Today: a digression. This squib in honor of Martin Luther and Martin Luther King has little to do with the main business of The God Project Dot Net, except indirectly. But since nobody is reading this blog anyway, we’ll let fly with our personal truth.
I don’t watch television — and it’s not through laziness. I try, I really do. I can’t tell you how often I’ve sat down on the couch of an empty, starless night and fired up the box with the greatest of good will, ready to surrender the synapses to the power of another’s imagination, to be transported out of my cluttered, neo-Dansk Midwestern living room into a happier world.
Then I start scrolling: past the unveiled political polemic, poor people raising their hands to the Lord, pregnant pre-teens screaming at their tiny mothers, terror in Asia, lava flowing in Afghanistan, chaos in the corridors of power, bewildering sit-coms with comic characters who are gay-Indian-mentally ill like a modern version of blackface, darkly-lit crime dramas and sports that dissect (at times, quite literally) moments of pure conflict … and gosh if I don’t turn it off and go read Agatha Christie again.
Call me avoidant. Others have.
But last night I turned on “Undercover Boss” and stared transfixed, and I have not been able since to shake a presentiment of cultural doom. As you know, it’s a popular CBS show on which the CEO of some company goes “undercover” among his or her (almost always his) employees. Cue the spectacle of a white collar turning red as he can’t do what his field workers do. Unleash a sense of appreciation for how brutally difficult much blue-collar work can be. Big reveal as the CEO unmasks himself. Bonuses for those cast in the show. Tears.
What’s wrong, you ask? Well, last night’s program featured a charismatic, likable guy named Sheldon Yellin who heads a disaster recovery and restoration outfit called Belfor, based in my own hometown of Birmingham, Michigan. It’s dangerous, lucrative construction-type work. That is, lucrative for Yellin.
During last night’s episode, like previous Undercover Bosses, Yellin discovers that his employees are — shock! — real people. That they really do — amazement! — try their best. That they have — bizarro world! — a quiet dignity despite the obvious truth they will never be good-looking, rich or — tragic moment! — CEO.
And did I say broke? The people Yellin encounters on his travels — employed people, working human beings — can’t pay their bills, are getting foreclosed on, live in terror of tomorrow. Terror. Yellin cries at one point, and well he might. If marginal poverty and absolute disaster is the state of America’s working population, I can only imagine the Ibsenesque existence of America’s unworking population.
In the end, Yellin dries his tears, tosses around a few promotions and a ten-K check or two for those lucky enough to be cast in the show, and hops back into his private jet (price: $20 million). He promises to change, and the horror starts again.
Here’s what I think. We are becoming a country where a few absolutely ordinary men and women own absolutely everything, and where the rest of us are permitted only to suffer in silence with self-hatred as our guide, prayerfully awaiting the day when we will be cast on a reality TV show and some rich man will take pity on us, shed a few tears, and deliver us from our daily death with a check for $6,500 after taxes.
And if we’re really super-lucky, we’ll be cast in both “Undercover Boss” and “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and get an actual house to live in!