False Generosity as Entertainment

Freire admits the methods of liberation he proposes are complex, and I think they are even more so today, partly because of technology. “Technology” can simultaneously serve and undermine oppressors and the oppressed, as well as the process of liberation. One such technology is Hulu.

The TV show, Undercover Boss, is meant to show the CEO (oppressor) what it’s like to work for a day with his company’s laborers (the oppressed). At the end of the episode, the audience is eager to see how the CEO will respond. In the episode I watched recently, the CEO takes on a surfer-boy persona and learns some of his most talented employees are neglecting health issues because they don’t have health insurance or sick days, have to choose between fixing their cars or feeding their kids, and get treated badly by customers when out-of-date computer systems slow down their work. The CEO is sympathetic towards the three workers he meets and gives them collectively over $100,000 in addition to promotions they didn’t ask for. As for the other 10s of thousands of workers in his company, their cash registers will be upgraded sometime in the next three years. Otherwise the situation is unchanged.

The CEO continues to oppress as he has full power over the value of and kind of gifts he gives to the lucky few he met, and more knowingly neglects his company’s lack of living wage for all employees.┬áSpending time with him is portrayed as the chance of a lifetime and hard working, relatable people receive highly deserved and needed gifts. The CEO is seemingly transformed from an innocently unaware leader to a generous friend of the people. The average audience is more accepting of the bigger picture, even tho for most employees the oppressive structure hasn’t changed.

1 thought on “False Generosity as Entertainment

  1. I think you make a good point about the power of television to influence our perceptions of the power structures at play here. One of the interesting things about undercover boss is that while it is often ostensibly about a CEO gaining sympathy for the workers who are lower down in their companies, what it often becomes is a sympathy play for the CEOs themselves. By entertaining viewers, often the very same people who are systematically oppressed by the corporations which are depicted in the show, and employing the sort of saccharine “everybody has some common ground to come together on” moral play that the show seems to favor, there is a very real danger of making it more difficult to for these viewers to critically examine the system that they are a part of. Why be mad at your CEO when he is probably a regular joe, just like that guy on TV? Why unionize when he seems so reasonable?

    One of the most distressing consequences of reality TV shows of this variety are that they very much affect our perception of the world in which we live, and often not in a constructive or critical way.

Comments are closed.