Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 In Review: A Hell Bound Train Of A Year (Part 5)

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-by Noah

When it comes to what people want, I’ve always said that American corporations are just like our Congress; they are the last to know. I started thinking that back during the gas shortages of the 1970s. People wanted smaller, more gas-efficient cars, yet Detroit kept building gas-guzzling cars the size of aircraft carriers. By 1980 or so, with lowering sales dawning on them, Detroit started to notice that Americans might, just might, prefer Japanese cars, even if the suits in the corner offices couldn’t quite figure out why. Along the way, GM and the other major car manufacturers managed to not only get rid of their customers but to fire their few executives that had dared to point out the obvious. Detroit has never recovered. "What’s good for GM is good for the U.S.A.” became “As GM goes, so goes the country."

In late 1976, I began working at what was arguably the biggest and coolest record store anywhere. I measure that on the volume of records sold and the taste of the store’s very knowledgeable customers, regardless of the genres they purchased. The store was part of a larger department store. The store sat in Harvard Square, smack dab in the middle of the highest density college student population in the country. One year later, I was the rock and pop buyer for the main store and its two smaller outlets, one on the campus of M.I.T. and one in Boston itself.

Not long after that promotion, the brilliant and perceptive man who ran the day to day operation of the stores was forced out. Some said he was too old.

The new man was a very corporate type who came from a corporate chain store background. As serendipity would have it, the first night he walked into the record store, I was on duty. He looked around, not at all thoroughly, and asked to speak to the person in charge. “You’re lookin’ at him,” I said. I already knew who he was. You could smell him. Nice crisp, white shirt. Nice tie. I was there in my usual jeans, black t-shirt, and sneakers. You can forget that saying about “opposites attract.”

So, as he stood in what was the usual early evening maelstrom of teens and twenty-something students; he said, “I have one question: where’s the Perry Como section?” He was dead serious, as dead as his 80 IQ eyes.

This clown had an agenda. He just knew we didn’t have a Perry Como section. Ah, but we did! One of the many important things he didn’t know about the record store he was now overseer of was that we prided ourselves in having at least one copy of everything in print, whether it was rock, jazz, classical, country, or 30 years out of date pop. It was a big place. We were also the go-to place for lesbian singer songwriters, avant-garde artists of every stripe, the complete Folkways catalog, Charlie Manson’s one album, and even a group named Country Porn (strictly behind the counter).

With all that in mind, I walked this rolling duffus over to the Perry Come section. He didn’t know whether to be happy or disappointed. I managed to show him the price tags on the Perry Como albums. The store had not sold a Perry Como album in 11 years, but, we had ‘em. Ya never know!

My meeting with the new guy was not the beginning of a beautiful friendship. We each despised what the other stood for but, thanks to the customers, and my attitude, my side prevailed, for a while. Once I was gone, it didn’t take too long for him to destroy the record store, but I had a life to live, as did my fellow employees who all also left one by one as a once great place became stiff, stale and corporate.

What was once a trend-setter, and a major source of income for both the owners and every record label in existence was rendered culturally and financially meaningless. That’s the corporate mindset for you.

************

I wrote the above to provide context. It was my introduction to the corporate world. I went on to a reasonably meaningful and successful career in the music business. In that time, I worked for four corporations, none of which, when it came down to it, had any more vision or foresight than the Perry Como fan or General Motors did in the 1970s. In my career, I had a ton of contact with people who worked for other corporations in other businesses. In nearly every case, they all had stories to tell that amounted to this basic truth: All corporations are fucked. They’re just fucked differently. The differences, however, are all just permutations of the same things; things like shortsightedness, a distrust of innovation or the new, insecurity, a CYA mentality, arrogance, and, sometimes, drug-induced paranoia.

I also learned that the problems don’t just lie with American corporations. After all, in this day and age, most corporations have, to greater or lesser extent gone multi-national. In my time, in no particular order, I worked for a corporation that started out as American (with alleged deep mob connections) and became, briefly Japanese, briefly Canadian, and finally French. Two other corporations were English controlled. The remaining one started out as American but ended up being owned by a Japanese corporation being run by the Brits, after a temporary partnership with some Germans. I have feelings about all four. Some of those feelings are even good, but, like I said, they’re all fucked, basically by choice, too.

Let me just say about the last one that if, in 1941, the Japanese had hired the British to plan Pearl Harbor, the Pacific War would never have happened. You see, the way I see it, based on my personal experience, the bombers would have taken off from the Japanese aircraft carriers in the wrong direction, ended up flying around in circles and spiraling into the sea, lost and out of gas, before ever reaching Pearl Harbor. Yeah, I know, that outlines one of those silly alternate history scenarios. But, here’s the punch line. What causes wars? Corporate greed and corporate arrogance. The belief that everything you do is genius. The shear lunacy and lust for money and power. People just don’t matter. More often than not, corporations are like that scene in the great movie The Hospital, where the doctor, played by George C. Scott, says of a patient, “Let’s get him out of here before we kill him!” He also, at one point, asks the chief of all the nurses if she trains her nurses at Dachau, such is their incompetence.

Enter United Airlines. They win the prize for corporate lunacy and arrogance in 2017. On April 9th, at Chicago’s O’Hara Airport, United Airlines decided that a ticket, a paid for ticket, to board an airplane and fly the friendly skies, is not a ticket. United claimed that the flight was oversold but they had seated the passenger on the plane. Oversold? Who’s fault was that? It even turned out that United wasn’t really oversold. They just wanted the passenger’s paid for seat for a free flight for, you guessed it, a corporate employee. In fact, United wanted four seats for four employees. Three passengers were not in a hurry to get where they wanted to go, so, they gave up their seats and accepted a voucher. But, the fourth one was in a hurry. How dare he be.

So, what would any airline do? They called the police and had the randomly selected passenger knocked around, bloodied, and removed. No one goes against the corporation! No. One! People don’t matter. It’s all very Ayn Rand/Paul Ryan-esq.

Horrified passengers filmed United’s idea of darkly novel on-board entertainment and the videos went viral. The public, how dare they, was outraged. In a Class A example of corporate arrogance the next morning United still didn’t get it. “Why is everybody so upset?” They reacted to the negative news coverage by trotting out United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, a bozo-matic assclown if there ever was one, who, taking a page from the Donald Trump-Sarah Huckabee Sanders school of utter bullshit, tried to justify his company’s gross actions by commending the crew’s actions for “following established procedures” and referring to United’s brutal action as, get this, “re-accommodating the customers.” You know, sort of like we re-accommodate suspected terrorists to GITMO. Munoz even tried to portray his company as “the victim,” just like poor, abused Señor Trumpanzee is doing now.

This is the corporate mindset. It’s rife within our American society. “Re-accommodating.” Kind of like Congress just “re-accommodated” our tax obligations and now wants to “re-accommodate” Obamacare, “re-accommodate” our Social Security, and “re-accommodate” our Medicare. This corporate mindset goes all the way to the top, whether the top is the politicians or the corporate masters that own them. If they think you might vote against them, they’ll even “re-accommodate” your voting rights.

Just like Washington, the tone-deafness of United Airlines is so far beyond the pale that it breaks the bounds of sanity. No apology. Just justification. The Chicago police statement reeked of things we expect from a totalitarian state. Welcome to Trump’s Amerika. It’s not surprising that people like Trump and other Repugs want to do away with regulations and the Consumer Protection Agency; all the better to “re-accommodate you, my dear.”

At the time of the incident, I compiled a list of new advertising slogans for United; slogans that more accurately fit the company’s attitude towards it customers. Here they are

MY FAVORITE NEW UNITED AIRLINES MOTTOS:

1) United Airlines: We treat you like a King, Rodney King!
2) United Airlines: First Class, Business Class, No Class.
3) United Airlines: Board as a doctor. Leave as a patient.
4) United Airlines: We put the hospital in hospitality!
5) United Airlines: Red Eye and Black Eye flights Available!
6) United Airlines: Now offering window seat with concussion.
7) United Airlines: Neck pillow, or, neck brace with every ticket!

Suppose airlines now just open an emergency door and push you out on the tarmac, tossing your bags after you as the plane pulls away. It doesn’t take much to imagine that now. You’ll be assessed a bag removal charge by the way. The removal of you is free. It’ll be considered a perk by those who run United. You already don’t get food on most flights. You already have to pay extra for the privilege of having a reasonable amount of baggage. What’s next? “In accordance with our policy, passengers are now required to wear these electrodes. The Perma-Taze™ will enable an enjoyable fight for all of those back in the board room.” How about no more bathrooms on the plane? “All passengers will submit to catheterization. If it’s it’s good for astronauts, it’s good for you!”

To be fair, it isn’t just United. It could have been any airline. United just got caught. The passenger had been checked in, given a boarding pass, gone through the multiple layers of security, and seated. Only then, did United decide to attack its customer. Recently, I heard from an acquaintance that paid $200 to upgrade to first class on another airline. He was seated, and then was booted back to coach. When he asked for his $200, he was told he would have to apply for it. This was one week before Christmas. It’s just an airline’s special way of saying “Merry Christmas.”

Like I said, to corporations, people don’t matter. What United did was just a symptom of the corporate mind disease. Remember this the next time some asshole company like Duke Energy deliberately dumps poisonous coal ash into your local fishing stream, you can expect them to say “we are re-accommodating” the fish. Lead in your drinking water? Not a problem! “We are re-accommodating your kid’s learning abilities!” This is pure Trump-speak, 2017.

United CEO Oscar Munoz even won a “PR-Communicator of the year” award from PR Week, a publication that serves as a mouth piece for the corporate mind. The award came a month before Munoz’s corporation bloodied up their customer. Buy your ticket. Actual trip optional.

A week after the United Airlines incident, Adidas commemorated their sponsorship of The Boston Marathon by sending out an email to its email list that was headlined:

“Congrats, you survived The Boston Marathon."


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3 Comments:

At 7:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you forgot to mention that by ignoring Sherman et al, corporations have been allowed to get much too big.

And the bigger they are, the worse they are.

 
At 11:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One has to wonder what would happen if Senator John Sherman were to return and actually win the presidency, which he sought three times. Would he draft his brother to recreate his March to the Sea through corporate America and make things right?

One could hope, assuming that were possible.

Instead, we watch as corporations supplant nation-states as the ruling power. I just watched a TED Talk on the future of employment, and the bulk of what I took away from it is that corporations can do more -better, faster and cheaper- than government ever could or will do in the future to bring about necessary change. but never once did the speaker justify anything he said. He just rattled on as if his truths were self-evident.

We aren't far from corporate entities having their own armies and waging war, both against nation-states and other corporations. This is what comes of not executing the laws of the land intended to protect the nation from this kind of excessiveness.

 
At 7:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One wonders why, after the video and UA's totally tone-deaf initial justification, anyone at all would fly UA ever again.
One wonders why, after it was proved that wells-fargo committed MILLIONS of cases of consumer fraud that ruined 2 million actual customers' credit ratings, anyone would ever bank there again.
I could name 30 more corporations still thriving which should not be...

But this is America. Americans are fucking morons. I'm constantly torn between wishing someone or something would fix this and dismissing it all as the multi-buggering this shit-for-brains population deserves.

 

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