Last night, CBS gave the much-coveted post-Super Bowl time slot to the premiere of Undercover Boss, a reality show wherein the CEO of a big company goes “undercover” as a low-wage minion, and learns a lot about himself in the process!
In the pilot, Waste Management President Larry O’Donnell tries his hand at being a garbageman – with hilarious (and heartwarming) results!
Undercover Boss is recession porn: an insulting, pandering, treacly, lowest-common-denominator pack of lies. It’s a justification for capitalism couched in the kind of dull feel-good fare that wouldn’t be out of place on an Oprah episode or a greeting card.
The messages of Undercover Boss are:
CEOs are people too! America’s filthy-rich executives of Fortune 500 companies really only want what’s best for their employees and their customers. If they create any policies that don’t directly benefit their workers, it’s only because they’re so busy working hard for the company that they’ve lost touch with the day-to-day routine of being a garbageman (or waiter or factory worker).
The premiere episode was a 60-minute blow job for O’Donnell, who was painted as a loving family man and caring boss throughout. Maybe he is. Maybe all CEOs are. But I fucking doubt it.
A working class hero is something to be. Every low-paid workaday Joe and Jane was presented as a cross between Rosie the Riveter and Joan of Arc. They work insane hours for pitiful wages so they can take care of their families.
Look, I get it: we’re in a bad recession. Times are tough. CBS likes ratings. So it makes sense to create a show that allows wage slaves to look in a mirror and feel good about themselves. But can we have a little complexity? A little dose of reality? Not all workers are good people. Not all of them work hard (says the guy blogging from his cubicle at 11:38 a.m. on a Monday). Not all of them deserve to be the subject of soft-focus music montages.
It’s possible to convince a major network to give your company a one-hour commercial immediately following the Super Bowl at no cost. All you have to do is put on a funny outfit and haul some trash.
Most insidious of all, Undercover Boss teaches us that if we just work hard, keep our heads down and don’t complain, we’ll be rewarded in the end. (Not sure how that works for those companies whose CEOs don’t go undercover, but whatever.) In the Middle Ages, people were told not to end their horrible, disease-ridden lives because eternal reward awaited us in the afterlife. Now, we’re being told not to quit our horrible, dignity-robbing jobs because maybe, just maybe, the higher-ups will notice our hard work and give us a promotion.
You see, America? Everything’s going to be OK! There’s nothing wrong with the system! Nothing to see here. And next week….Hooters!