I recently sat and half-watched an episode of “Undercover Boss”. There is an unnerving fact about this show which is obvious to just about everyone paying attention amongst the working class: the men and women sitting at the top are detached from the men, women, and children who make their wealth possible. Yes, I said that WE make THEIR wealth possible. Keep that expression in mind as I will revisit it later on.
In this series – which I am sure all or most of us in possession of a television or a computer have heard of or seen at least once since its creation -, a top executive of a business is encouraged to leave the bubble of their corporate headquarters to put on an act as some new applicant for the company over which they preside. As someone who works in the service industry I know from experience the usual complaints from average workers about “Corporate”. The people in the comfort of their board rooms are often maligned – quite justifiably from time to time – for the lack of appreciation for the goings-on of day to day work on the “ground”. From hours getting cut – seemingly indiscriminately – to increased expectations for productivity; the detached decision-making of those with power in the business world in more than demoralizing…to say the least.
Never mind the ridiculousness of cameras and a staff for the purpose of documenting events being present, the premise of each episode of the show is that the employer must trick their employees into thinking they are equals so that he or she can learn the truth about what is going on. You may love, like, or hate this show, but the disconnect in our society is on full display – genuine or not – for all to see. In the workplace, workers are often entertained and/or annoyed by the announcement by lower management that “the suits” are en route either that day or sometime soon. Upon the revelation of the impending invasion from headquarters all employees are directed to put on a masquerade presenting the illusion that everything is working out just fine…even when that isn’t the case. This is not out of respect for the “powers that be”, but a product of fear for the consequences of not being up to par.
As anyone paying attention and living this knows, the decisions made by the business community have had a direct impact on the lives of their subordinates. In a workforce increasingly dependent – by design – on temporary or part-time labor (due to the weakness of their labor power and the ease of exploiting them), the workers are expected to remain forever on-call as they desperately seek more opportunities to make money. Instability is intentional to tame the forces of change and we are all force-fed the standard message of “at least you have a job” or “be thankful for what you have”. Your condition could always be a lot worse, so just shut up and do your job.
Of course, by the end of each episode the executive apparently learns their lessons from the interaction they have with the people at the bottom of the totem pole. No, they don’t learn that “greed is bad”, nor do they conclude that they must truly start treating their workers as equals. Rather, they take up some token good-feeling actions which helps their favorite employees from the experience. The show does more to improve the public relations of corporate executives and to humanize them than it does to address the root problems: inequality in economics and politics. Yes, you will tear up as you watch individual working class folks showered with life-changing opportunities, but the inherent injustices of the system remain intact.
The primary lesson that one ought to learn from this show and others like it is that inequality is a product of the gap of societal empathy. We have long become detached from the conditions of our countrymen (and countrywomen). It is easier for us to dismiss the suffering of a some bum on the streets when we no longer see ourselves as having a destiny intertwined with theirs. This division of our collective conscience and the perpetuation thereof by all facets of our cultural instruction is perhaps the greatest victory of the oligarchs. Until we resolve to unwind this shroud of artificial separation we can not adequately confront the persistent demons of our existence.
Do not be fooled by the temporary good deeds of an executive presenting an act for the cameras. Even if these actions have legitimately positive results for a handful of regular people, the roots of their former predicaments remain and require bold action by the whole. We have permitted this condition by training ourselves to believe that it is either inevitable or necessary, but it isn’t. The wealth that WE have created through the fruits of OUR collective labor is only THEIR wealth because WE permit such. This world belongs to all of us, not just a few of us.
In the near future I will delve deeper into this issue, for sure. Peace, and take care.