice is good but is there any way this can be true?
The term dates at least as far back as the Vietnam War, as military slang for doomed decisions resulting from the toxic combination of too many high-ranking officers and too little on-the-ground information. (The “cluster” part of the word allegedly refers to officers’ oak leaf cluster insignia.)

I think if a clusterfuck as a situation where there's several interrelated conflicts or failures intersecting, that requires a 10 minute monologue to explain.

A shit show is more of like well nothing went right. Rather than like lots of separate "incidents".
posted by bleep at 9:02 PM on December 16, 2019 [9 favorites]


Double, but we have lots more to talk about now.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:11 PM on December 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


These seem like very different things to me. I'd be interested to see someone differentiate between a clusterfuck and an omnishamble.

(BTW: I agree with bleep's differentiation: shitshow is just a bunch of things just going wrong, clusterfuck is inter-related things going wrong, and contributing to each other going wrong. SNAFU is the natural consequence of top-down management failing to consider factors that mugs on the ground could've told anyone who listened. I feel like an omnishamble is snafu-engendered clusterfuck. That said: my dialect is not your dialect.)
posted by pompomtom at 10:31 PM on December 16, 2019 [17 favorites]


I've always felt that a clusterfuck arises from multiple people who ought to know better working in (often deliberate and/or self-serving) contradictory ways that end up botching the result, as in the related and vividly illustrative phrase "five monkeys fucking a football"; whereas a shitshow is a situation where things happen to go horribly wrong as a result of boneheads who don't really know what they're doing. And I'm in agreement with pompomtom regarding the top-down nature of snafus.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:58 PM on December 16, 2019 [5 favorites]


Even if they are backronyms, I have always liked the wry military gallows humor of SNAFU and FUBAR. Much like that line, "If you want logistics join the Army. Marines make do."
posted by axiom at 11:22 PM on December 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


SNAFU principle (from the wiki):

The SNAFU Principle is a popular principle in Discordianism. It states that Communication is only possible between equals. In any hierarchy (business, government, military, etc.) people and employees inevitably distort the truth of reports when dealing with their superiors, in order to avoid any punishment for relaying bad news. As a result, the superiors often operate from a distorted view of the situation, sometimes leading to poor results.[1]

Gavin Belson comes to mind.
posted by philip-random at 11:23 PM on December 16, 2019 [10 favorites]


Since that last thread I have introduced "goat rodeo" as a concept to several developers who have adopted it as if it were their own.
posted by Molesome at 2:41 AM on December 17, 2019 [8 favorites]


So where does omnishambles fit in with this?
posted by Major Clanger at 3:00 AM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


“Shitshow” is in the OED. Huh.

The most capable leader I know distinguished himself in his first year on the job by listening all the time. It sounds like such an easy thing to do, eyes/ears open and mouth shut, but I have never seen anyone else do it so conspicuously. I suspect his employees are going to be more willing to tell him when his ideas are not working than would be the case with a typical boss.

I love the idea of a premortem. Has anyone here done one?
posted by eirias at 4:24 AM on December 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


I may be showing my priveledge but when I hear clusterfuck I think of a box of chocolates in disarray, with little paper cups strewn about, chocolates upsidedown. SNAFUs are underwear related.
posted by waving at 4:50 AM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


Goat rodeo: "Vietnam-era military slang turned goat fuck and its derivations (along with goat dance, goat screw, and goat rope) into synonyms for “fiasco.” ...Goat rodeo isn’t in the OED or The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (although the latter has goat fuck and other goat- compounds). The earliest definition in Urban Dictionary is from 2003, and it’s succinct: “A situation that order cannot be brought to any time.”" (Post also features one of Our Own, yay!)
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:32 AM on December 17, 2019 [3 favorites]


The most capable leader I know distinguished himself in his first year on the job by listening all the time. It sounds like such an easy thing to do, eyes/ears open and mouth shut, but I have never seen anyone else do it so conspicuously. I suspect his employees are going to be more willing to tell him when his ideas are not working than would be the case with a typical boss.

Oh, you know him too, huh?

Twenty years ago I had a boss who used to say, “I don’t care if I’m right or not; I just want things to work.” I kind of dismissed this as a bit of management-speak verbiage until I realized he meant it. It wasn’t until he moved on and I met his successor who had to be right and if things worked, well, that would be okay but mostly let’s focus on the part where I am right.

Like everyone, my old boss was capable of having bad ideas; unlike almost everyone, he was okay with hearing why a bad idea was bad and hearing suggestions to improve it or to scrap it altogether.

As a result, I’ve since followed him through a couple of organizations and now work with him as a consultant.

Back to the subject at hand: somewhere I encountered the useful Yiddish adjective farpotchket, which describes something that used to be mildly messed up but now, as the result of well-intentioned efforts to improve it, is now really messed up.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:42 AM on December 17, 2019 [28 favorites]


Like everyone, my old boss was capable of having bad ideas; unlike almost everyone, he was okay with hearing why a bad idea was bad and hearing suggestions to improve it or to scrap it altogether.

As a result, I’ve since followed him through a couple of organizations and now work with him as a consultant.


Listening with humility is like the index fund of management. It is so low-cost and the returns can be so great, like getting an excellent employee that will follow you around. I admit I have once or twice had this totally irrational desire to work for my iteration of this guy even though I am not even in his industry!
posted by eirias at 5:58 AM on December 17, 2019 [6 favorites]


We need to add a couple of levels. As Major Clanger points out, "omnishambles" seems to be a level above a mere clusterfuck. And I submit that "omnishambles" is too weak to describe the top level mess—for that we need to go full brexit.
posted by cstross at 6:00 AM on December 17, 2019 [19 favorites]


Clusterfuck: Someone else, probably a bunch of people, screwed this up. I am in the middle of it, but had nothing to do with screwing it up.

Shitshow: I and a bunch of other people screwed this up, more or less equally.

Omnishambles: This is so screwed up that I cannot figure out whether I had any part in screwing it up.
posted by Etrigan at 6:09 AM on December 17, 2019 [17 favorites]


Shitshow: goes on for 3 hours at most
Clusterfuck: duration of typically a few days, but can be longer
Omnishambles: an ongoing disaster
posted by Sterros at 7:41 AM on December 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


“A situation that order cannot be brought to any time."

well, here we are then
posted by philip-random at 8:20 AM on December 17, 2019


for my definition, a Clusterf*ck is a poor situation made worse by mismanagement, specifically by multiple managers who are not coordinated together. I think I first heard the term in the movie 'Heartbreak Ridge'.
posted by ovvl at 9:01 AM on December 17, 2019


What's the difference between omnishambles and FUBAR? They both seem to be "abandon all hope" situations where the best thing to do is get out of there/scrap everything and restart, depending on circumstances.
posted by Hactar at 9:01 AM on December 17, 2019


A fubar is something that is broken and current resources can't fix. It might be something that needs to be scrapped and remade.

An omnishambles is where everything is broken, there are no resources, and everyone in charge thinks everything's okay and/or are yelling different ideas to fix things.

And of course, brexit means brexit.
posted by scruss at 9:24 AM on December 17, 2019 [4 favorites]


What's the difference between omnishambles and FUBAR?

Scale.

"This copier is FUBAR. Don't we have a service contract?"
"Yeah, but admin is an omnishambles."
posted by Etrigan at 9:42 AM on December 17, 2019 [6 favorites]


Yeah, FUBAR is localized, but omnishambles is a systemic failure.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:51 AM on December 17, 2019 [6 favorites]



Shitshow: goes on for 3 hours at most
Clusterfuck: duration of typically a few days, but can be longer
Omnishambles: an ongoing disaster



I don't think time is a useful differentiator for the above 3.

let me introduce you to the importance of adjectival modification:


short-term clusterfuck
neverending shitshow
daylong omnishambles

all of these work just fine!
posted by lalochezia at 10:10 AM on December 17, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry but Omnishambles just isn't doing it for me ... as a word.

I mean, Clusterfuck, Fucked Up Beyond All Reason -- those are death metal bands. You want to get out of their way.

Omnishambles is some quirky indie outfit that might not get played much on the radio but their stuff ends up in TV ads. They grow on you.
posted by philip-random at 10:12 AM on December 17, 2019 [12 favorites]


For more specificity and less swearing, the Wikipedia article on wicked problems has a definition of those, and social messes, and divergent problems.
posted by clew at 10:35 AM on December 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'd have thought an omnishambles was a collection of interrelated clusterfucks...
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:52 AM on December 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


short-term clusterfuck
neverending shitshow
daylong omnishambles

all of these work just fine!


Also as user names!
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:04 AM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


According to Dictionary.com at least:

omnishambles - Chiefly British Informal. A situation, especially in politics, in which poor judgment results in disorder or chaos with potentially disastrous consequences.

Origin: 2009; first used in the BBC TV series The Thick of It, a political satire
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:07 AM on December 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


see also clusterbourach, a word which almost caused censure in the house.
posted by scruss at 11:07 AM on December 17, 2019


So "clusterfuck" arose around the same time as the vietnam war? That was also the first use of cluster bombs, Seems to me a way more likely source of the word than the oak leaves on an officers pin. Its just like regular fucks, only fucking multiplied and falling from the fucking sky.
posted by Ansible at 11:13 AM on December 17, 2019 [8 favorites]


My understanding was that a shitshow is everything going wrong but there wasn't much anyone could have done about it, just a run of foul luck. Whereas a clusterfuck is when someone absolutely could have done something about this but multiple people failed to.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 1:37 PM on December 17, 2019 [3 favorites]


@a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist, I've always had the exact opposite understanding: a shitshow is internal failure, while a clusterfuck is distinguished by failures outside your control and your ability to prepare for. Judging by the thread, I think your usages are closer to standard than mine.
posted by mattwan at 2:10 PM on December 17, 2019


I love the idea of a premortem. Has anyone here done one?
My wife did this when she was working for a home-share organization. It wasn't called a premortem, but the idea was to try to look for potential trouble spots before people committed themselves to sharing a home.
posted by MtDewd at 4:10 PM on December 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


The defining characteristic of an honest-to-gawd clusterf0rk is collective incompetence which derives from a dysfunctional organizational structure. I've seen it happen.

Related to this concept is a sudden random crisis (like a medical emergency) where a scrum of well-meaning but ill-informed random people all step in to help at the same time, offering varying degrees of shitty advice, and trying to be heard over each other.
posted by ovvl at 4:47 PM on December 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


Metafilter:
posted by bleep at 5:13 PM on December 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


Ugh

Like everyone, my old boss was capable of having bad ideas; unlike almost everyone, he was okay with hearing why a bad idea was bad and hearing suggestions to improve it or to scrap it altogether.

I'm certain, ricochet, that you're competent.

I'm stuck in a situation where the CEO thinks that they're a hotshot leader by listening - but only listening to a fucking stooge - who's a full on hybrid Engineer's Disease/ Dunning-Kruger; on top of being a delusional impatient incompetent who indulges in extraordinarily good Cannabis too much during working hours.

But he provides the CEO with primo weed.

Feh. And double feh.
posted by porpoise at 5:28 PM on December 17, 2019 [4 favorites]


SNAFU is the natural consequence of top-down management failing to consider factors that mugs on the ground could've told anyone who listened.

For me, a defining characteristic of a snafu is that it is expected and constant. The photocopier that just broke is fubar. The one that hasn't been fixed for months and where there is no indication that it ever will and everyone has just adjusted to that reality? That is situation normal: all fucked up.
posted by Dysk at 9:51 PM on December 17, 2019


But the key thing is that it has to be y the usual state of affairs. It's something that's been fucked up for so long that that has become the normal situation.
posted by Dysk at 9:52 PM on December 17, 2019 [2 favorites]


Back to the subject at hand: somewhere I encountered the useful Yiddish adjective farpotchket, which describes something that used to be mildly messed up but now, as the result of well-intentioned efforts to improve it, is now really messed up.

Similarly, there’s the German verb “verschlimmbessern” (noun “Verschlimmbesserung”), to make something worse by trying to improve it.
posted by meijusa at 1:10 AM on December 18, 2019


I love the idea of a premortem. Has anyone here done one?
I've been on an external review panel for a big science project where we were explicitly told to be as hostile as possible and to pick someone in each sub-topic dedicated to play the role of devil's advocate for every aspect of the design. It's not quite the same, but I think it addresses some of the same problems with organizational group-think.

It was a great idea. But, as a young person looking to make friends and who knew several people on the design team would probably be writing recommendation letters for me in a few years. . . I'm not sure it entirely worked. You've really got to trust not only the process, but your colleagues' sincere investment in the process. Alternatively, you've got to make very senior people the bad guys, which has its own problems. But, it was probably better than not even trying. (The final result is looking pretty good at the moment, as far as I can tell.)
posted by eotvos at 9:59 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Ah, the 2020 American census: a SNAFU leading to a clusterfuck with hints of hacking.
Don't we love the 21st century and its insistence on digitizing EVERYTHING!
posted by Mesaverdian at 3:02 PM on December 18, 2019


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