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Don't Get Even, Get Mad

by The Cranky Media Guy

Back when I was just a young'un on the plains of The Bronx, my Dad gave me some sage advice.

"You have to steal from your employer," he told me. As a young boy held captive by Dominican nuns for several hours each day at St. Brendan's School, I was shocked by my father saying such a thing. Naturally, inquisitive lad that I was, I asked why.

"These big companies will screw you every way they can," he explained. "You don't have any real way to fight them. The only way you can live with the situation is if you take something from them. See, that way you think, 'Well, maybe they're not paying me enough and I don't have any pension, but I'm stealing paper clips when they aren't looking.' If you're getting away with something, even if it's small, you feel like you're evening the score a little bit."

At age 10, I had a hard time understanding "wisdom" like that which flew in the face of everything I was being taught by the good sisters. As I got older, though, I came to understand what my Old Man was saying. In fact, when I was in my 20's, I happened to come across an article in Psychology Today magazine by some guy with a bunch of letters after his name which said essentially the same thing. His advice to management types was that if employee theft wasn't out of control, they probably would be better off looking the other way. According to him, employees needed to feel they were fighting back, if only in a small way, against what they felt was the tyranny of the company they worked for. I'm glad I got to tell my Dad before he died that Doctor Something-or-other agreed with him.

OK, maybe I'm paranoid (although I don't think so), but I swear to you, just about every day I see evidence that Big Business has it in for the little guy. Just yesterday, Tuesday, September 28, 1999, I stumbled across a half-page ad in USA Today that illustrates my point.

"Managers need it. Accountants love it. Receptionists fear it." the headline says in large type. The ad goes on: "At such an incredible price, the Microsoft PC Phone System could soon replace a lot of small business phone systems (And perhaps even a few receptionists.)" The ad goes on with some yada yada about how wonderful this phone is and where you can get it.

Um, any guesses as to which of those three employee-types (managers, accountants or receptionists) is paid the least? Yet whose job does this product threaten? Apparently, canning your $20,000 a-year receptionist is a good thing, something that will keep (or put) your company on the road to financial health. Let me advance the heretical notion that if you're running a big company and replacing your receptionist with a computer phone is going to make the difference between profit and loss, you're a really bad manager. Let me be a little bit more blunt: You suck! For the good of mankind, please cash in your stock options now and go live on some island in the Pacific where you won't be a threat to average people trying to make a living.

Ever notice you never see an ad that says, "This product will eliminate at least one corporate Vice-president"? If it was really about saving the company money, logic tells us that one redundant VP is probably more wasteful than a dozen receptionists, even if they spend all day, every day, filing their nails. You want to argue that there's no waste in the upper corporate levels? Puh-leeze!

Personally, I suspect the corporate board room is kind of like what they used to say about Harvard: It's hard to get in, but once you're there, it's almost impossible to get kicked out. After all, it reflects badly on the company and the remaining management if they have to can an executive for incompetence. It raises nasty questions from the stockholders like, "Hey, who hired this guy in the first place and why?" It's easier to just stick the schlub in some office where he has nothing to do and fire some receptionists to make up his salary. The stockholders never ask, "Hey, why'd you fire the receptionist?" If for some reason they did ask, you could just point to your nifty new Microsoft computer phone and say, "So we could buy that!" So what if your customers prefer dealing with an actual living, breathing human being when they call your office? So what if everybody hates voice mail systems? Screw 'em! This is cheaper and it never takes a day off because its kid has the sniffles.

            The thing that really gets me is that nobody seems to get upset over this stuff. Everybody knows that there are executives in big companies making hundreds to thousands of times as much as their average employee (the name Michael Eisner comes to mind) and that these same guys get sexually aroused at the thought of having those Kathie Lee Gifford Third World kids working for ten cents an hour for them but nobody seems mad about any of this. I don't want to go all Star Spangled Banner on you, but didn't Americans used to have a spine once upon a time? Didn't we used to get mad at injustice? Or was that just a fairy tale, like Washington chopping down the cherry tree?

It isn't just business that craps on you, either. Right now, Congress is debating health care--again. There's a sentiment among a lot of Congress-weasels that America "cannot afford" to give all its citizens full, comprehensive health care. You know, the kind that Congress has made sure it enjoys (at your expense, by the way). Hey, you can't let the peasants have the same luxuries the upper classes have. Takes the fun out of being in the upper class, you know? If God wanted them to have health care, He would have had them be born rich. Besides, it's only 43 million Americans who don't have health insurance. Sure, a lot of them are kids, but what's the big deal here?

I have to kind of laugh whenever I hear rich "Conservative" types--the kind of guys who consistantly oppose letting people sue HMO's for negligence because "it would raise the cost of providing health care" (yeah, right)--talk about America being a compassionate, Christian nation. It's been a while since I cracked open a New Testament. Are those "Beatitude" things still in there? Remember that stuff about clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, comforting the sick? Call me wacky, but it seems to me that you can't really call yourself a "Christian nation" if you put corporate profit ahead of those things and rationalize ways around doing them.

I'd have to check, but I'm pretty sure Jesus didn't have any drachmas in a growth fund and I don't think he ever said, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and put the rest in a 401k." I know he did say something about it being easier to shove a camel's ass through the eye of a needle than for a rich guy to get into Heaven. (Okay, I'm paraphrasing. I said I hadn't read it in a while.) Does 200k a year qualify as "rich"? If so, there's a lot of people in Congress who shouldn't give the Pearly Gates as a forwarding address.

But you don't care about any of this. Yeah, you know that the company you work for would replace you with a eight-year-old Vietnamese girl first chance they got, but you've got a halfway decent job now and you figure, if worst came to worst, you could always get a job at McDonalds. Hmm, what did that article I read recently say? Something about Mickey D's experimenting with robots that can cook and package the food, I think it was. Gee, it looks like Ronald McDonald hates you, too.

On the eleven o'clock news last night, I saw a video clip of a guy at the Mets game. He was holding up a sign that said, "Get mad. Show some emotion." That sums up what I think needs to happen in America. It's time to get mad and show some emotion about the lousy way we're being treated.

Next time you feel really P.O.'ed about how the country is run, call up your Senator (you can get his direct office number from the Capitol switchboard) and tell him he's a greedy scumbag. Even if you don't know anything about the guy, the Law of Averages says you'll be right. Take out all your frustrations on him. If he isn't taking calls from the peasants that day, leave your message on his voice mail. Believe it or not, it is legal to do that. Remember that "freedom of speech" stuff? Use it, for Chrissakes! Just don't threaten him with bodily harm. That would be stupid (and illegal).

Then, when you go to work and you get the memo about "downsizing", do what my late Dad would do: steal some office supplies. Maybe, when no one is looking, roll a Xerox machine out the back door. Just kidding. About the Xerox machine, anyway.




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