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Working Stiffs

by The Cranky Media Guy

Something's ass-backwards in America.  All I've seen in magazines and on-line for the past two weeks is articles about the poor dot commies who aren't going to be able to cash in their stock options for millions of dollars. NASDAQ has dropped and the companies they work for have gone down in value.  Some are even going out of business.  The dot commies are disillusioned, they feel cheated; one article I saw talked about how a guy whose stock fell might actually have to cancel the private airplane purchase he had planned!  Boy, that's gotta suck, huh?

For me, part of the irony--there's that word again--is that many of these same publications were just recently touting the incredibly wonderful, ever-expanding New Economy.  You know, the same New Economy that has now disappointed all those poor wanna-be yuppies who had their hearts set on those nice duplex loft apartments in Tribeca and on the edge of the Tenderloin.  Just a few weeks ago, Time had a cover story about how "Everyone can be a star on the Net".  Star today, bum tomorrow, I guess.

Meanwhile, I stumbled across a news story that said that Winn-Dixie (a large chain in the South) is closing 114 of its supermarkets, a move that will throw 11,000 people out of work.  I look in vain for a story, just one, about how painful this must be for these people and their families.  Gee, can't seem to find one anywhere.  No hand-wringing pieces about "what this all means" in the newsweeklies.

No one goes to work at Winn-Dixie thinking they'll retire a millionaire by age 30.  It isn't glamorous work and you don't get to bring your dog with you.  At lunch, you don't have a cafe au lait; you toss back a Dr Pepper.  You don't live in a loft; your house might even have wheels under it.  No one grows up wanting to work a cash register in a supermarket; it's just something you find yourself doing to make ends meet.  It isn't illegal, immoral or fattening, though and no one should be ashamed of making an honest living.

Media today is about trendiness and glamour, though and there's nothing trendy or glamorous about being the guy who answers when the PA says, "Spill in aisle five!"  So, the twenty-somethings with the sparkle in their eyes and greed in their hearts are elegized in Time while the poor saps who mopped the floors, stocked the shelves and bagged the groceries at Winn-Dixie just shuffle off into obscurity. 

Many of the e-businesses that are folding were castles in the air; a large number of them didn't have a viable product or business plan to begin with.  It wasn't hard to see that a lot of those companies were little more than pipe dreams and wouldn't last.  To a cynic like me, the only surprising thing is that they lasted as long as they did. 

A supermarket, however, is a necessity.  It sells milk, bread, cat food, soap--real objects with real value in the real, non-cyber world.  Why are we crying over the fact that companies that made things that no one needed or wanted are out of business while we totally ignore the fact that thousands of people who supplied us with the necessities of our lives will soon be unemployed?  If they were just named Randy and Courtney instead of Edgar and LaVerne; if they had straighter teeth; if they listened to "alternative" instead of country; if Winn-Dixie was an "e-supermarket", maybe we'd care.  They're not, they don't and it isn't, so we don't. 

Randy and Courtney will get interviewed about how "disillusioned" they are that they aren't rich yet.  "Our dream is spoiled," they'll whine into their lattes, and it will all be taken down by a reporter on his steno pad to be immortalized on Page One of the next day's Life section.  Edgar and LaVerne will turn off the lights at the Winn-Dixie for the last time, lock the door behind them and go home to the trailer park, unnoticed and unmourned.  

Randy and Courtney will go to work for another start-up with an impractical business plan.  Maybe this one will be able to BS the stock market a little longer and they can cash in before it goes belly-up.  Edgar and LaVerne will hope the Piggly Wiggly is hiring.  With luck, they'll only make four dollars an hour less than they used to.  Like I said, something's ass-backwards in America.




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