Friday, October 5, 2007

An Ode to Corporate America - Exquisite Corpse

Published 2000
Exquisite Corpse

An Ode to Corporate America at Exquisite Corpse

An Ode to Corporate America (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Bomb the Office)
by Alison Ross

Ah, Corporate America. The words just roll off the tongue, do they not?

Well, actually, you secretly contest, they don't. You're thinking, rather, that they slide off the tongue like a slimy slug. But they're such bitter words, really, such lemon-sour language, that you'd rather spit them out like bad soup. Permitting them to simply glide off your tongue is too generous; they don't deserve your benign benevolence. The words "Corporate America" deserve only this: to be shredded through gritted teeth, coughed up like phlegm, or spewed out in utter revulsion.

Gee, do we detect a little hostility in my rantings? Nah, that's not hostility you're sensing, that's outrage. Hostility, you see, is for wimps. Hostility is when you allow an injustice to shrivel your soul to a mood of muteness, to carve away at your confidence until finally you explode in a volcanic wrath.

Outrage, on the other hand, meets with unfairness head-on; it does not cower in the looming shadow of injustice, but confronts it without chagrin. Outrage is not laced with animosity; its vision is clear, unclouded.

(And what the dictionary dictates doesn't concern me; the meanings of words metamorphose over time, and soon enough "hostility" and "outrage" will cease to be thesaurus twins.)

Anyway. So I'm outraged by the odious offenses that Corporate America commits on a daily basis. And I'm well-versed in callous corporate ways because for six years I have labored in the not-so-balmy bowels of big business. I have endured conditions that make a weekly teeth-cleaning from Satan's dentist a highly cherishable prospect.

But why exactly would I prefer to undergo ritual gum-and-tooth torture from a demented dentist than perform work for a company so I could afford to keep my stomach singing and my toes toasty?

Well, for one thing, Corporate America pays its slaves barely enough to keep their stomachs humming along to Neil Sedaka songs. Oh, sure, the slaveholder CEOs receive a sizable sum; hell, their tubby tummies are belting out entire Broadway musicals. But why are they so poisonously rich? Because they bear an "important" title? You could counter (as I'm sure some of you corporate cronies will) that CEOs work hard, and therefore deserve such pampering luxuries. But consider this: janitors work diligently, maids are devoted to their work, and what kind of promotional profits do they enjoy?

Just because CEOs have jobs that are deemed more "challenging" shouldn't entitle them to more prestige; besides, CEOs are immersed in the exercise of generating vulgar amounts of money, whereas a maid or janitor is involved in the honest pursuit of making a living. Maids and janitors view money as a means to an end, whereas CEOs treasure money as the end itself.

I mean, can someone please tell me what the freakin' big deal is about owning a house the size of Texas, or driving a car that costs more than the Federal debt? In what way, exactly, do these things fulfill our basic needs?

(A refreshment course for those who require a return to pre-school to de-cloud their beer-blurred brains on what constitutes basic human needs: We need love. We need food. We need clothing. We need shelter. And these things aren't just essential to happiness, they're essential for survival. )

But please note that survival is not contingent upon owning South Fork Ranch, plus a condo in Colorado, plus a chalet in Switzerland, plus the Parthenon in Greece. That's called excess, and pinpoints precisely why I spew my stew at the mere muttering of the words "Corporate America."

How else do I loathe thee, Corporate America? Allow me to enumerate the exhausting infinitude of ways.

The other main thing that flummoxes and infuriates me about Corporate America is its absolute defiance of respect for humans as humans. Corporations seem to revel in treating their employees like the feces of echoli-infected swine. And that's on a cheerful day at the office.

Of course, we know why Corporate America minions are treated like putrid poo poo. It all leads back to those diabolical dollars. But let's please remember that money is not innately demonic; it is we who make it so, by cherishing it so lustfully.

If companies were not belligerently bent on making Everest-sized mountains of moolah, they could relax and discover that those who toil their tails off for them are not instruments in the sordid sports match between their corporation and the competition, but real, actual people, with bones, brains, even a heart!

During my imprisonment in corporate cages, I've seen it all: a secretary shrieked at for transposing two numbers in a phone message; a typesetter harshly told "to get back to work" for helping edit barely intelligible articles; a part-time employee routinely assured that her job would convert into full-time, only to never see the promise materialize; a newly-hired department of four denied desks for six months and thereby forced to stake out temporary territory in whatever space happened not to be occupied that day; that same crew of four receiving abominable reviews by a "manager" who ignored his staff, took three hour lunches, and feigned work by reading e-mails from friends; an employee regarded as unreliable and subsequently fired for being hospitalized with a severe illness and having to miss work.

The aforementioned are just a few examples out of the many many many many many many many many many many incidents I have witnessed throughout my servitude to Corporate America. And yes, some of the above-discussed offenses were perpetrated against me.

But what's most bothersome about such episodes is not that they do occur - we all know that evil crap happens and will continue to happen as long as penises and vaginas insist on dancing the Reproductive Tango - but that they occur in such overt abundance.

And this, finally, is what Corporate America is premised upon: playing the game.
If you do precisely as your bosses dictate, you're in. Creativity is scorned, although some corporations insist they encourage innovation. But these companies can only be innovative as far as their narrowly defined boundaries permit. True creativity resists confinement.

You must follow the herd in Corporate America, or the herd will trample you. Mistakes are allowed, yes, but only after you whimper through a rambling spate of apologies (and sometimes you're even required to offer up your spouse for sacrifice to dispel any suspicion that your love for them surpasses your love for the company).

But why would a corporation persist in damning its employees to a hell of humiliation when clearly a more prudent path would be to uplift them into a heaven of happiness? I mean, I don't condone the "Greenbacks are God" mindset, but if that's the sick reality, then wouldn't money flow more fluidly if all workers were regarded as saints rather than shit? It's not difficult to discern that a respected person spreads the infectious love around, while a disrespected one only perpetuates the deadly disease of mean-spiritedness.

I'm not so naive as to believe that businesses do not wish to make a profit; clearly, they do. But a profit is one thing; what most big businesses make today is an egregious excess of the very thing that many millions of homeless completely lack.

As my brother has said, if businesses would just focus on providing the best service they possibly can, the money will follow. And while the money may not be in the zillion-dollar zone, the employees can at least return home at night satisfied that they put in an honest day's work.

Of course, if most businesses concentrated their energies on providing good service, most businesses would consequently vanish, because many exist solely to make a capital killing. These corporations are only interested in generating money-making products - e.g., computers. I once worked for a company that was the middle man for IBM - IBM sold us computers, and we then added a few gimmicks and resold them at higher prices. The company didn't add the gimmicks because it "cared" about the customer's well-being - it added them so the customer would exclaim, "Oh, cool, I need that overpriced computer with the Super 8 Pentium potato chip thingy to complete my Egyptian pyramid-high pile of work in half the time so that I can see my philandering spouse and faceless offspring at least once this month."

I'm not saying that computers haven't added some good things to this world; clearly, they have. But that's really another topic altogether. But what I am suggesting is that people look at what's really paramount to promoting a sturdy society. If we probed our souls thoroughly enough, we'd find that money and computers don't make a dent in our spiritual health.

Maybe I'm hopelessly utopian, dreaming of a world where most businesses provide services that cater to the client's needs and not their own. Maybe I'm just an idiot idealist; who knows?

I do know this: Corporate America's pervasive power isn't making any of us any happier. But I suppose a society of money-junkies is too strung out to notice that trivial detail, huh?

Alison Ross is the publisher and editor of SPEW, a broadsheet of pungent polemics soon to be available online. She is currently teaching ESL to adults, and will soon begin teaching high school English lit.

Previous publications include poetry in Nova Express, Creative Loafing rants, and articles in various technical and arts periodicals. She hopes you will forgive her for earning a degree in Creative Writing, and will happily dissuade you from veering onto that path if you are so inclined.

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