Created By: Leporidae on January 13, 2017 Last Edited By: Leporidae on February 21, 2017
Troped

Cardboard Box of Unemployment

When a character is fired, they leave with a cardboard box full of their personal items.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
trope
http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/walt_box_0.jpg

A trope common in western media, the Cardboard Box of Unemployment has been used by generations of the recently laid off to remove their personal possessions from a former Office, locker, or desk after being discharged from their duties. Like a pink slip, it's visual shorthand for "this character was just fired." The sight of a cardboard box stuffed with books, papers, and personal items- like potted plants and family photos- can also indicate that someone's merely been demoted and thus forced to move to a smaller office, but the sentiment (that their employment status has changed for worse) remains the same.

Oftentimes, this is the result of a disgruntled employee working under a Pointy-Haired Boss snapping and telling said boss to Take This Job and Shove It. It's also the indispensable accessory of every Fired Teacher, or can be used to show that someone is a Reluctant Retiree: if they knew their retirement was imminent and didn't start packing up their personal items in advance, they're likely to work up until the last minute before grabbing a spare cardboard box to cram all their stuff into.

Not to be confused with the Cardboard Box Home (which is where an impoverished person lives in a box), or Bankruptcy Barrel (which is where an impoverished person wears a barrel). Similar to the Bindle Stick, which holds a character's few possessions after a loss of wealth or status.

About half the examples listed below are Bankers Boxes; sturdy, stack-able, standardized storage boxes found in white-collar workplaces the world over. (Available in white, tan, and faux wood-grain, they even come with convenient handles!) Truth in Television comes into play in that they're so cheap and abundant no employer is going to complain if a recently terminated employee takes one home with them.


Examples

Film - Animated
  • As anti-predator sentiment hits a boiling point in Zootopia, Officer Benjamin Clawhauser (a cheetah) is transferred away front desk duty at the police station. Judy watches him packing his "I Heart Gazelle" coffee mug and snow globe into a box for the move.
    Officer Clawhauser: They thought it would be better if a predator - such as myself - wasn't the first face that you see when you walk into the ZPD. They're gonna move me to records. It's downstairs. It's by the boiler.

Comic Strips
  • In Alex, black bin liners [i.e. garbage bags] are the container of shame. Sacked bankers are required to pack their personal belongings in a bin liner and are then escorted from the building by security so they can't steal anything.
  • The eponymous Dilbert of Dilbert has been fired before. This particular strip plays the trope straight, showing Dilbert with a "box full of junk" as he tries to give his Pointy-Haired Boss a Take This Job and Shove It after he's been fired. (It doesn't go so well for Dilbert, to the extent that the strip manages to throw in a Vomit Discretion Shot between the second and third panels.)

Comics

Film - Live Action
  • After the protagonist of American Beauty succeeds in getting fired from his job, we see him leaving the office carrying a box with his belongings hoisted triumphantly on his shoulder.
  • In Bruce Almighty, reporter Bruce goes ballistic on live TV when he finds out his co-worker Evan was promoted to the position Bruce wanted. The next scene is Bruce literally tossed out of the WKBW-TV 7 building, followed by security throwing a bankers box full of his personal items at his junk. Later, Bruce uses his newfound divine powers to cause Evan to have a similar on-air breakdown. Bruce is promoted to Evan's position, and though initially happy at the downfall of his rival he has a change of heart after he sees Evan clearing out his office and offers Evan his job back.
  • In Donnie Darko, Donnie's teacher Ms. Pomeroy is fired from her job for discussing offensive literature. There is a shot of her leaving the classroom with a box full of books, a desk lamp and a U.S. flag.
  • Happens in Ghostbusters (2016), when Erin is fired from her job (after Abby and Jillian post the video of her covered in ectoplasm and shouting that she believes in ghosts). Abby and Jillian are terminated shortly after, but they forgo the bankers boxes and start wheeling equipment out with carts.
    Erin: Kids, hello. I didn't get fired. Even though I have the old plant in the box.... Margaret, hi. Just taking my plant out for some air. Just like to carry it in this box with all my other personal stuff.... Samantha. Hi. How are you?... Sometimes, I like to put all my stuff from my office in a box and just do some exercises and just use it as weights.
  • Hidden Figures: After Katherine is told she's no longer needed in the Space Task Group now that NASA's IBM computer is performing calculations for them, she packs all her desk items and a few gifts from coworkers into a box and leaves.
  • It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie implies this trope: the Big Bad is trying to take over the Muppets' theater, and snidely tells them that if they need help moving out, there are discarded boxes behind a nearby business that they can use.
  • Looney Tunes: Back in Action has Daffy Duck go into histrionics while arguing to the Warner Brothers that he's much more bankable than Bugs Bunny. Unmoved, the brothers have a yes-man bring in a box of personal effects. Daffy recognizes the contents.
    Daffy Duck: Say, that looks like the stuff from my office.
    Brother #1: You don't have an office.
    Brother #2: Not any more.
    Daffy Duck: [breaking fourth wall] Symbolically, this is bad.
  • Though uncommon in German media, bankers boxes show up here and there thanks to Eagleland Osmosis. One example can be seen in the Stromberg movie. Near the end of the film, the protagonist gets fired from his job at an insurance company and can be seen leaving the office with a bankers box holding a globe, a trophy and an honorary certificate.

Live-Action Television
  • Invoked and then downplayed in Agent Carter. Peggy is told to pack her things after the SSR catches wind of her vigilante investigation and fires her. However, she was given so few responsibilities from her sexist coworkers that there isn't much to pack.
  • In Breaking Bad episode "Green Light", Walt gets fired from his teaching job and we see him carry a box with his work items into the parking lot. He places it on top of Jesse's car where it is forgotten. When Jesse speeds off the box crashes to the ground, much to Walt's chagrin.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "Turn Left", Donna is downsized from her clerical job. She leaves with a cardboard box containing her possessions... along with some other items that aren't technically hers but she decides to take as compensation.
    Donna: Hole punch. Having that. Stapler, mine. Toy cactus. You can have that, Beatrice. Catch.
  • Occurs in The Flash, when Barry makes a deal with Julian: Julian won't turn Caitlin over to the police for her Killer Frost spell, and in return he demands Barry resign from CCPD. In the next scene Barry packs his desk into a box.
  • Grimm
    • Invoked in "Fugitive," the sixth season opener. Detective Hank and Sergeant Wu return to the precinct to keep tabs on the search for Nick, only for Officer Franco to inform them that Captain Renard is on the warpath. Hank notes that it "looks like he's cleaning out his office." The next shot of the interior of Renard's office reveals that he's got a bankers box on the console next to his desk, which has been emptied of his [sparse] personal effects.
    • Happens two episodes later in "Oh Captain, My Captain," when Captain Renard has demanded Detective Hank and Sergeant Wu's resignations for their role in arresting him for the murder of Rachel Wood. Both Hank and Wu are shown with bankers boxes on their desks, and later announce to Nick that they are "officially unemployed." It doesn't stick, seeing as Nick gets them their jobs back by the end of the episode.
  • Leverage: Invoked in an episode where the team is trying to keep a company from covering some scandal on a plane, Hardison is sent to infiltrate the offices and steal the information directly. He does this by calling a bunch of meetings, then faking sickness to dump presentations on hapless stooges while he hacks the computers. At the end he puts a bunch of stuff (including the drive with the information he needs) in a cardboard box then makes a show of leaving, yelling about all he's put into this company and for them to just cut him off like this. And on his birthday too! As he does, a pair of office staff watch him go.
    Female Coworker: He was always so sensitive.
    Male Coworker: I never liked him.
  • Mad Men is bursting with examples, as it's set in the heart of white-collar corporate Manhattan during the 1960's:
    • Inverted in the first episode, "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" as Peggy Olson arrives at her new job at Sterling Cooper carrying a cardboard box with her work supplies in it.
    • Happens again when she's promoted to junior copywriter in ''The Wheel". As Joan shows her to her new shared office, Peggy caries a bankers box full of items from her desk in the secretary pool.
    • And again when Peggy fires Joey Baird in ''The Summer Man" after he tapes a demeaning cartoon to Joan's window. Joey attempts a Take This Job and Shove It when he grabs a bankers box Peggy's currently using to store files, dumps it out, and takes it with him, but it mostly serves to characterize him as a petulant Manchild.
    • Played with twice in the episode "Lost Horizon", when Peggy Olson moves into a new office at McCann carrying a bankers box full of personal trinkets. The first attempt at the move is a false start, but by the end of the episode the move-in is played much more triumphantly. (The box used in filming the scene was later auctioned off as memorabilia.)
  • Happens in Prison Break: After Warden Pope discovers burns on Micheal, he pins them on Roy Geary, a corrupt guard who'd been shaking down inmates and stealing their possessions for months. The warden searches Geary's locker, finding several stolen items. The next scene is Geary being marched out of the prison, carrying his belongings in a box.

Web Original
  • Played for Laughs in season 10 of Acquisitions Incorporated, where the Bad Boss Omin learns that one of his underlings unwittingly assisted in Viari pulling a fast one on him. Omin has this to say to his (now ex-)employee:
    Omin: Put everything you like and care about in a box, and when I come back, we will talk about what happens to the box.

Community Feedback Replies: 47
  • January 14, 2017
    Arivne
    • De-capitalized many words in the Laconic.
    • Added punctuation (periods at the ends of sentences, commas).
    • Examples section
      • Added the word "Examples".
      • Italicized work names as per How To Write An Example - Emphasis For Work Names.
      • Put episode titles in quotes as per How To Write An Example - Emphasis For Work Names.
      • Corrected spelling (bankers -> banker's).
  • January 14, 2017
    oneuglybunny
    Film Live Action
    • Looney Tunes Back In Action has Daffy Duck go into histrionics while arguing to the Warner Brothers that he's much more bankable than Bugs Bunny. Unmoved, the brothers have a yes-man bring a box of personal effects brought in. Daffy recognizes the contents.
      Daffy Duck: Say, that looks like the stuff from my office.
      Brother #1: You don't have an office.
      Brother #2: Not any more.
      Daffy Duck: [breaking fourth wall] Symbolically, this is bad.
  • January 14, 2017
    Leporidae
    ^^ Arivne I appreciate the help with the formatting. But the spelling change was unnecessary - "Bankers Box" is actually a brand that has become synonymous with the cardboard box in question. Kinda a genericized trademark, like saying "to Google" something instead of "find this information with your preferred search engine, or "to Xerox" something instead of "make a copy of this item regardless of what brand of copier we have." So I'm going to change that back.

    ^oneuglybunny, Thank you for the example, I'll add it in.
  • January 16, 2017
    eroock
    Image suggestions:
    http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/walt_box.jpg
    http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/peggy_olson_box.jpg
    http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/clawhouser_box.jpg
  • January 16, 2017
    Leporidae
    ^ eroock, Thanks for the images. (I personally like the Peggy one, but I think the Walt image exemplifies the trope a bit better. Thoughts?)
  • January 16, 2017
    Koveras
    • Played For Laughs in season 10 of Acquisitions Incorporated, where the Bad Boss Omin learns that one of his underlings unwittingly assisted in Viari pulling a fast one on him, he has this to say to his (now ex-)employee: "Put everything you like and care about in a box, and when I come back, we will talk about what happens to the box."
  • January 16, 2017
    eroock
    Film:
    • Bankers boxes are rather uncommon in German media but thanks to Eagleland Osmosis it pops up here and there. One example can be seen in the Stromberg movie where the protagonist gets fired from his job at an insurance company towards the end and we see him leaving the office with a bankers box holding a globe, a trophy and an honorary certificate.
  • January 16, 2017
    foxley
    In the Alex, black bin liners are the container of shame. Sacked bankers are required to pack their personal belongings in a bin liner and are then escorted from the building by security so they can't steal anything.
  • January 17, 2017
    longWriter
    Comic Strip/Dilbert: Dilbert has been fired before, and when he did in this strip, he played the trope straight along with another trope simultaneously: http://dilbert.com/strip/2009-01-22
  • January 17, 2017
    Leporidae
    ^^^^ - ^ Koveras, eroock, foxley, longWriter, thanks for the examples. All have been added.
  • January 17, 2017
    zarpaulus
    Later in Bruce Almighty Evan is seen clearing out his office after Bruce takes over his job, but Bruce stops him after reconsidering.
  • January 18, 2017
    Arivne
    The Dilbert example violates Weblinks Are Not Examples and Zero Context Example and has been marked as such. It needs more information about how it fits the trope, such as the fact that he's carrying his possessions in a bankers box. Just saying "plays it straight" is not enough.
  • January 18, 2017
    Tuomas
    Since "Bankers Box" is a brand that's not known outside the USA, the trope name is a bit unclear and could lead to some people to think it's about people working in the banking sector. For clarity's sake, I'd suggest changing the name to Cardboard Box Of Unemployment.
  • January 18, 2017
    longWriter
    Thanks for the clarification, Arvine. Shoot...sometimes I wonder where to draw the line between "This is self-explanatory" and "It needs context"...oh, well; at least my mistake got corrected long before it touched a page.

    Its A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie implies this trope: the Big Bad is trying to take over the Muppets' theater, and snidely tells them that if they need help moving out, there are discarded boxes behind a nearby business that they can use.
  • January 18, 2017
    longWriter
    Tuomas: I'm a little worried that, if we use Cardboard Box Of Unemployment, people might think that the unemployed person is wearing the box, which is a separate trope, Bankruptcy Barrel. ...Then again, one look at the page image might clear up that misunderstanding...
  • January 19, 2017
    Koveras
    ^ It's better to have a title that may be misleading to some but can be clarified with a single image over a title that is definitely misleading to 95% of the word and can only be clarified with a lesson in corporate branding.
  • January 19, 2017
    Leporidae
    zarpaulus, longWriter, thanks for the examples. I'll add them in.

    Arivne, thanks for pointing out that the Dilbert example needs to be re-written to be more informative. I'm on it.

    Tuomas, Koveras, I think we can solve this situation by asking the mods to create a re-direct from Cardboard Box Of Unemployment to Bankers Box Of Unemployment once this is launched. (That's how re-directs are created, right? Asking the mods? That is what I gathered from the Creating New Redirects page.)
  • January 19, 2017
    AmourMitts
    A scene from Bruce Almighty would work best for an image.
  • January 19, 2017
    PaulA
    • Doctor Who: In "Turn Left", Donna is downsized from her clerical job, and leaves with a carboard box containing her stuff... along with some other stuff that isn't technically hers but she decides to take as compensation.
      Donna: Hole punch. Having that. Stapler, mine. Toy cactus. You can have that, Beatrice. Catch.
  • January 20, 2017
    Tuckerscreator
    • Hidden Figures: After Katherine is told she's no longer needed in the Space Task Group now that NASA's IBM computer is performing calculations for them, she packs all her desk's items and a few gifts from coworkers into a box and leaves.
    • Subverted in Agent Carter. Peggy is told to pack things after the SSR catches wind of her vigilante investigation and fires her. However, she was given so few responsibilities from her sexist coworkers that there isn't much to pack.
  • January 20, 2017
    oneuglybunny
    Film Animated
    • Osmosis Jones has been dismissed from Frank's immune system, and is seen emptying his locker into a box. Among his personal effects are a rubber duckie, Played For Laughs.
  • January 20, 2017
    longWriter
    Tuckerscreator, isn't that Agent Carter example downplayed more than it is subverted?
  • January 20, 2017
    Leporidae
    AmourMitts, I don't think a Bruce Almighty screencap would work better than the current image. I reviewed the scene of Bruce getting fired before I wrote this TLP entry, and none of the camera angles really showed the box clearly. Except for when it landed a Groin Attack, but that's not really what this trope is about...

    PaulA, Tuckerscreator, oneuglybunny, thanks for the examples. But the Osmosis Jones example is a duffle bag, not a box.

    longWriter, good point about the Agent Carter example. I'd say it's invoked before it's downplayed.
  • January 20, 2017
    DustSnitch
    The Alice and Bob Example As A Thesis is unnecessary and just buries the actual trope definition given in the third paragraph. I'd request cutting it before launching and ask you postpone the launch to allow more discussion.
  • January 20, 2017
    Leporidae
    ^ DustSnitch you make a valid point regarding the first two paragraphs. But I'm not sure what you mean by "allow more discussion" for the trope - most of the comments thusfar have been tropers adding in examples. Not much discussion per se.
  • January 21, 2017
    AmourMitts
    This should belong in Comedy Tropes.
  • January 21, 2017
    Josef5678
    ^ Many of the examples are played for drama rather than comedy, if anything.
  • January 21, 2017
    Leporidae
    ^^ Yeah I'm not so sure about the Comedy Tropes thing... the bankers box is just a prop (albeit one that gives the audience information about the situation), and the tone of the scene it's used in can vary wildly from poignant to painfully awkward.
  • January 22, 2017
    DustSnitch
    Other potential indices include Poverty Tropes and Improvised Index.

    The following could also go in the description: "This trope shares similarities with the Bindle Stick, which often ends up holding a character's few possessions after a loss of wealth or status."
  • January 23, 2017
    Leporidae
    ^ I think Improvised Index works, but I'm not sold on the Poverty Index. Good call on the Bindle Stick comparison.
  • January 23, 2017
    eroock
    How does it fit Improvised Index? Not sure about Poverty Tropes either, poverty may follow but it's not an integral part of the scenario.
  • January 23, 2017
    Leporidae
    ^ When someone is fired unexpectedly, they grab whatever's on hand [i.e. a bankers box] to remove their personal items. Hardly any of the examples provided are of people who wanted/ expected to get fired. It's reaching to put it on the Improvised Index, but one could argue it fits.
  • January 24, 2017
    Koveras
    @OP: Redirects are not as helpful as you think. If you launch this under "Bankers BOU", that's how it will get indexed by the search engine, while "Cardboard BOU" will merely allow you to link to the article more quickly. It is therefore usually better to launch a trope under a more general and better searchable title and create redirects from less searchable but shorter alternative titles.
  • January 27, 2017
    Tuckerscreator
    • Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat: After Patsy is laid off from Jen Walter's attorney office (and by extension, the storage closet she's been renting as a room), Patsy packs her items in a box and moves in with her new roommate Ian. He's surprised to see the box is so small, to which she admits there isn't much to pack since she's been off the grid for several years (due to being dragged to hell; it's a long story.)
  • January 25, 2017
    JoeG
    How about a crowner to decide on the name? See How Crowners Work..
  • January 26, 2017
    Leporidae
    Koveras, my biggest concern is that people will confuse Cardboard Box Of Unemployment with Cardboard Box Home. You raised a valid point earlier about the image clearing things up for most readers, but images don't always load with a slow connection.

    Tuckerscreator, thank you for the example. I'll add it in.

    JoeG, Thanks for the suggestion. I'll have to check out the How Crowners Work page.
  • January 27, 2017
    Tallens
    • Leverage: Invoked in an episode where the team is trying to keep a company from covering some scandal on a plane, Hardison is sent to infiltrate the offices to steal the information directly. He does this by calling a bunch of meetings, then faking sickness to dump presentations on hapless stooges while he hacks the computers. At the end he puts a bunch of stuff (including the drive with the information he needs) in a cardboard box then makes a show of leaving, yelling about all he's put into this company and for them to just cut him off like this. And on his birthday too! As he does, a pair of office staff watch him go.
      Female Coworker: He was always so sensitive. Male Coworker: I never liked him.
  • January 27, 2017
    AmourMitts
    Why would you postpone launching this trope?
  • January 28, 2017
    Leporidae
    Tallens, thanks for the example. I'll add it in.

    ArmourMitts, I've postponed launching for several reasons. Some tropers have expressed interest in re-naming "Bankers Box of Unemployment," and I think letting the community decide (via a title crowner) is probably the best way to go. Additionally, the chances of people contributing to this trope and helping to refine the definition are greater the longer it stays in the TLP. When the launch does happen, I want to launch the best and most complete version of this trope possible.
  • January 28, 2017
    Tallens
    • Prison Break: After Warden Pope discovers burns on Micheal, he pins them on Roy Geary, a corrupt guard who'd been shaking down inmates and stealing their possessions for months. The warden goes and searches Geary's locker, finding several stolen items. The next scene is Geary being marched out of the prison, carrying his belongings in a box.
  • January 28, 2017
    Skylite
    The Flash 2014 Barry makes a deal with Julian: Julian won't turn Caitlin over to the police for her Killer Frost spell, and in return he demands Barry resign from CCPD. In the next scene we see Barry packing his desk into a box.
  • January 30, 2017
    Leporidae
    Tallens, Skylite, thank youfor the examples. I'll add them in.
  • February 12, 2017
    JoeG
    Bump
  • February 19, 2017
    eroock
    http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/darko_box.jpg
    Film:
    • In Donnie Darko, Donnie's teacher Ms. Pomeroy is fired from her job for discussing offensive literature. We see her leaving the class room with a box full of books, a desk lamp and a U.S. flag.

    .

    .

    .

  • February 20, 2017
    Antigone3
    The description uses "banker's box" and "cardboard box" interchangeably, but doesn't bother to define "banker's box" for those readers who don't have that brand available — might want to add a line or two to explain that term.
  • February 20, 2017
    Leporidae
    eroock, thank you for the example - I'll add it in.

    Antigone3, it looks like the title is going to change to "Cardboard Box of Unemployment" (who am I to argue with a title crowner?), so most references to Bankers Boxes will be changed to more generic "cardboard boxes." That being said, you make a good point about defining what a Bankers Box is.
  • February 21, 2017
    eroock
    There haven't been any substantial additions within the last three weeks and the title crowner is decided. I'd say: Just Launch It Already
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=1zwzap3ol6f1hbuy0alaclkg