Capitalism Medium Social Issues

The Rebranding of Suffering Into Feel-Good Stories

If you aren’t familiar with the premise of Undercover Boss, it’s where executives or owners of corporations go work at the “low-level” jobs of the businesses they own. They meet with employees that all have sad backstories and/or financial troubles whilst wearing a disguise to conceal their identity. They then reveal who they actually are at the end of the episode and grant the employees they’ve met various gifts to soothe the issues mentioned earlier in the episode.

Recently, I was watching an episode of Undercover Boss that featured the Mayor of Gary, Indiana- Karen Freeman-Wilson. Freeman-Wilson posed as a municipal employee and was trained under a fireman, a policewoman, and a beach hygiene city employee.

The person responsible for beach clean up, an older man named Steve, said that he’s made $13.24 an hour since 1991 and hasn’t received a pay raise in 15 years. His wife was diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and was also awaiting a heart transplant. After hearing all of this, the Mayor responded with: “Steve is the poster child for resilience.”

At the end of the episode, she gave him and his coworkers a 10% raise (a mere $1.32) and created a $10,000 health fund for his wife’s medical expenses.

At first watch, you’d look at this and feel happy. A man who has been loyal to his city finally is getting the recognition and financial compensation he deserves. The show wants you to believe this as well, with jangly guitar music coupled with dramatic sound effects playing in the background at the end of the episodes. But looking deeper, this story- and the others like it- show a disturbing trend.

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