Pop Rocks: Underwhelming Boss
Working class America is mad as hell. Luckily, CBS Corporation has their backs with a hard-hitting new show called Undercover Boss.
The concept is the stuff proletariat dreams are made of: the CEO of a (usually) mid-range corporation spends a week "undercover" in his own company, working an assortment of low-level jobs, with the assumption that this perfunctory attempt to experience life the way the other
half 95 percent does will open his eyes so much he'll implement needed structural changes benefiting all company workers.
I've seen almost every episode of the show (avoiding the White Castle one out of fear of traumatic digestive flashbacks), so I think I can safely say that CBS and the millions of people watching the show every Sunday are pretty much missing the point entirely.
The problem is apparent from the show's intro, which is delivered by a Serious-Voiced announcer who attempts to drop some pecuniary reality:
The economy is going through tough times. Many hard-working Americans blame wealthy CEOs, out of touch with what's going on in their own companies. But some bosses are willing to take extreme action to make their businesses better.
Of course we blame "wealthy CEOs," but whether or not they're out of touch with their companies doesn't really matter.
Neither the corporate scandals that started this backlash -- Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia -- nor the current banking crisis resulted from executives forgetting their humble roots (Former WorldCom CEO Bernie Ebbers used to be a milkman and Adelphia's John Rigas was the son of Greek immigrants and fought in World War II), they were the result of these executives thinking they'd discovered a foolproof way to game the system. One could certainly argue that their eventual wealth led to a certain disconnect from a workingman's reality, but the idea that Ken Lay would've seen the light by spending a couple days working an IT help desk or in a pipeline compressor station is funnier than any episode of The Office ever aired.
Which brings us to the next issue. Every company featured in Undercover Boss has been of the service, retail, or entertainment variety. Problem is, these CEOs aren't "the problem." None of these guys (and make no mistake, they're all guys) is the kind of person who'd defend a $3.6 million dollar bonus with a straight face, or try to put a positive face on credit default swaps. Maybe they didn't all scrabble their way up the company ladder, but unlike the guys stocking up on ivory backscratchers or helping a foreign government mask its budget deficit, they appear to actually care about the plight of their employees.
Or they fake it really well.
Most of the companies featured thus far on Undercover Boss need to put forth an agreeable public face. That way, people will watch the show and think, "Hey, that young fellow running Hooters seems like a decent sort. Maybe I'll overlook the hot pants and shitty wings and give the place another chance," instead of just going to K.C.'s Brickhouse, which is basically Hooter's if the latter acknowledged the grunge era. These CEOs are aggressively competing for customers, unlike banking or energy companies, which are either benefiting from the largesse of public bailouts or enjoying record profits thanks to inflated oil prices.
I have an idea for a couple similar shows that would exclusively utilize banking and financial executives. In the first -- The JPMorgan Chase -- the execs in question would be dropped in a ruined city just ahead of a mob of unemployed people. The second would be a simpler affair. I won't give away the premise, but the title would be taken from the below photo.
That one would probably have to air on HBO.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.