Thank God for Q13 News. These guys are one of the only stations in town that do not abandon Seattle for a national morning show. Frankly, I don’t give a damn where in the world Matt Lauer is, I just want to know when the Viaduct is going to re-open.
This morning, as my wife and I were watching Q13, they reported a story about an upset Target worker.
Check out the background:
Basically, this year, Target is forcing its employees to come in at 12:00am on “Black Friday”. In order to make this start time, Target employees will need to go to bed by 3pm or 4pm on Thanksgiving Day. For most of them, this will mean missing a good amount of Thanksgiving festivities, including, in some cases, the meal.
After reading the Target protest story off of the teleprompter this morning, Lily Jang said (and I am paraphrasing):
“Instead of complaining, those people should be happy just to have a job. After all, unemployment is at 9%!”
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, my wife and I immediately looked at each other with an expression that asked the question: “Did she really just say that?”
I have to admit, I was a little bit disappointed. Lily is one of my favorite anchors, but this comment made her sound so mean; so cold; so completely lacking in empathy for the retail wage slave.
The thing is … empathy is something that most of us expect from our news anchors. Few of us have the level of physical attractiveness and eloquence required to be a news personality, and this makes the profession a fairly exclusive club. A club that only a handful of people can even aspire to join. We know this, and they know this.
This being the case, when we invite these people into our living rooms … people who are better than we are in almost every way … we expect that they will pander to us. Patronize us. Talk to us with feigned empathy and concern, not unlike the manner in which the cheerleader talks to the kid with Down’s Syndrome.
“If you invite us into your home for an hour each day, we’ll pretend to be one of you. We’ll be ‘on your side’ against all of the mean, nasty, and unfair realities of working-class life.” This is the tacit, unwritten understanding that news anchors have with their audience, and we have come to accept it.
When that social contract is broken, however, it comes as a shock to our fragile sensibilities. Days like today serve to remind us that the cultural line dividing the media class from the working class is a very real thing. It’s a reminder that, no matter how much the pretty rich girl claims to like us, no matter how much the liberal eastsider claims to stand in solidarity with us, the truth is that they both secretly despise us.
Remembering that Lily was famously active on Twitter, I decided to fire up Tweetdeck to take out my frustrations.
“Hey, minimum wage @target slaves. Shut up about having to work on Thanksgiving. @LilyJang says be glad you have a job.“, I said.
To her credit, Lily Jang replied, and the “conversation” unfolded as follows:
To sum it all up, it looks like neither my wife nor I misunderstood Lily. She’s standing by this whole “shut up and don’t complain, having a job should be reward enough for you” position.
Clearly, this is her prerogative, and yes, it still disappoints me. It is also, however, my prerogative to rebut the hurt feelings of the grunge monkey masses from across the Puget Sound. 140 characters is simply insufficient for an intellectual debate, and so if Lily happens to stumble upon this article, I offer the following rebuttal to her final tweets:
1) First of all, just like drinking PBR and wearing trucker caps, taking a low-paying TV internship does not make one working class. In order to know what many working-class Americans feel these days, you must know what it is like to be one paycheck away from homelessness.
Most interns could work somewhere else for more money, but they just choose to take less money to stay in their field of interest. This is a luxury that most working-class people simply cannot afford. If you’ve never worried about where your next meal was coming from, and if you’ve never lost sleep worrying about the very real possibility of living on the street, then you’ve no idea what the American working class feels these days.
In addition, coming in to anchor the Q13 News on a holiday is not the same as working a menial job for minimum wage on a holiday. The mere hint that they are equivalent shows an almost shocking disconnect from reality.
A decently-paid and benefited TV anchor having to work an extra day is certainly inconvenient, but as an indignity, it’s probably tolerable. Good pay and benefits have a way of smoothing over life’s injustices.
For people living paycheck-to-paycheck at minimum-wage jobs, however, the same reality can be very, very demoralizing. After all, days off are their ONLY source of morale.
Forget the postponed ski trip to impress the boss, days off from the corporate plantation are all that separate many working class people from suicide. Time with family is literally the only thing of worth that they have, and now that’s increasingly being taken away as well.
Nine dollars an hour is not enough to make people “glad” about this.
2) Lily states that she supported herself and two parents on less than $9/hour, and this is evidence that it can be done.
Does this statement pass the reality test, though?
Assuming a 40 hour workweek, $9/hour is $360/week, $1,440/month, or $17,280/year. Assuming a conservative 10% in payroll taxes, this equates to about $1,296 in take home pay each and every month.
Given that the average rent for a 2 bedroom apartment in Seattle is $1,569/month, Lily was only $300 short of renting an average home while supporting her parents.
Maybe they didn’t bother with a home, though. Maybe they cut costs by living on the streets.
Even if this were the case, I sure hope Lily’s $9/hr job had benefits, because the average family healthcare policy costs $14,000 per year.
That’s right, had Lily been able to procure a modest raise, and had she devoted 100% of her income to the endeavor, she might have been able to afford basic healthcare coverage for her family. This assumes that none of them had pre-existing conditions.
Of course, her family would still have had to live in an alley in Pioneer Square while nourishing themselves from a dumpster, but $9/hour would almost have let them see a doctor when they needed to.
Is this something to be “glad” about?
3) Lily wraps up the debate by stating “my parents came to america not knowing english, unskilled, w/ kids to feed. hardly made made min wage. they didn’t complain.”
Lily uses the fact that her parents didn’t complain as evidence that American workers should also, not complain.
Here’s the thing … I find it absolutely tragic that we have come to adopt the impoverished lifestyle of a new immigrant as the acceptable living standard for American workers.
Think about it. Now, think about it again.
How very sad that it’s come to this.
“You get nine dollars per hour, which is less than you need to live even the most basic independent lifestyle, but you should be glad because so many Americans don’t even have that.”
Is it me, or is that condescending and pathetic?
As corporate profits reach record levels, the standard of living for the working class continues to decline to levels which are rapidly approaching third-world standards, while our media tells us that we should be glad to have it. After all, their parents used to walk to the saw mill. Barefoot. In the snow. Uphill both ways. Who are we to complain, right?
4) In Conclusion …
Lily, it’s easy to chastise working-class viewers for their incessant whining. It’s risk-free. After all, minimum-wage workers don’t buy ad space on local television.
I wonder if you would reserve the same amount of judgement for your corporate sponsors, though?
You’re right, working people don’t need to spend the holiday with their families. After all, it’s just a stupid holiday. But, in that same vein, does Target really need to open at 12:00am on any day?
After all, this is a company with a $36 Billion market cap. In 2006 alone, Target’s CEO made $36 million. Does he really need to seize 8 stinking hours from his employee’s vacation? Do the major shareholders really need the 18 cent bump in their share price that this action will bring?
What about them, Lily? The corporate guys? Do they also complain too much? Should they not be “glad” for all the riches that they have? Shouldn’t they be happy and content with their standard of living which is in the top 1% of all human beings on the planet? Just like Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, isn’t snatching the Thanksgiving feast of their employees completely gratuitous and dare I say it … cruel?
Have you reserved no ire … none at all for these people who just can’t be happy with what they have? At least not happy enough to give employees one stinking, uninterrupted family holiday?
Now, all of this being said, I would be wrong to be too hard on Lily Jang. Say what you will about her position, but at least she had the courage and honesty to reply. This is rare in the news business.
About 2 months ago, someone from KOMO news disagreed with one of my articles (a humorous article at that), but instead of stating their position intelligently, they used a fake name to call me names on the blog, and then created a bogus Twitter account just to flame me. As a matter of fact, it still exists here:
Talk about unprofessional.
So, even though I vehemently disagree with her on this issue, I have a great deal of respect for Lily Jang’s willingness to put herself out there, stake a position, and defend it.
What she lacks in empathy, she makes up for in honesty, and I think we all have to respect that. The intellectual cancer that is political correctness leaves most grown adults cowering and afraid to share their thoughts with others, and I appreciate that Lily at least cared enough to offer thoughtful replies.
As far as Target goes, well, I won’t be shopping there on “Black Friday”, but then again … I never do. I don’t go anywhere on Black Friday.
If you have to shop, though … if you just can’t resist … please be good enough to wait until 5am.
If this midnight to 5 thing becomes profitable, then we can more or less write off Thanksgiving for retail workers for the foreseeable future.
When that happens, I don’t care what anyone says … no one should be “glad” about any aspect of it.