16 June, 2005

"We're Educated, We're Articulate, We're White...And We're Just Getting By"

Morgan Spurlock of Supersize Me fame has a new program on FX network called 30 Days .

The general idea is that the filmmaker will walk in another person's shoes for 30 days, and film the experience. Last night's episode was an "expose" of living life at minimum wage, and my libertarian head is spinning.

Head Spin #1.

In order to have a full experience of living life at minimum wage, Spurlock and his fiancee, Alex, move to Columbus, Ohio with the equivalent of two week's worth of minimum wages to live and seek employment.

At the end of the 30 days, we see an accounting of their income and their bills. Spurlock is irate that they can't make ends meet and spews angrily

"We're educated, we're articulate, we're white, and we're just getting by."

Isn't that what the point is? The jobs for which they voluntarily qualified did not require education or articulation. Could they have gotten a better job through their education and articulation? Probably. The point of this experiment was that they wouldn't try, though. So, essentially, Spurlock set the artificial paramaters and then is complaining that those very parameters are analogous to society.

The "white" comment doesn't even deserve to be acknowledged. What a bunch of reverse racism that is, as it implies that there is a secret white handshake that passes off the better jobs to the melanin-challanged. I've never encountered it, pale and pasty as I am.

At no point does he make much of the fact that he and his fiancee both found paying work within forty-eight hours of moving to a new city. Neither does he make much of the fact that when he needed more work to make ends meet, he found that additional work within days.

Head Spin #2

Watching this Oscar-nominated filmmaker and his Vegan Chef wife-to-be trip around for the first 3 minutes of the program in diamonds and limos, then take on this life as a cute novelty was gross. Alex brags to the camera in the opening minutes that the earrings she's putting on cost more than her college education. It becomes immediately apparant that we are looking at two people with no sense at all who have been inoculated from self-sufficiency.

Head Spin #3

Spurlock lauds Teddy Kennedy for his repeated attempts to raise the minimum wage, and snidely undercuts the rebuttal points given by the opposition with shots of decaying inner cities.

At another point in the program Spurlock is interviewing a fellow minimum-wage worker who laments the current state of affairs. "I make less now than when I started my first job back in 1976 with General Motors." We then hear the details about his utopian GM job and how his current wages are comparatively slaveish in nature. (The point about slavery is further driven home by the fact that the man is black.)

Why does this man no longer have a well-paid job at GM? We at home are never told. I suspect it's either through his personal choice or because he was laid off. Personal choice is his own business. Laid off--that happens when companies can't afford to keep their employees. Why can't they afford to keep them? Well, one main reason is wage inflation due to union pressure.

Prime example: Roanoke Rapids, NC has seen the loss of its Westpoint Stevens textile mill, and along with it 1,250 jobs Facing bankruptcy, the company has moved a large share of its operations outside the country, where labor is more affordable. This is of course the plant that Crystal Lee "Norma Rae" Sutton fought to unionize. Now, thirty years later there is no more work for these people. Except Crystal Lee Sutton Jordan. She works for the union.

Head Spin #4

Alex is treated at the ER for a urinary tract infection, to the tune of $483.00 (plus approximately $25.00 for medication.) Spurlock is treated at the ER for a "sore wrist" for more than $500.00. They complain that these hospital bills will take them more than three months (!) to pay off at their current wages. At this point in the program it is clear that these are the grievances of two very spoiled people who have become so used to a life of carefree attitude toward money that they lack any common sense whatsoever.

1. Every woman who has had a UTI pities Alex. They also know that you can treat it at home most of the time. If it is really bad, go to the free clinic. There are many other options besides going to the hospital. Those of us who have to regularly be consciencous of money know these things.

2. Any man whose wrist hurts after a day of trenching sod and automatically wants to go the emergency room needs to grow a pair. Seriously. Buy an Ace bandage. Lest you think I'm being callous, please be advised that his treatment at the hospital was......wrapping his wrist in an Ace bandage.

3. Hospitals have staff devoted to working with people at all economic levels to make bill paying arrangements. One of the reasons that hospital bills are so high is because the cover all of the people whose debts are written off due to inability to pay. Medline article, free registration required . They will accept reduced payments, time payments, write-offs, etc. Is this the best system? Hell, no. It is, however, far better than the worst-case scenario painted by Spurlock in his Short Timers At Poverty Teleplay.

I hate that any person should have to live in poverty. For that reason I support free education, public libraries, job training initiatives, free computer training, non-governmental social programs and affordable home loans. I also support tax exempt status for churches and other non-profits who help make this country work in a variety of ways. I simply don't think that Morgan Spurlock and his glib, non-scientific show is designed to do anything more than entertain with a healthy dose of schadenfreude.


At 8:59 AM, June 17, 2005, Anonymous tboyer said...

we're white.

That really stirs my ire. There was a sociologist (or something like that) named Barbara Ehrenreich who did much more scientific study. She wrote a book and then went on a lecture tour about it. Apparently, it was very empathetic toward sub-poverty America and it blasted Wal-Mart because they would keep her working there without pay after her shift was up. I caught part of her lecture at IPFW on cable access.

My guess is this pseudointellectual 'filmmaker' read her book and wanted to experience the idea firsthand. It seems like his motivation is more about making money for his show by getting people to "think" about how the other half lives. If he really cared, shouldn't he make is fiancé give back the earrings and give the money to something worthwhile, like Habitat for Humanity? Hmmm... It really makes one think... about lazy rich 'white' people.

At 9:41 PM, June 17, 2005, Blogger Patrick said...

I come, not to defend Morgan Spurlock, but I do want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed 30 days from a production standpoint, and an info-tainment position. I would say that it's probably #6 for me... probably just because I'm a reality buff. (or sur-reality, as the case may be.)

Bonus points for your Ace Bandage comment... I thought the same thing!

At 9:42 PM, June 17, 2005, Blogger Patrick said...

(the #6 was in reference to Jason's blog, of course.)


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