“Undercover Boss” and the Death of the American Dream

CBS has been broadcasting a limited run reality show called “Undercover Boss”. The premise of the show is that a C-level executive of a company goes undercover to work with “low-level” employees and learn more about how their company really operates. As of this writing, two companies have been featured, the Hooters restaurant franchise, and Waste Management.

The first episode with Waste Management, really struck a chord with me. The COO, Larry O’Donnell, seems a nice enough guy. His heart is in the right place, and in keeping with the premise of the show, he tries to right some “wrongs” that he notices as he works undercover. Larry takes on five jobs. He works as a garbage sorter, a garbage truck weigh station operator, an outdoor trash collector, a porta-potty cleaner and finally an everyday garbage man. He discovers that all these jobs are hard work. (Go figure.) He discovers that back-breaking work is being done by people with far worse circumstances than his, including one man who bags garbage outdoors while maintaining a steady schedule of dialysis treatments.

The show made me go places that I don’t think CBS had in mind. The American Dream is that you start at the bottom and through hard work you make it to the top. I have always been ambitious and yes, sometimes my ambition wrote checks that my ability or stamina could not cash, but I was always looking at that next rung. I spent 24 years in corporate America. Where I worked, you could start as a computer operator and retire as an executive, perhaps not the CEO, but an executive just the same. Of course, nowadays even this is no longer true. Promotions are few and far between and the strategy du jour is do more with less. Of course, at Waste Management, the difference in education requirements, for example, for a starting position as a garbage man is entirely different from the requirements needed of a COO. It’s probably not realistic to expect the garbage collector to one day be running the company.

Still I was left with a feeling of melancholy when the show was over. Despite his best intentions, Larry O’Donnell clearly glided right into a management position with no requirement that he have any experience with the real work of his company. On the flip side were a corp of workers whose hopes for true advancement were dismal at best. It felt like the caste system of India, born a garbage man, die a garbage man. Don’t get me wrong. There is no shame in any honest day’s work. If a porta-potty cleaner is earning a living for his family, more power to him. But is that the American Dream?

“Undercover Boss” paints a picture of a society in which there is a ruling class and a working class, neither of whom know much about the other. For those of us who believe in an America where you can be anything you want if you work hard enough, it is a depressing portrait indeed.

Respectfully,
Rutherford

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30 thoughts on ““Undercover Boss” and the Death of the American Dream

  1. “Undercover Boss” paints a picture of a society in which there is a ruling class and a working class, neither of whom know much about the other. For those of us who believe in an America where you can be anything you want if you work hard enough, it is a depressing portrait indeed.

    You mean like the Kennedys, who seem to believe that the average American wants them to have more governmenr rather than less? I hav

  2. “Undercover Boss” paints a picture of a society in which there is a ruling class and a working class, neither of whom know much about the other. For those of us who believe in an America where you can be anything you want if you work hard enough, it is a depressing portrait indeed.

    You mean like the Kennedys, who seem to believe that the average American wants them to have more governmenr rather than less? I hav

  3. “In Illinois we have had lots of snow this winder – but we have had very few of the ultra-cold -15 degree days we normally have during winter. The snowfall is actually an indication that it is warmer.”hippieprof

    Now, as you have pointed out before, I am no scientist.

    Risking sounding silly, want to know how I find out if it’s colder in Illinois?

    I check the temperature.

  4. hippieprof
    By the way, I went back and looked at record lows in Chicago.
    I counted 11 times in recorded history that the temp has ever been below -15.
    I know maybe you don’t live in Chicago and that it’s possible areas to the south get colder (although I doubt much if at all).
    I’m pretty sure your not speaking as a “scientist” on this.
    Or, more ominously, maybe you are!

    oooh….Quincy, IL looks cold. I’ll go check the record lows.
    Nope.
    16 times in recorded history has it ever got colder then -15 degrees in Quincy, IL.
    __________________________________________________
    And now for one of my favorite lines:
    “You’re full of shit, Professor.”

  5. This post seems to have garnered the oddest reaction yet. BiW made two attempts at a comment and seems to have fallen asleep in the same place both times.

    And from Rabbit, we get a musical response. 🙂 Yeah, I guess “that’s life” is one way of looking at it.

    Apparently we have a new headline also:
    The Rabbit disproves climate change using Google 😀

  6. Damn…I forgot why I came on here for.

    To give Obama props.

    Props Obama.

    Props for letting those Pakistanis torture the fuck out of that Taliban guy. I know you said “black sites” were off limits and broke a campaign promise, but screw it. This is your war, much different then Cheney’s. Plus, when it comes to the security of America, I don’t give a damn about your bull shit hope and change.

    Bravo to the troops in Afghanistan!

  7. A gift to my conservative friends. I found this on themadjewess’s blog. It’s a bit long but for those of you who hate MSNBC and love old TV theme songs (like I do …. the latter not the former) this should be a hoot for you.

  8. New post, which explains why you’re not answering my questions on the last post…

    Any of the garbage folks going to school at night to improve their situation?

    Sorry R, doesn’t fly.

  9. Rutherford I think you over romanticize and wax nostalgic on the American Dream. I also clearly believe you go a tad over the top with the caste system comparison.

    The US has a huge service sector and quite frankly you don’t need much on the ball to be there. Fortunately our public education system with its anti curriculum curricula is making sure the serfs are in good numbers.

    The American Dream was always more about the son of a garbage man being able to someday go to college and become CEO material or something else. I wonder if you surveyed the NYC Dept of Sanitation ranks would the offspring of its members prove it. i think so.
    That brings us to the caste system. One isn’t born into being a garbage man nor are your sire forced into it.

    In closing I will agree that the show (which I didn’t watch) probably did offer the travels you went on. I further say that isn’t a bad thing. I would say take a few steps back and go down the path with me that looks at the public education system,the over emphasis on the true value of a college education,service sector over manufacturing and a host of other points. Take that road and you’ll have better company.
    On a side note I’m lost. Wassup with Tex.?

  10. Alfie I think you raise many good points in this comment. In particular your observation that the SON of a garbage man might do better … that does capture the American Dream. Now I’m not so sure that even generational advancement is as possible nowadays as it once was but your point is very well taken, Thank you.

    As for Tex, he is angry with me about the latest Palin article and is taking an indeterminate break from the blog. He thinks I insulted Trig Palin …. sorry but I just don’t see it. I wrote about hypocrisy as I saw it and about one mother’s perspective.

    In any case, he is alive and well. We are debating issues on other blogs (Hippie Prof’s for one) but he’s staying away from here on “principle”.

  11. “Even though it is based on casual observation, I will stick by the following statement though.”

    “IT DOES NOT SNOW WHEN THE TEMPERATURE GETS EXTREMELY LOW”-hippieprof

    Wow. I can’t believe you are the guy who I imagine sat very straight next to his key board and essentially said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a scientist. My words are heavier then yours on the Global Warming Debate”

    You then went on to wrongly claim it has been warmer in Illinois.

    Wrong.

    You’re sticking to your guns that heavy snow may be a symptom of global warming.

    In Georgia?????? Dallas?????????? DC?????

    Dude, heavy snow in Detroit might mean that, but not in the south!!!!

    Secondly, Mr. Scientist. Low temps may very well not cause lack of snow as a general rule. Has it occurred to you that cold weather in Illinois is caused from an arctic blast from the dry ass Canada?
    _______________________________________
    Is it ever too cold to snow?

    No, it can snow even at incredibly cold temperatures as long as there is some source of moisture and some way to lift or cool the air. It is true, however, that most heavy snowfalls occur with relatively warm air temperatures near the ground—typically -9 degrees Celsius (15 degrees Fahrenheit) or warmer—since air can hold more water vapor at warmer temperatures.

    This last bit of plagiarism brought to you compliments of the Dead Rabbit.

  12. I have to admit that I honestly expected to come here and see a post about the teabagger terrorist who flew his plane into the IRS building. (even though he was a communist and not a tea party supporter)

    Concerning the post that is here, Alfie hit it on the head, so there is no point in repeating it.

  13. I think I blew my shoulder out in the “gayest” way.

    Arts and crafts.

    I teach the 9th graders Word History. For the Medieval Europe I break down and let the kids build castles (with the surrounding manor).

    As a joke, after I grade them, they have the option to let me destroy them. I make stupid Godzilla noises and wreck them. It’s fun for all of us.

    I think I wrecked my rotater cuff or something. Three days now and the pain keeps me up at night. Shoulder blade clicks.

    For me not to play softball is devastating. I can’t believe this shit.

    I’m hoping it feels like its getting better by Sunday or I’m afraid I’m going to have to go get cut.

    How do I explain this to the fellahs…they already think I have a fruity job.

    Answer: I lie. I did it bench pressing 400 pounds.

    Hippieprof….I hope things get better with your Mom.

  14. I have to admit that I honestly expected to come here and see a post about the teabagger terrorist who flew his plane into the IRS building. (even though he was a communist and not a tea party supporter)

    For those who follow my Twitter feed, I pretty adamantly opposed my raving fellow liberals who immediately labeled this a right wing terrorist act.

    While Joe Stack did have some of the same gripes as the Tea Party gang, he was clearly an imbalanced man pushed over the edge. There’s no blaming Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin or the Tea Party for this nutjob’s actions. I may write a quick blog post about it if time allows.

  15. It would be the same as blaming Obama over that raving fan of his that shot 6 people because she was denied tenure. That chick was a cold stone killer and nothing else.

  16. Rabbit just tell the boys one of your kids was trapped under a car and you lifted the car with a super-adrenalin rush and blew out your rotator cuff. That way your BS is half true since it involves your school kids. 😀

  17. Rabbit so true about the nutty professor … but I must let you know your buddy Tex if I’m not mistaken did just that … made the professor/liberal connection. There is a temptation to politicize everything nowadays. After my Kentucky census taker suicide debacle from last year, I take a breath before jumping to conclusions lately.

  18. Rutherford, do you think that air plane guy “represents a microcosm of society losing control of its inhibitions.”?

  19. Tex and I often are not in agreement on things. It always baffles me when you run and tell me what Tex said.

    Tex and I share a common world view. Doesn’t mean that I’m a Tex Taylor propaganda operative.

    I share a cookie cutter paradigm with no man. Can you say the same?

  20. Although I WAS tempted to cite the tenure killer as proof that hippieprof bestows way too much sunshine on his self created Mount Olympias he reserves for members of the collegiate science department.

    I still can’t get over the irony of a 24 hour window in which hippieprof both claimed the infallible objectivity of scientists like himself and the wrongheaded quackery about weather in his own backyard.

  21. Well Rabbit, it’s always tricky to do these extrapolations. We know full well there are a lot of people right now with the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore” thing going on. The Tea Party does represent a segment of that. Folks who think government has gone out of control.

    And there have always been and always will be (barring some new legislation) people who hate the IRS with a passion.

    The claim I made on Twitter was this: Stack was a lone nutjob. But that won’t prevent folks from exploiting what he did for their own ends. Within hours of the crash, Facebook pages starting popping up giving the guy “props” for putting it to the government. His act tapped into an anger that ‘s out there. Does this mean we’re going to see daily headlines about disgruntled taxpayers blowing up IRS offices? I seriously doubt it.

    The truth of how we proceed from here is somewhere between writing the guy off as a loony tune and taking notice of society’s reaction toward him and whether that reaction signals something more disturbing.

  22. If the IRS was merely from Plato’s realm of ideas, some sort of “cartoon” found amongst unicorns, I’d probably chuckle about the air plane.

    But, real Americans worked in that building. The guy that died was a Viet Nam vet. His wife of many years worked in the same building. Shit aint right.

    I wonder if any of the anti-government tough guys starting facebook pages in honor of that coward have the balls to look the victim’s wife in the eyes.

  23. Yikes, Rabbit … I am such a damn fuddy-duddy. I thought the dude was singing “smack my picture”. A bit of research revealed I was way off the mark. LOL

    I think I need to start teaching high school kids … I am way behind the times.

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